Articles

So you want to redesign your intranet? - Part 3

David Humphreys and Tania Lang
December 08 2008

This month we include the third article in a three part series on redesigning intranets by Tania Lang and David Humphreys and we share our tip of the month. In Part 1 we focussed on the Challenges in kicking off your intranet redesign. Part 2 focused on issues with the design and development of your intranet. This newsletter will focus on some of the issues with the launch day of an intranet, along with managing it after release.

So you want to redesign your intranet? Part 3 - Launch day

Trap 5 - People expect better and prettier - they won't appreciate usable in the first few days. Or even weeks.

It is guaranteed that you will get negative feedback in the first hours after launch. It will sting. You have worked hard on this redevelopment and people are complaining. "Why did they change it. We liked the old one better. We can't find anything on the new intranet. Change that menu item! Add that link on the homepage you missed!" Quick! You have to keep everyone happy!

Stop! Now.

There are people who will hate a redesigned intranet and IA no matter how much easier it is - you have just broken the habits and workarounds that staff created to get around the previously poor design. They will complain. Whatever you do don't react straight away. People don't like change. Just look at Facebook!

What you can do before launch - Tips

Keep users involved in the process via user centred design activities: surveys, news articles on the intranet, workshops, interviews and usability testing. Methods such as surveys provide all staff with an opportunity to have their say and to become more involved if they choose to do so in activities such as workshops or usability testing. Ensure your design is robust and you have the empirical evidence to support your design.

Run parallel intranets or a staging/test environment for a couple of weeks before the site goes live to allow staff to play with the site before it goes live. Include a link "Try our new Beta Intranet" somewhere prominent on the home page or in the header and possibly even send an email to all staff advising them to try it out.

Communicate to senior and middle management beforehand that things might get ugly for a few days or weeks and to expect complaints from their staff. Try to get their buy in and commitment by demonstrating the improved value of this new intranet to the business. You may need to provide empirical evidence to validate the new design e.g. improved average task completion rates from 47% to 78% or quotes from satisfied staff.

Crunch time - the big launch - Tips

Publish 'cheat sheets' which show where the top 30 items were before and where they can be found now.

Run a competition when you launch the site to get users to search through the site to find the page with your organisation's icon or fun avatar. This helps them become familiar with the new site and they may even subconsciously learn the site.

On launch day don't respond to every email complaining about the site - assess for real problems (technical and usability) while making sure individual complaints are investigated in the proper time and with the proper rigour - don't spend launch day reacting to people who complain.

After Launch
We recommend letting the new intranet sink in. Let people use it for a while. Tweaks to obvious problems and issues are OK, but let your design rest and let it be used. Leave it a few weeks. Let the dust settle and your blood pressure reduce.

Start to collect data and try and measure your success. Hopefully you did some user research before you began and it makes a wonderful comparison with the metrics and feedback from your new design. Survey staff 1-2 months after launch and benchmark against the pre-launch survey results. If you can show measurable success it will hopefully help fireproof your ongoing intranet redevelopment and maintenance efforts.

Ongoing lifecycle

Trap 6 - The people in the business areas responsible for authoring and maintaining content often don't have the appropriate skills

Everyone acknowledges that the intranet is an important thing. Why then are junior staff often assigned to managing the content in a distributed publishing model? These people often have multiple roles and the intranet work is only part of it. So they are time poor and poorly skilled. This has a negative impact on your intranet's content.

Tips

Consider running in-house usability training and/or web content writing training on a regular basis (e.g. once or twice a year) for intranet content writers.

Try to adopt a decentralised authoring and centralised publishing process where a central team of more experienced web people can review, edit and rewrite content. We generally recommend a model where the business owns the content and the web or intranet team own the "user experience" including visual design, information architecture and interaction design.

Trap 7 - The people in the business areas responsible for authoring and maintaining content change on a regular basis

People move around. Good people in junior positions don't last long. They are usually snapped up for other responsibilities as quickly as they become available, which is great for them but not so great for your intranet.

Tip - Plan for succession - have an intranet ownership induction process ready for new authors. Ease them in gently and provide resources, tools and basic training to bring them up to speed.

Trap 8 - Redesigns of intranets or internet sites are usually funded projects and once the funding dries up the new site starts to deteriorate.

This is the killer. So many redevelopments grind to a halt after the initial effort because senior management believes an intranet or website runs itself and all the hard work is done. Likely all you've managed to achieve is your first phase which includes some of the more high profile work like the home page, the high level IA and the visual design. Jobs done right? Wrong!

Tips:

You need people to maintain the change - do not divert resources away from the intranet after the first win otherwise it won't change and stage 2 will never happen.

Try to secure funding and a permanent resource/team to maintain the intranet by communicating the risk and likely long term cost of not maintaining and evolving the site. For instance, communicate the 5 year cost of maintaining and evolving the site versus doing a major redesign in another 3-4 years.

Follow up the redevelopment with satisfaction surveys, usability tests and invitations for feedback but let the dust settle first and let users get used to the change. Try and measure the success of your project. Your research can help you make a case for keeping the ball rolling.

Conclusions

An intranet redevelopment is not a 'two or three month job'. Nor is it just about the home page and the information architecture. Redeveloping your intranet requires an ongoing commitment to improving the site and bringing your users along not just for the ride, but an active role in the process. Being aware of some of these traps and the ways around them can make that task a little less monumental. Good luck.

Usability tip

The knowledge you seek is in the Call Centre

One of the most useful resources of knowledge about your website's users is your call centre and/or customer service staff. The staff there can usually tell you three important things:

  1. They can tell you what information people are commonly looking for and the language they use - Service areas usually keep detailed records of calls and enquiries and even if they don't a simple question along the lines of "What are the 10 questions you get asked the most?" can give surprising results. "When are you open?" was the most common phone enquiries at a major Museum we did work with recently.
  2. They can tell you where there are problems with your website - Often a lot of queries that go to call centres and customer service desks are a result of users not being able to find what they were looking for on the website or getting stuck part way through a transaction e.g. not knowing what a "NCD Rating" is when getting an online car insurance quote. Sometimes they may even tell the customer service staff member just what they think of your website.
  3. Approximately what proportion of calls come from different target user groups - Often you might do user research and have an understanding of who your website audience is but customer facing staff can often tell you approximately what proportion of calls come from which user groups.

Take the time to talk to your customer facing staff you can learn a lot from them.

Categories: Intranets