Updated March 2nd, 2021. Almost any intranet can be outstanding, but if you don't complete important ongoing maintenance your intranet could become a wasteland. It doesn't matter what software you use or how smart the consultants who help you launch a new intranet. It's the ongoing maintenance that makes or breaks it.
Most intranet projects are short-term efforts with clear end dates. The only way to make an intranet project into a long term success is to transition the project into an ongoing intranet program.
A cautionary tale
Several years ago we embarked on an intranet project for a government client. After two previous failed attempts to build a SharePoint intranet, they came to us and we successfully deployed ThoughtFarmer. Once the intranet was up, the project needed to transition to a program. In typical government fashion, they had approved the capital expenditure for the development, but not the (much, much smaller) annual expenditure for operations. In a spree of government cutbacks, the budget got cut, and the intranet was shut down immediately after the pilot. Naturally, the stakeholders involved were upset.
As illustrated it is almost always easier for intranet champions to get a project approved rather than an ongoing program, so here are 15 best practices for building a lasting intranet program. Even if you can commit to just one of these best practices, you will increase the likelihood of intranet success.
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1: Make the intranet essential
This starts with understanding what employees do on a daily basis, how they work, and what they need. Get out and observe front-line employees in their natural environment. Find out what everyday problems the intranet can solve and deliver that well.
2: Solidify an executive sponsor(s)
Once you find an executive passionate about the intranet, stay engaged with that sponsor throughout the entire project, during launch, and ongoing. Make sure you have relevant items to bring to her for guidance and decisions. Report on every important metric and anecdote you can.
3: Align your company goals and strategy
You should do this anyway, but it's especially important in making the intranet relevant for the long term. Study your company's goals and strategic plan and link your intranet to them. But not just as an intellectual exercise. Find ways a new social intranet can actually help the company succeed. We talk in depth about aligning your business goals with intranet strategy in this blog: Building an intranet business case.
4: Share ownership during planning
Involve key stakeholders in decision-making from the very start of an intranet project. Conduct structured user testing exercises that involve employees. Build a strong cross-functional team as the central intranet governing body. Find important moments that can be team efforts rather than one-man shows. Learn more by reading: Identifying your intranet stakeholders.
5: Give your intranet a name and market it
Many of our customers involve employees in an inclusive and structured process to name the intranet. Some even build personas around it. See a case study on how to crowd source the name for a social intranet and our blog post of collected intranet names.
6: Start planning for your intranet program early
Your intranet project plans should extend at least a year beyond the official launch date. This gives you time to make intranet management part of business as usual. For further reading on perfecting your intranet launch, check out our post: 50 Creative Intranet Launch Ideas.
7: Integrate with important business processes
Find key business processes that can be improved through your intranet. Many of our customers have taken advantage of our new form feature which allows users to build and manage forms directly within your intranet (as well as manage data related to these forms). Things like business card orders, volunteer sign-ups, employee surveys, address changes, benefits enrollments, or technology upgrade requests can now all be automated from within your intranet.
8: Incorporate intranet trainings into new hire orientations
Work with your HR department to make sure every new employee receives training on how to use the intranet—better yet, incorporate intranet training into specific onboarding activities.
9: Make launch a six-month process, not a one-day event
An intranet launch is not a day, it's a period. You likely will work incredibly hard just to make the intranet go live, but that's only one milestone in the launch sequence. Recognize that a successful launch requires repetitive messaging, training, support, tweaking and gathering feedback.
10: Sequence the roll out of new features / sections
Don't launch all features of the new intranet at once. Instead, plan to expose new tools and sections on a quarterly basis. This will help keep the scope of the intranet launch manageable and let you communicate with users about the intranet on a regular basis.
11: Plan content pruning and maintenance
Even the best maintained intranets can easily become a victim of stale content. We recommend conducting a content audit once a year. A content audit is useful for identifying active content owners and building engagement, discovering useful material you didn’t know you had, and reducing migration costs and freeing up server space. We also recommend taking advantage of our Stale Content tool, which automatically generates reports for out of date content.
12: Establish recurring meetings for key stakeholders
Intranet stakeholder involvement shouldn’t end when your intranet is launched. Figure out the ongoing decisions that need to be made and bring those questions to an intranet governing body. Make sure the group meets regularly, has strong agendas, and has a real impact.
13: Transition project groups into permanent bodies
Intranet projects often include various cross-functional teams like "content migration" and "launch and communications" committees. If those groups dissolve at the time of launch you may be in trouble. So plan to make these teams useful on an ongoing basis.
14: Measure something important and report on progress
Intranet success is so easy to measure today. With ThoughtFarmer Analytics, as soon as users begin engaging with your intranet it will begin recording metrics. You can also measure the success of your intranet by launching an intranet evaluation survey.
We’ve written all the tips here in the context of shifting from an intranet project to a program. But each tip carries its own merits no matter the larger context. Implementing these tips won't just help you get a budget for an ongoing intranet program, it'll help you deliver a useful, successful intranet.
Have questions? Get in touch! We're always happy to hear from you.