How to Launch an Intranet: Penn State Outreach Case Study

There is lots of information available on how to build a great intranet. (Try Jakob Nielsen, James Robertson and Toby Ward for starters.) But there is little information available on how to launch a great intranet.

This is the story of how Penn State Outreach executed a very loud launch of their new intranet, our.outreach, built on ThoughtFarmer intranet software. It was fast, well-orchestrated and effective: on launch day, the new site averaged 100 page views per visitor.

Purchase order to 1500-user launch in 7 weeks — including Christmas break

While I was in the front room finalizing contracts with Penn State Purchasing, Bevin Hernandez, the intranet project manager, was already in the back room working on the launch timeline.

Project timeline

Planning the intranet launch

They set a hard launch date of January 29th, just 7 weeks away, with a Christmas break in between. This would be a very public launch — they asked all 1500 staff to keep the day free for something very big and very mysterious.

Postcard

Postcard back

Mysterious postcard asking people to block out the intranet launch date on their calendars.

Technology Training

The team identified a launch risk: not all employees were comfortable with technology. So to coincide with launch, they created a professional development series to help.
Are you wikirsstwitterblogified?

Professional development series to introduce newbies to next-generation collaboration technology

Bevin reports that these classes have been a resounding success thus far.

It’s all about People

The theme of the Penn State Outreach launch campaign was “A Time to Connect”.

In line with that theme, they created posters as teasers for the new intranet’s relational profiles.

Whi is only two degrees from Kevin Bacon?Whi is 17 inches shorter than her husband?Who was an extra in the move The Pelican Brief?Who was on romper room at age 5?

The posters were the most successful marketing piece of the campaign. Bevin reports, “I heard references to it in various meetings and classes where people thought it was fantastic and ‘wished they could do that’. The team had to stifle giggles because we knew that they soon would be able to.”

Welcome Packages

Each employee received a welcome kit that included the agenda for the day and a thumbdrive containing some special documents.

Volunteers assembling kits

Volunteers assembling 1500 welcome kits

Launch Day

I’m just skimming the surface of what the Outreach team did for this launch.

They put together a goal statement:

“The intranet will engage employees to connect across Outreach with peer, management, and leadership, encouraging collaboration and knowledge sharing. These connections will provide greater service to our learners, our communities, and each other.”

They put up huge posters in elevators and at a cultural & professional development event.

They “leaked” a video showing a feature of the new intranet.

They released an audio message from the vice president.

They solicited campus-wide for volunteers for a “super exclusive project” and ran a 20-person pilot.

They held a barnraising.

And all of this happened in 7 weeks.

Launch day was anchored by this video presentation by Bevin:

Bevin Hernandez introducing the new ThoughtFarmer-powered Penn State Outreach intranet, our.outreach

Warmly received

Shortly after launch, enthusiastic comments about Our.Outreach (the name of their new intranet) started pouring in from the users:

“I’ve utilized an intranet in most of the jobs that I’ve worked to this point. Our.Outreach is HANDS DOWN the very best I’ve seen/used. Fantastic job!”

“Thanks so much for your efforts on behalf of yesterday’s launch. What a rich addition to our environment! I spent hours clicking and exploring and investigating and didn’t put a dent in it.”

“One of the great reasons that this project has come to this point, and why we are sharing in the success of this launch today, is that our.outreach is an intranet project which is not ‘owned’ by the technologists within the organization (and that would be by my unit, Outreach Technology Services). Everyone ‘owns’ the content and we as the technology unit facilitate its use and availability. We all now have the ability to share our stories, and it truly is a shared business venture!”

A groundbreaking project

Penn State Outreach’s intranet project broke new ground for the organization in several ways. It was the first time:

  • an Outreach cross-functional group got together and was highly effective
  • Outreach was unified under one technology/one way of doing things
  • Outreach marketed directly to the employees vs. distributing information through multiple layers of management

Most importantly to me, as an intranet software vendor: this was the shortest “decision-to-implementation” project that the organization has ever undertook.

Bevin wanted to be sure I mention all the people who helped out with the launch. She sent through a list of about 75 people, but I asked if she could cut it down to just the core launch team. In typical web 2.0 fashion, you can follow most of them on Twitter:

You also might be interested in this background video, which explains the environment that led the Penn State Outreach team to roll out “intranet 2.0” technology:

Further reading: