an out of focus merry go round
PHOTO: Antony Xia

People often say their intranet project was “a journey” but miss out that the mode of transport was a roller coaster.

You spend ages getting everything ready to justify an investment and it’s just like queuing for an hour for a ride at the amusement park. Then you get strapped into the roller coaster, thrown around like a rag doll and delivered, somewhat flustered and excited, at the other end (albeit with a much lighter wallet). You are then thrust away from the pretty lights and screams of delight towards a darker and more sober place called “Business as Usual” (BAU). 

Those with a more sensitive disposition have been desperate for BAU to arrive and have had their eyes closed for most of the ride — it was all too invigorating. Other riders are thrill seekers and want to head back to the queue for another dose of adrenaline.

It's easy to forget in such a febrile environment that the whole point of your intranet project was to get to a state of operation. Projects tend to filter out the purpose that was soaked into the strategy and business case (if it was even documented to that degree of formality).

So the lucky few “operating” the intranet often lose the perspective on the purpose of what they are delivering. It’s only “Business as Usual” if you are doing the business. If you are unaware of the solid business purpose for your intranet, you can’t know what you are supposed to be doing and then you can’t know if you are doing it right.

Intranets: Business as Usual or Lost in The Fog?

At Spark Trajectory we call this state of losing perspective “The Fog.” Most teams operate in the fog, bumping into things and reacting to emergencies.

You are in Business-as-Usual if:

  • You’ve got a plan that helps you work towards a known goal.
  • You can measure or track your progress towards that goal.
  • You make changes to what you do in response to that data.
  • There is a clear line between ways to improve your performance and new ideas for other things.

But you are in The Fog if:

  • You don’t know really know what you are trying to achieve.
  • You don’t know how to measure or track what you do.
  • Ideas for improving what you’ve got get mixed up with new ideas for other things.

Let’s be very clear: you really don’t want to be in the Fog. You become sidelined: nobody is going to listen to people who don’t look like they know what they are doing. Without the perspective and control you need, anyone with a crazy idea can come in and claim it is the best way forward and their certainty will be confused for thoughtfulness.

Once you are in the Fog there is only one way out of it: Strategy. You need to run a strategy process to work out what the problem is, what your clever idea for fixing it is and what your plan is going to be. When we deliver our workshops on formulating intranet strategy, we are surprised how few organizations have a structured process for defining intranet strategy, despite how essential it is.

Related Article: What it Takes to Be a Modern Intranet Manager

Keep Your Intranet Out of The Fog

It is way better not to find yourself in the Fog in the first place. So how do you get off the project roller coaster successfully?

1. Plan your operating model when designing everything else for your big bang project

It seems obvious but not everybody does this. Projects are all about getting something working and hitting a date to launch, but often nobody ever thinks about how you might need to operate when you reach business as usual. Design the operation of your intranet site like you design pages and navigation. It should be done ahead of time.

improvement cycle

2. Make implementing the operating model part of your big bang project

Put it in as part of the project. If your project’s last task and milestone is “launch” you have fallen into a trap.

3. Use improvement cycles during your critical change window when you launch

Here’s an improvement cycle. It isn’t rocket science. You gather data on how things are being received, review the data, decide what to do and then make interventions as you go. When you plan you launch with improvement cycles you’ve got a powerful tool to take on those tricky things: adoption and change management.

Related Article: Digital Workplace or No, An Intranet's Purpose Remains the Same

A Digital Workplace Improvement Cycle

We developed an intranet and digital workplace lifecycle to put everything in context. This teaching tool brings strategy, development, change and operation together for practitioners, as well as including what happens when things go wrong and what teams need to do about it.

intranet lifecycle diagram

Improvement cycles are at the heart of this. It is the best way to take your projects and launches (we call them big and little bangs) and make the change that they need effectively in the “critical change window.” Get it right and you “ascend” to business as usual. Get it wrong and you “descend” into The Fog. Also, improvement cycles are too good to just be kept for managing change, you should use them in BAU as well as they help you get more of what you want: more adoption, better content, more completed people profiles.

We all have different perceptions of time, as well as preferences. If you see the world as a project (like a roller coaster) it has a beginning and a definite end, with much excitement in between. The problem with business as usual is that it can feel like time has stopped. It becomes a grind and without meaning and purpose it takes its toll on the teams responsible. Sadly, BAU is where all that good work should happen to get things right. Improvement cycles help take the grind out of business as usual so it doesn’t become a timeless blur of helpdesk tickets punctuated by the occasional holiday. It becomes a series of repeated pushes to make things better and better. You can operate with real energy and that will not only be better for the organization, but much better for you.

So, while the project might be a roller coaster but business as usual — if you let it — can be a merry-go-round of improvement. Just don’t get too dizzy.

Editor's Note: This is the first in a three-part series. Part two will examine how to use the improvement cycle to establish the purpose you are trying to achieve. Part three will look at the metrics that prove your efforts are working.