If you’re considering implementing a corporate intranet such as SharePoint Online, you’ll want to start by talking to the people who will use the technology platform. After all, they’ll need to benefit from the intranet for the organization as a whole to reap the advantages the solution offers.
Yet too often, user experience research is an afterthought when organizations are gearing up to create a new corporate intranet. They may pull together an existing list of business objectives, and hold a few stakeholder meetings and interviews, and feel ready to move on to the next stage. The problem with this approach is that it assumes insights shared by stakeholders are an effective proxy for true user research.
Stakeholders certainly play an important role in an intranet initiative, and they are in some sense users. But their feedback and experiences probably don’t represent those of the organization’s core end users — the people on the front lines relying on the intranet every day as they do their jobs.
The overall goal in conducting user research is to avoid making assumptions about how people actually use the intranet. If you rely on faulty assumptions at this stage, those errors are likely to multiply throughout the design, development and implementation, resulting in wasted time and money on an intranet that doesn’t achieve your business objectives — and that few employees are likely to use.
Tackling these assumptions is particularly challenging when your organization is replacing an existing intranet built on a previous version of SharePoint. Since you’ve done things a certain way in the past and you’ve come to certain kinds of conclusions, it’s natural to make assumptions based on those experiences.
When you start building a new intranet, it’s tempting to assume that you’re facing the same kinds of problems and try to solve them with the same kinds of solutions. You might decide to have a CEO blog on the intranet home page because that’s what you did before, and not because it solves a current or future business problem. And that’s where you get into trouble.
To avoid letting assumptions derail your initiative, you have to start at the beginning with sound user experience (UX) research. That means defining your business objectives in technologically agnostic terms.
For a successful implementation, it’s essential that you start with a crystal clear understanding of the business problem you’re trying to solve. The rest of the process flows from this definition and leads to a solution. You don’t want to realize at the end of your project that you’ve developed an intranet that solves the wrong problem.
It’s best to start with a discussion between your implementation team and your technology partner or consultant. Discuss what you perceive to be the main business problem, and explain how you know that’s a problem. The problems you identify may need further evaluation before it makes sense to develop a solution.
Defining business problems and objectives isn’t easy; it asks companies to walk a fine line between being overly specific and overly vague. Many companies have trouble when it comes to how they phrase their business objectives, and how to avoid too many or too few objectives to accomplish in the scope of the project.
For instance, if a company decides to upgrade to Office 365 because it wants to use the newsfeed and collaboration features and stop hosting its own infrastructure, those aren’t truly business objectives. Those are specifics that could end up being refinements of a larger business objective around improving communication.
One common mistake at this stage is to define a business problem with a highly specific technology solution in mind. While that solution may ultimately be the best way to solve the business problem, it’s risky to jump ahead and start applying solutions before the research is complete.
Instead, be patient, and define your business objectives in technologically agnostic ways. At the appropriate point in the process, your UX consultant will assess different platforms to determine the best fit for your problems or needs.
When you take the time up front for good UX research, you’re laying the foundation for a successful intranet implementation that addresses your business needs and objectives.
Learn more about creating an effective intranet solution for your organization by downloading our free e-book, “Designing A User-Centered Intranet For SharePoint Online”.