A recent poll we conducted showed that employees want more how-to content on intranets. But how do you design an intranet that puts “how to” content at the center of your strategy?

Having been involved in a project to implement a task-based intranet using SharePoint, I’d recommend the following five step approach:

  1. Identify and prioritize tasks that will be supported by the intranet
  2. Identify other content types required to support these tasks
  3. Identify the relationships between the content types
  4. Design templates for each content type
  5. Design multiple navigation paths to enable staff to easily find these tasks

These are described in more detail below.

1. Identify Tasks and Priorities

Using a range of approaches, identify the key roles (by percentage of staff) within your organization and the tasks that these roles carry out. Approaches to consider include:

  • Review position descriptions
  • Conduct interviews with job role groups (e.g., project managers, call center staff)
  • Review intranet analytics to identify the most popular content

It’s not enough to simply identify tasks that are completed within your organization. You need to also get a sense of how often each task is carried out and the importance of each task. You can document your findings in a spreadsheet.

You could also consider using personas to help identify key tasks. See An introduction to personas and how to create them for more information.

2. Identify Supporting Content Types

Most tasks will require supporting content such as lists, tools, online forms, policies, reports, websites, etc. By first identifying the important tasks (step 1), you can then provide a more meaningful context to this supporting content.

For instance, let’s say I’m interviewing a group of project managers about their role and they tell me the list of Project Codes is very useful. In the past I might be happy that I have identified this key piece of information and will scurry off to quickly post it on the intranet.

However, using a task-based approach, I would dig deeper and ask what tasks does this list support? I may get the response that the list is used to:

  • Allocate project resources
  • Assign project expenses
  • Complete time sheets

I now have three tasks and my Project Code list suddenly becomes more meaningful.

And after identifying these tasks, follow-up questions might include “What else is needed to allocate resources?” As a result you may end up with a table as follows:


3. Identify Relationship Between Content Types

After you have identified your content types, it’s important to identify relationships between these types. This allows you to provide a context around each link.

For instance, when I view the Resource Allocation Tool, I should also be able to view the tasks that I can complete using this application. Many intranets will simply provide a list of tools (or web pages, forms, procedures, roles, business units, etc.) and little or no context about who, when or why these items may be useful.

The following diagram shows how the above content types are related. “How to” content types may use one or more lists and one tool. A tool/form may be related to one or more “how to” topics. Note there is no direct relationship between Lists and Tools/forms.


4. Design Templates for Your Content Types

After identifying your content types, you need to define how each type will look.

For example, “how to” topics could be presented in many ways -- depending on what is important to your employees. The important thing is that each content type is presented consistently. It is also important to provide a context around each content type item. Some design tools include:

5. Design Your Navigation Paths (or Views)

Finally, after tasks, supporting content and meta-data have been identified, the final step is to work out the best way for employees to find this content.

Each employee is different and will search using a context that is meaningful to them (for more info, see Card sorting doesn’t cut the custard).

For example, a person who has never allocated project resources before will most likely want to read all the steps involved in completing a task. On the other hand, an experienced project manager may want to go straight to the project list. Both contexts should be possible.

This is where your information architecture skills will be useful. At a minimum, you should provide direct access to important content types. For example, top-level links called “How to,” “Forms,” “Tools,” “Reports” and “Lists.”

However, there is no limit to how many navigation paths you can create (as long as you have your relationships and meta data well structured). Examples of other navigation paths include:

  • By content owner (e.g., department),
  • By who the content is relevant to (e.g., new starter, sales team, customer service staff),
  • By most popular or most recommended,
  • By date last added or updated, or
  • By another category defined as a result of a card sorting exercise.

For more information about providing a contextual view to your information, see the article Contextual integration: how it can transform your intranet.

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