Intranet projects can be notoriously difficult to get going. Here’s why.

Platform Debates Stall Progress

Is it time to upgrade? What’s new that we should care about?

While the market remains fairly dominated by SharePoint, it is easy for organizations to get wrapped up in a platform debate comparing their old version of SharePoint to the most current.

As well, many of the new ready-to-go intranet offerings for SharePoint such as GoUnily or Bonzai — while making it easier to get to value faster — now introduce a new layer of evaluation on top SharePoint’s core capabilities.

Office 365 Introduced Confusion

First it was Yammer that caused intranet managers to panic. Now, it seems more broadly that Office 365 has introduced a new era of continuous innovation for organizations. Unfortunately, some are falling behind as this causes a new knowledge gap and perpetual confusion about how to manage new features and upgrades.

With the continuous upgrade cycles of the cloud, some intranet stakeholders are unsure how to go about an upgrade using previous models and plans.

Enterprise-Wide Initiatives Take More Effort

Let’s face it, part of the success of this new era of cloud and collaboration technology comes from the fact that any department can easily subscribe and deploy new services without any affecting other departments.

Intranets, on the other hand, aren’t that easy to deploy. To be successful, they require people to talk to each other and work together to map out enterprise-wide needs and establish priorities.

The Plague of Intranet Planning Fatigue

Coupled with fears of upgrade complexity is a growing desire to adopt a prescriptive intranet solution.

This combination may be to blame for a growing trend of what we’ve named “planning fatigue.” This phenomenon is causing companies to underinvest in requirements discovery.

A sure sign you are not setup for success is if your IT department launches an intranet project on the basis of an infrastructure upgrade or migration because you already own the licenses, not because they are in partnership with the business and driving a change.

So what can be done?

What to Know, What to Do

To get the most out of your next intranet initiative, it's critical that you:

  • Know the problems and challenges you are trying to address
  • Figure out your approach for discovering requirements and engaging the business
  • Build a healthy budget
  • Determine if stakeholders are aligned and identify one true project sponsor

Following that, ask these key questions to help shape a more successful intranet project:

What are we trying to fix?

Who will be using the intranet and what will they be using it for? Is it helping them with their job each day? Do we know what a better experience looks like for them? Keep in mind that senior executives have lots of compelling places to spend limited funds and shaping specific examples of how the intranet will benefit people and performance is critical for helping stakeholders appreciate its value.

If you are struggling to articulate the needs and priorities, start by building a shared vision and figure out what scope to address first. Research or assessment phases can start small and help to shape a roadmap that will tell your story and bring a new vision to life.

What approach makes sense? How should we define goals and objectives?

Here’s a tip: talk to real people and don’t guess what the business needs. Even though you may be right, guessing short circuits the engagement and buy-in process and can lead to change management issues down the road.

Some traditional research and discovery activities to consider:

  • Listening labs - Listening labs are a chance to ask users about their goals and tasks as well as to observe them in their day-to-day contexts. 
  • Leadership team interviews – interviewing senior leaders to understand their view on priorities and ability to support an initiative.
  • Content inventory - This is our chance to get an overview of the type of content currently on the intranet or communicated outside the intranet via e-mail, newsletters, advertisements, and more.
  • Measurement – Use this to dig into the details, numbers, analytics, surveys, and feedback that all contribute to building an understanding of current performance, pain-points, user issues, and how you can measure information in a portal. 

Do we have enough budget and capacity to do it right?

Nobody likes running out of money or accepting a sub-par solution because you underestimated the scope and effort required to do it right. While estimation theory and approaches could be a post on its own, it is important to remember the three types of costs when considering your intranet budget:

  • Licensing for software, hardware, annual maintenance and third-party tools
  • Contractor or consulting services
  • Internal employee effort

The cost and effort required by employees, commonly thought of as internal capacity, is often overlooked and underappreciated at the outset of a project. Remember that intranet initiatives require a core project team and typically companies need to improve their content by re-engaging internal content owners. It is helpful if you spend time up front getting familiar with how much content needs to be updated or migrated when figuring out your budget and scope.

This can be a broad task depending on the size of the company. If your current content is not in good shape, it can require a fair bit of effort to retrofit the content to be valuable. Consider a content review process among your authoring team to assess the effort required to improve your content. Tools like GatherContent can help manage the production process and enable collaboration to take place before you tackle any migration.

Do you have healthy stakeholder alignment and true sponsorship?

To be successful, an initiative needs sponsorship from one anchor executive and alignment across the primary interested stakeholder groups. Internal communications, HR and IT are the usual suspects that must be aligned to pull off a successful project.

Title image by William Stitt