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Key Considerations for Designing a Corporate Intranet

Creating a new or redesigning an existing intranet is a project most organizations will engage in repeatedly throughout their existence. Emerging technologies, collaboration-solutions-manage-complexity_resized_300x300.jpg changing software platforms, and new leadership often facilitate the need for a new corporate intranet. Regardless of reasons why a new intranet is needed it is important to try and establish a set of guiding principles for sifting through all the problems and decisions on the path to producing a rich and compelling platform which can empower its users, reduce demand on many departments, and increase communication within the organization. Below you will find some guidance on things to consider when defining your corporate intranet.

Define Purpose and Personas
Before designing a wireframe, writing a user-story or even considering a color scheme, first walk up to a white board and write the following questions:

  • Who are we designing the intranet for?
  • Why would they come here?
  • What value can we provide to these users?
  • Why would they come back?

The answers you generate to these questions should be the guiding principles for your designers, developers and architects. So, make sure that they are revisited often and used as a measuring stick on whether you are adhering to your core purpose. As with any new engagement, we may begin the project with a bias or understanding of what an intranet should do. But each organization and its needs are unique and thus its intranets should be as well.

Who Are We Designing This For?
The answer to this question should provide you with a set of personas to design features for. If you are unfamiliar with the concept of personas just think of it as akin to an audience. These personas can consist of very broad groups – consultants, administrative assistants, executives, contractors – or very specific groups – software engineers, business analysts, project managers. As you define these personas a set of questions naturally come forth: why would that persona come here? What value can we provide these personas? Why would these personas come back? If you are an attentive reader, then you’ll notice these are the same questions outlined above.

Initially this group of personas can be very big so spend some time prioritizing, whittling, and re-ordering these personas. By the end of this phase you should have identified 3-5 principle personas to guide your initial design. This isn’t to say that the other personas shouldn’t be considered but it’s better to begin the intranet design process with a concise and well thought out group to deliver the most value to. As the intranet evolves and features roll out, additional personas can be considered.

Why Would Persona X Come Here?
As with mathematics, we now have the challenge of solving for X. For each persona, identify people within your organization of varying technical skills and seniority levels. It is important that during this phase you identify as broad a group as possible. Gather information by conducting interviews with the people in each persona group. Some key questions to ask or consider are:

  • How often do you use the intranet now?
  • What do/would you use the/an intranet for?
  • What capabilities do you wish the/an intranet had?
  • What features of the/an intranet would you find most helpful?

You want to ask questions to lead the users to elaborate on their needs internally. The key data here to listen for and extract are the themes or features for your intranet design. The needs of the users will dictate the features and logical organization of your intranet. For example, through the interviews you may learn of a dashboard that is particularly important for the day to day function of many personas. Providing this in the intranet may prove beneficial to many groups and increase the value provided by the intranet.

The resulting themes and trends provide guidance for the development of features for your intranet and as development progresses act as a litmus test for the developed features. Perform the litmus test often and remove or redirect features that stray away from providing value in any given theme or trend.

What Value Can We Provide X?
As with any tool – physical or virtual – if its existence doesn’t provide value to the user then it won’t be a tool used very often. As the designer and steward of these features it is up to us to identify and implement features that provide value in anyone of the given areas:

  • Saving the user time
  • Providing insights to the user
  • Relieving frustration
  • Streamlining their function and role

In an ideal world the selected features will address all these areas, but realistically if your features can address one to two of these areas then it’s a feature worth implementing. By focusing on these areas, it will ensure that your intranet becomes a place where these personas bookmark, visit, and revisit throughout its existence.

Throughout a features design and implementation continuously ask yourself: does this feature provide value? If the answer is ever anything other than yes, then maybe it’s a feature your personas could live without.

Why Would X Come Back?
The questions, interviews and feedback we gather allow us to create a deep understanding of the personas and the users who encompass them. The whole engagement team should strive to understand their needs, their interests and what they value. Features should focus on providing value. This will ensure that the personas return repeatedly and often. The design and development process should continuously check to ensure that it adheres to the principle of providing value. Designing or developing something for the sake of filling space or keeping a developer busy are common practices that dilute the value of the platform. By focusing and honing its features, the intranet can become an integral daily tool for the advancement and benefit of its users.

Takeaway
To summarize, write down and revisit the answers to the key questions we outlined above:

  • Who are we designing this intranet for?
  • Why would they come here?
  • What value can we provide to those users?
  • Why would they come back?

The answers you produce should guide you through the many hurdles and forks in the road your organization will face when designing a new or redesigning an existing intranet. These answers are less tangible than say deciding on a technology platform, programming language, content layout or branding but help remind you again and again your reasons for why and for whom. By the end of the engagement every feature and decision should pass the measuring stick of these answers, anything less would waste time, provide little value and reduce the measured success of your engagement.

If you have any questions about a Digital Transformation or need guidance launching your corporate intranet, reach out to us online, or give us a call at 240-406-9960.

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