In both cases, the intranet development should follow User Centred Design (UCD) guidelines, a project management philosophy which places attention on the user’s needs, desires and context, in order to make your product easy to use.
Why? Because when an intranet is successful it becomes a fundamental instrument which can streamline users’ effectiveness, and which will create a positive, productive digital workplace. In order to do that, it needs be tailored to your user base. Any intranet specialist should be able to offer you a program which follows this strategy: it’s never enough to just use a ready-made software!
So here are some suggestions about the various stages of developing an intranet which will deal with the specific needs of your workplace.
Preliminary analysis and planning
At this stage, you should aim to:
– Define your work team
– Identify aims you want to reach
– Research your users
– Put together an archive of existing content and applications, ordered from the most important to the least important ones. This will allow you to create a navigation structure
– Consider whether you want to integrate other existing systems with the new intranet
Of these, researching your users is the most essential. Often, intranet promoters do not know what is necessary or important to users, and this ends up creating an intranet which is difficult and unpleasant to use, and which will minimise productivity in your workplace. In order to avoid this, one you have decided on your aims, it is absolutely necessary that you carry out user-centred research, which will understand the behaviours, needs and motivations of your users. This research will be carried out through observation techniques, analysis of the activities that have been carried out, and other feedback methods.
Creating your prototype
In this stage, you will create prototypes which simulate the main scenarios the intranet will be used in. These scenarios will be based on the information acquired in the analysis stage.
The prototype can be simple (i.e. a sketch on a piece of paper) or complex (whole HTML websites). What matters is not the complexity, but rather if it passes the user test. The prototype needs to be tested on some users in order to understand whether the choices you have made are right. This test will allow you to improve the design of your intranet software, and to improve the user experience, since the user will be the one effectively benefiting from the system.
Creating your intranet
At this stage, technology will play a vital role. You will need to develop software, either starting from scratch or from an existing framework. You could also use a ready-made modular platform.
This is also the moment in which you will need to import data, create the site’s navigation tree and create links with other systems.
Don’t forget your users in this stage! Here you can involve them, for they can test the system as it is being created and give you feedback.
As with every project, marketing is essential. You must motivate your users to use this new tool, since often changes in the workplace are seen as negative, or irrelevant. You have to actively counter this, for example, by creating presentation events or training seminars. Other ways to promote your new intranet system is to make and distribute videos, such as tutorials and videos, and to distribute gadgets, such as USB keys, mouse pads, or pens. You can also use local ambassadors or champions, users who are especially involved in the project and who can promote it to their colleagues. These people can also be a reference point for any problems or doubts. Try and be as creative as possible with your marketing methods, and think of non-conventional ways in which to make it exciting in your workplace!
Management, learning, development
Once the intranet is launched, the work is far from over. It is at this point that a learning stage begins, based on the actual use of the intranet. This can lead you to identify new needs and new opportunities. A standard way of proceeding is to plan changes and actions every six months, prioritising content that fulfil both company and worker needs. Using this method, you can concentrate on short term benefits without forgetting your specific company needs.
How to handle UCD projects with a limited budget
It is clear from this discussion that in order to develop a project of this kind you need specialised professionals, which entail consultancy and project development costs.
If you have a limited budget, you should start by simplifying your aims. It is better to have an intranet that does a few things, but does them well, than to have a multi-functional one which is hard to use.
You can also simplify the various stages of project development. With the right support, and some good advice, user research can be done independently. The creation of a prototype can be very cheap, since it can be done on paper. What matters is that you always test them on actual users. Software development can benefit from an already existent software platform, which will also be tested and tried. So, even with a limited budget, user-centred intranet development is possible!