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Processes and Productivity

How to plan for the continuous improvement of your intranet

The best and most successful intranets are the result of continuous efforts. But how do you get that ball rolling? Here are four steps to ensure the best possible outcome for your intranet.

6 minute read
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Updated June 30th, 2021. Great intranets continually improve and evolve. But to effectively manage that change, you need a system and a plan. 

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Step 1: Start with intranet purpose

Purpose provides direction. It offers basic criteria by which all major decisions can be judged.

Assiniboine Credit Union, a long standing customer of ThoughtFarmer,  started with this purpose:

Increase personal and departmental efficiencies and provide increased member service.

You can understand why such an agreed-upon purpose helps with decisions. A forum to solicit ideas on how to increase client service aligns with this purpose. 

To craft your intranet purpose:

  • Involve all stakeholders
  • Consider using a group brainstorming and decision-making technique, such as the K-J Method (more on that below)
  • Tie it to the organization’s goals and strategy
  • Make it easy to understand
  • Make it specific, or find specific areas of focus that illustrate it

Step 2: Focus on delivering value to the business

Once you have in place the guiding light of intranet purpose, your next challenge is to think in terms of specific business value. We offer suggestions on determining business objectives in Step 1 of our Intranet Buyers Workbook.

Business-driven development contrasts sharply with feature-driven development. As an example, we once spoke with an intranet manager who was trying to wrap her head around tagging. Should they create a complete tagging structure for all the content on their new intranet? How would they get people to use tags properly on all types of content?

Instead of implementing a tagging structure for the entire intranet, we recommended a more focused approach:

  • Identify one key area of the business that is in dire need of better knowledge sharing.
  • Create a forum for people to ask and answer questions on that specific topic.
  • Find an intranet champion with knowledge of the topic to moderate the forum.
  • As users add more posts to the forum, identify tags that could be used to help sort the forum posts.
  • Educate users of that forum on how to use tags.
  • Have the forum moderator monitor new posts and add tags to new posts.
  • Promote the forum, gather feedback on it, and monitor its activity for success stories.
  • Gather basic data on activity levels in the forum and tie that into success stories that demonstrate the value created through the forum.

This approach moved away from features (“we need to use tags better!”) and towards business needs (“the marketing team desperately needs to share knowledge on social media activities!”). It yielded a plan that is achievable in six months. And it didn’t matter whether tagging turned out to be a success or not, so long as the knowledge sharing returned value to the business. Side note, if you want to see some great examples of knowledge sharing, I encourage you to check out this blog: How 4 organizations used their intranet to support knowledge management.  

Step 3: Think ahead in 6-month blocks

Noted intranet consultant James Robertson (who also helped popularize the term Digital Employee Experience) advocates a 6×2 methodology for intranet planning. In a nutshell, it suggests that you plan in six month cycles, never making overly specific plans too far in advance, but always having a sense of what you will do next.

Plans that you make for the next six months can be fairly concrete. Not too much changes in six months and it’s usually the shortest amount of time in which you can start and complete major changes.

For the following six months (reaching out to a year in the future) you can have goals, but there’s no point in creating a detailed plan until the time period nears and certainties of business operation fall into place. 

In many companies, especially large ones, change is constant—like we have seen in the last year with the emergence of the hybrid workplace. There are also things like mergers and acquisitions, restructuring, newly hired executives with new priorities, rebrandings, and media crises. 

Even with the unpredictability in the last 18 months, you can still likely foresee the next six months with some certainty. So identify projects that can be accomplished in that time period.

Step 4: Get the support of the intranet steering group

To establish the priorities of the intranet steering group, we use the K-J technique (also called affinity diagramming). It’s a structured group discussion and decision-making process that:

  • reduces the impact of internal politics
  • eliminates power differentials
  • builds shared ownership of final decisions
  • yields results quickly

With the K-J technique at your disposal, a clear intranet purpose, a focus on business objectives, and six-month planning cycles established, you’ll have clear parameters for working with the steering group.

Get agreement on the six-month plan: This is the first thing you need to achieve with the steering group. Once you’ve done so you need to think about managing expectations for the next six-month cycle and keeping communications channels open.

Establish a “parking lot” for second-tier priorities: As you run the K-J technique or some other method for selecting projects for the next six months, you’ll need to also think about the future beyond that. Use the idea of a “parking lot” to collect ideas for important projects that didn’t quite make the top of the list. This will give you a strong starting point for the next planning cycle and appease stakeholders whose pet projects suffered the fate of the chopping block.

Report on progress: When the steering group agrees on something, that’s a minor miracle in and of itself. Don’t squander good will or lose momentum by then going silent. Provide ongoing reports on progress and try to include hard data related to the goals of whatever projects you are working on.

KJ for Intranets
The KJ technique is invaluable for establishing the priorities of the intranet steering group.

Ongoing intranet management is a dance

All the most beautiful dances combine structure with hard work and creativity. The basic steps create a structure. Practice leads to smoother movements and builds rapport between dance partners. And thoughtful, creative, passionate execution makes a dance number a wonder to behold.

Managing ongoing intranet changes is like a dance. Your stakeholders are your dance partners. Six month planning cycles and clear decision-making processes offer structure. The projects themselves provide opportunity for creative execution. And the more you go through this process, the easier and more effective it becomes.

Good luck, and go do your intranet dance!