While walking down the street, I recently found myself admiring a neighbor's yard. "Why can't my yard look so good? Why can't my grass be so trim and my plants be so shapely?"
Before I'd even finished passing that yard it struck me how silly those thoughts were. I have a great yard. I don't need a major investment or overhaul. My yard could be the most lovely one on the block... if I tended to it better.
The one thing my yard is missing: consistent and ongoing maintenance.
- I didn't make time in the late winter to trim the bushes and trees.
- In the early spring I spent far too little time on my hands and knees pulling weeds from the flower beds.
- I spread fertilizer on the lawn later in the season and less frequently than I should have.
- And I certainly don't mow the grass every week.
Intranet managers have likely heard the gardening metaphor before, for one good reason: it's accurate.
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. That's like re-sodding the lawn and then not watering it in the summer. The only way to make an intranet project into a long term success is to transition the project into an ongoing intranet program. This blog post explains the fundamentals of doing just that. That's also the first category of questions included in our epic blog post on 81 Intranet Governance Questions to Ask Yourself.
A cautionary tale
ThoughtFarmer Co-founder Chris McGrath recently told me about an early ThoughtFarmer project for a government client. After two failed attempts to build an ambitious social intranet with SharePoint, they came to us and we successfully deployed ThoughtFarmer for them over the span of a few months. The total project cost, including the failed SharePoint projects and the time of all the government employees involved, exceeded $2 million.
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 had to be shut down immediately after pilot. All the stakeholders involved were so upset.
As this example illustrates, it is almost always easier for intranet champions to get a project approved rather than an ongoing program. Why? One reason could be that intranets have always had trouble proving their ROI. Email systems are viewed as a cost of doing business. Business Process Management software can clearly demonstrate ROI by eliminating staff or by making a specific process X% faster. But the value of a social intranet lies in improved communication between employees. We intuitively know that improved communication is a Good Thing, but its benefit to the organization is indirect and hard to measure.
The key is to understand this challenge and plan for the inevitable gardening parallel.
14 intranet best practices for building a lasting intranet program
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. One common scenario is to help employees find and connect with each other easily using a rich people directory.
2: Solidify an executive sponsor
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. And report on every important metric and anecdote you can. Our in-depth case study of Intrawest Placemaking includes several examples of how valuable executive sponsorship can be.
3: Align with the company's 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.
4: Build shared ownership during planning
"Shared ownership" is one of those nebulous terms that seems solid as a cloud. To be more specific, 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. Meaningful involvement connects people to the intranet, which can be like money in the bank later down the line. See more in our post on 15 Ways to Engage Users in Building a Social Intranet.
5: Give it a name and market the heck out of it
At Oxfam America we involved employees in an inclusive and structured process to name the intranet. Then we made that name stick and built a persona around it. We even held one-year birthday parties for the intranet in every office on the same day and shared pictures on the intranet. 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. See below for specific tactics for doing this.
7: Integrate with important business processes
This might be the single most important tip here. Find key business processes that can be improved by using the intranet to accomplish them. One client made the intranet the only route for employees to access a new time sheet system. Maybe you can establish single sign-on so intranet users can automatically log in to the HRIS (human resources information system) for seeing pay stubs and changing benefits. The key is to find the processes you can improve and then make them better using the intranet.
8: Incorporate intranet trainings into new hire orientations
Work with the HR department to make sure every new employee receives training on how to use the intranet. If it's a social intranet like ThoughtFarmer then new employees will likely love it from the get go.
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. This approach can smoothly transition a long intranet launch into an ongoing program.
11: Plan content pruning and maintenance
Establish an annual cycle of content review and updating. This can include moments when you review the navigation to see where new content will fit in. Or times to review and archive old news and calendar posts. Maybe conduct an audit of employee profile pages to see which departments need a small kick in the pants to get their team members' profiles up-to-date. Whatever content reviews you plan, make sure they're useful and support the intranet's larger strategy.
12: Establish recurring meetings for key stakeholders
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
If you commit to thoughtful goals and measures for the intranet and you consistently report on them then people will know you mean business. To get useful metrics you often have to go beyond what an analytics package offers and combine automatic analytics with feedback surveys and anecdotal evidence.
For example, rather than using the number of comments per month as metric, try the average number of comments per active user. You'll need two different pieces of data to produce that metric, but it's a much richer sign of user engagement than just the number of comments.
See our analytics expert Bryan Robertson's post on The New Laws of Intranet ROI for a heady and mathematical look at ROI. Or see our recorded webinar on 5 Approaches to Intranet ROI for a more down-to-earth overview.
The main point: avoid an end point
Andrew Wright (@roojwright), an international man of intranet mastery, recently wrote an excellent article for CMS Wire about The Organic Intranet. Wright's main conclusion was that a good intranet has no project end point, but evolves continually.
I'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 budget for an ongoing intranet program, it'll help you deliver a useful, successful intranet. That's the real point of this article. And the journey to a good intranet has no end point.
Have questions? Get in touch! We're always happy to hear from you.
June 25, 2013