Thursday, 9 April 2009

The last post

It is with a little sadness that I have to close this blog. My career is moving on and I have accepted a fantastic new opportunity at my company to lead a brand new team in an exciting area.

Over the past couple of years several people encouraged me to write this blog and having written it for a while I have been surprised by the quantity and quality of feedback - there are certainly some lively minds out there in the world of intranets!

To all of you in the intranet world, good luck with your projects and, above all, have fun!

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Are publishers' needs opposite to users' needs?

When talking with publishers they often talk about their aspirations for their site along the following lines

1. Different
2. Interactive
3. A place to put all of the relevant documents
4. All of the content related to my project in a single place
5. Ways to get users to look at things that I want them to

Compare that list to the typical things that users say they want from websites
1. Consistent
2. Simple
3. Not just a list of PDFs
4. Content arranged by what I am doing - without having to know the organisation structure
5. Don't let anything get in the way of what I'm trying to do - don't make me wade through irrelevant links

Okay, I may have slightly stretched the point, but it is certainly interesting to compare our drivers as intranet publishers and managers with those of the user. 

Do you have any examples of the tensions between users and publishers needs? I would love to hear them. 

Monday, 2 February 2009

Should we call it web 2.0?

The other day my boss challenged me to really get some energy behind web2.0 on our intranet. He is an enthusiast for all things web and really wanted to get going with this web2.0 thing. I agreed with him and said I would get going at once. I went back to my desk and listed out some of the things that web2.0 included and how it might be used in our business. Every time I came up for a use for web 2.0, we had already implemented it or were already working on the idea. In fact, most of the issue with existing implementations was either lack of management engagement or lack of relevance to mainstream users.

This was quite a breakthrough as I spend quite a bit of time (as you probably do) in meetings with people who just WISH we were doing web 2.0

This need to ask for web2.0 reminds me of the old story of a man who was stranded on a desert island. He prayed to god for help and soon after a rescue boat arrived. He told the rescue team to go away as he was sure god would save him. Later, a helicopter came over and he told the pilot the same thing. A passing boat signalled to him and he signalled back that he was waiting for god to save him. Of course after a little while the man died. Arriving at the gates of heaven he asked god why he had not answered his prayer and saved him. God replied 'Of course I answered your prayer - I sent a rescue team, a helicopter, a boat...'

My learning from all this is that sometimes we need to step back from the buzz and deliver projects and intranets that just work. In intranet circles so much energy is put into the 'redesign' or the 'relaunch' and so little into the basic hard work of running something that is based on needs of the user and the company. By calling something web2.0 we are setting ourselves an impossible challenge that will never go away even if everyone in the company has a blog.

What do you think - should we ban the phrase web2.0 on our intranets?

Saturday, 10 January 2009

How to prioritise intranet developments

The top 3 dimensions to prioritise intranet developments. Benefits, Reach and Influence.

If you are anything like me you have an ongoing long list of people in your organisation who want something on the intranet. Whether it is a new workflow or some new content there is a never ending stream of demand to develop. This is a good thing, but your time and resources are limited so how do you make decisions about what to do first?

I use 3 simple tests when discussing new opportunities. First, does the development have a direct benefit to the bottom line - and to support this are all of the right people (finance, procurement, senior management) in support of the cost savings that will be achieved. Are the cost savings built into local business plans and are they clearly measurable. If you can't pass this test move on to the next one.

Secondly, does the development significantly increase reach of your intranet. If you are like me you have a strategic goal to weave the intranet into a way of working around your organisation. To achieve this you need a critical mass of users and must-have features. Is this new feature going to extend the intranet to a new set of users (who are not currently using it) or drive increased repeat usage in a community that are already using your intranet. This one is a bit harder to judge than the previous one as every stakeholder who is looking for a new feature will usually be enthusiastic about the likelihood of every person in the company using their page on a regular basis. However, this test should be obvious - if everyone has to book their leave on the intranet and there is no paper alternative then it will obviously increase traffic for the affected groups.

Lastly, if the initiative doesn't pass the previous two tests is it going to significantly increase your influence. In a situation where you have been working to co-operate with a stakeholder for some time it does not make sense to turn them down when an opportunity finally arises. Equally if the CEO calls you and asks for some content or online process it makes equally little sense to refuse. Importantly I would use these opportunities to make a trade. If you have to agree to some vanity publishing against your judgement then make sure you negotiate time to come and explain intranet strategy and benefits to the people who are asking. There are all sorts of things that you can get in return if someone wants something.

What do you use to make priority calls?

Monday, 15 December 2008

What is the value of your intranet?

The top search term that visitors used to arrive at this blog in November was 'value of intranet' So it is obviously a hot topic out there among intranet managers. If you get the chance I'd be interested to know why you think it is such a hot topic.

I'm going to split the question into 2 totally different starting points
1. You've got an intranet and you are asked 'what is the value of the system that we have' i.e. can you justify the ongoing cost and expenditure
2. You want a new system function and you need to justify the future work.

I'm going to leave point 2 for a future blogpost so let's take a look at situation number 1.
It may be counterintuitive to some of you, but I would suggest that you should not start with 'the numbers'. I would ask yourself the question about how much agreement there is in your organisation that the intranet is an intrinsically useful thing. A business case, especially in a large organisation, is the outward manifestation of an agreement to do something - and that agreement goes way beyond what the numbers on the spreadsheet may or may not say about your payback period, internal rate of return and overall ROI. The bottom line is - do you have the right supporters across the organisation?

Some practical consideratioins
Are you measuring what people do on your intranet every day? If you are, then start putting a value on that stuff. When someone is viewing a page they should be completing a task (we should come back to task completion in a different blogpost) and that task must have a value. Let's take a practical example - making travel plans.
Firstly, this isn't a new task, just because it is online now doesn't mean that it wasn't done before so you can compare the cost of doing it before to the cost of doing it now. You can do this by using timings i.e. 3 minutes to do it on paper versus 2 minutes to do it online, multiply by the total number of times the transaction takes place per annum and you get a saving. More powerful though is looking at the intrinsic value of the task and claim a proportion of that. In this example the procurement benefits may run into very large numbers very quickly, and in a large organisation putting a task online is the only way to get control of it.
What about tasks that have a very fuzzy intrinsic value? Well, perhaps that is telling you someting. After you have put your 75th blog on the intranet and added your 120th RSS feed you probably ought to be pretty clear on how you are going to measure the value of it.

Do you have a known, current value for your intranet? leave a comment below if you have.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Having a great relationship with your IT dept

It's great fun. Sitting with your cilleagues and opining how the world would be sweetness and light if only the IT crowd knew what they were doing. The cms is slow, and those new feature we hanker for are just not coming, in fact you have no idea when you last got anything useful out of them. And while you mention it, when was the last time those awful people last came to talk to us!

But while your relationship is the pits you are missing out on a potential partner who could help you achieve your goals.

Whoever it was who said that looking in the mirror was a great way to start solving a problem may have been on to something. If you think those things about your IT crowd then what do you think they think of you?

My team has a relationship with the it people that has its ups and downs, but we are always working to improve it.

1. My top advice would be to keep talking. Not jsut once a year, set up a monthly session where you keep track of progress, discuss plans, identify issues - you know the sort of thing.

2. Be open. If you do start talking then you may notice the it people want to talk about different things than you do. Of course you need to separate your accountabilities clearly, but let them get involved.

3. Move up the food chain. Some of you may have had some bad experiences with the IT team in the past, but i have consistently found that the people at the top of the IT organisation aren't actually planning for you to have a poor experience. If you have an opportunity to get more value from it then most CIOs will be champing at the bit to help.

4. You may have to change too. Acknowledge that you may be part of the problem - and get over it.

By sharing ownership and actively involving the IT team in your intranet you are bound to move further, faster than you can without them.

Comment below on the quality of your IT relationship.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Make your intranet 2-way using ideas

About a year ago someone showed me what Dell were doing at

The concept is a great, practical development of web 2.0 - let anyone in your community create an idea and then let anyone else vote and comment on it. Then promise to do something about the ideas that get voted to the top.

Before I tell you how we got on with our implementation I'd like to point out why I think this works so well in the enterprise.

1. Get staff to tell each other how bad (or good) their ideas are
2. Get staff talking about ideas - people want their idea to get voted up (just human nature), this starts people discussing your business issues in the coffee shop
3. High visibility - management have to get involved and do something
4. Post some management ideas anonymously - you'll get real feedback on what people think
5. Promotes an adult-adult relationship with your staff

I implemented something similar inside our company and found some great learning points:

1. Middle and senior managers may be more open to the concept than you'd think
The downsides are obvious - you are suggesting to a manager that we should have an open exchange of ideas that everyone can have an equal vote on. Strangely enough, in my experience most management did not fight this concept. Not necessarily because they loved the idea, but rather we had been running, suggestion boxes and idea schemes for quite a while and it had some serious downsides. In our particular situation it created conflict because managers had to evaluate ideas and if the idea was no good then the process ended up with a manager having to politely tell a member of staff that their precious idea, the one they nurtured for months, was not good enough. How's that for employee engagement. Worse still, managers across the airline dreaded receiving ideas as they had to spend the time evaluating poor ideas. Employees were unhappy because the system rarely worked and when it occasionally paid out (there was a bonus involved) there was a lot of suspicion about the quality of the ideas. We had to do something better.

2. Your people don't realise how much you are doing already
We ran an idea exchange with a trial group of 2,000 staff in the IT department. Over the half the ideas were under way already, and of the rest, nearly all had been evaluated at some point or other. It was a chilling reminder of how hard you have to work to get your people to understand what's going on in any case.

3. Most ideas are not that good
Just because you have thrown down the challenge to everyone in the organisation doesn't necessarily mean that you will suddenly identify hundreds of fantastic ideas. In fact, our experience was that we got 1 or 2 really great ideas. I think, and here's where I'm out of my area of expertise, we raised the average quality of ideas - and since most people (in life in general) only occasionally come out with a sparklingly adroit comment, so it is in the realm of ideas.

4. It's obvious, but you have to implement something
Once everyone knew that we were running the thing (we got over half the staff to use the system within the first 3 weeks) then we faced the challenge that they all wanted to know what happened to their ideas. At least those that did not get voted into the top twenty had dealt with themselves, but we still had some hard work getting those top ideas going.

Comment below if have you ever tried something like this in your company.