6 Guiding Principles for Building the Ultimate Intranet

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When we started planning ThoughtFarmer back in 2004, we established these 6 guiding principles that we felt would lead to the ultimate intranet. They’re as valid today as they were when we started, so I’d like to share them with you here.

1. Include a Killer App

Bring your users back every day

A critical ingredient for a successful intranet is the ‘killer app’—the feature that brings users back to the intranet every day, or several times a day.

For many companies, the killer app is the employee directory. For others, it is payroll information, news headlines, or vacation requests. Whatever the killer app, it’s crucial that it’s visible, easy to find, and quick and easy to use.

2. Create Serendipity

Create an environment where random, profitable events take place

The biggest reason to deploy a great intranet at any company cannot be known in advance. By creating an environment where knowledge flows uninhibited, something unexpected will take place that will pay for the entire project. A salesperson will come across a piece of information that will give him what he needs to close an important deal. A designer will encounter something that inspires her to create a brilliant, winning concept. After reading a post on a discussion board, a director will come up with The Next Big Thing that transforms the business.

Networked people, or Connectors, are critical to any large enterprise. A great intranet should be the Ultimate Connector. It can create a hyperlinked organization, where knowledge flows freely and serendipitous events lead to breakthrough thinking.

3. Create community

Good intranets create a sense of community in a company. Strong community increases employee satisfaction and encourages knowledge transfer. Community-building intranet features include:

  • Discussion forums—must be seeded, moderated and led by example to be successful
  • Blogging—online journals by individual authors, usually link-intensive. Readers can attach their comments to journal entries.
  • Photo albums
  • Recognition articles—information on achievements, promotions, top performances
  • News articles that are authentic, honest, and have a personal voice
  • Bulletin boards—areas supporting non-work announcements, like birthdays, engagements, garage sales, etc.

4. Keep it Open

For an intranet to truly succeed, it has to be as open and accessible as possible.

24×7 anywhere access for everyone

Every single employee should be able to access the intranet, at any time, from any location.

Everyone can contribute

Every single employee should be empowered to contribute content to the intranet.

Invite partners

A company’s trusted partners should be given a window into the intranet. Information increases in value as more people access it. Sharing data invokes Metcalfe’s law and generates new value.

5. Focus on the user

If it’s not easy to use, don’t even bother

Users have precious little tolerance for confusing or difficult-to-navigate interfaces. Your intranet is judged on the quality of the user experience. If it’s not extremely usable, it will fail.

Perform expert usability analysis

A usability expert should review the site at regular intervals and make recommendations based on usability best practices.

Perform regular usability testing

Every new feature on the intranet should be tested on 4 or 5 users to uncover usability problems. Usability testing adds time and expense to the development cycle, but it always pays off in increased user satisfaction.

Expert usability analysis is not a substitute for actual user testing.

6. Keep it Agile

Use an agile software development methodology

Agile software development is people-oriented rather than process-oriented—it tries to work with people’s nature rather than against it. It is adaptive rather than predictive—it allows for change, instead of trying to predict everything in advance. It focuses on returning business value as early as possible.

Close collaboration

Agile development emphasizes close communication between the developer and the business customer, to make sure the product being built is exactly the product needed.

Rapid iterations

The software will be developed in iterations, each lasting 1 to 4 weeks. Every iteration will end with a tangible delivery that returns value to the business. There is always an opportunity to readjust course before continuing.

Frequent planning meetings

At the beginning of each iteration, there will be a meeting to discuss the results of the last iteration and plan the features and tasks for the next iteration.

Almost 6 years after writing this, I’m proud that we can look back and feel that each of these principles is still vital. They did indeed lead to what our ThoughtFarmer clients feel is the ultimate intranet.

What would you add to this list that’s led to the success of your intranet?

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  1. EphraimJF

    I like these principles. They are good principles and I can see them in ThoughtFarmer’s product and support team.

    I particularly like that these principles for ThoughtFarmer software are mostly non-technical; it extends the idea that technology isn’t about technology, but about people. This seems to be at the core of the ThoughtFarmer product.

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