my world of work and user experiences

February 29, 2016

The best intranets of 2016

Filed under: Usability — Tags: — frederique @ 21:50

The Intranet Design Annual written by the Nielsen Norman group is a yearly treat. The report takes us behind the scenes of the ten best intranets of this year. It not only shows and explains the intranets, which normally we do not have access to, but it also discusses the design process and the lessons learned. Good stuff! These are the things that struck me at first glance in the report.

Themes and trends

  • SharePoint rules!
    Of the 10 intranet winners of 2016, 7 are based on SharePoint 2013, 1 on SharePoint Online (Office 365), 1 on SharePoint 2013 mixed another system, and only 1 has nothing to do with SharePoint at all.
    I work for a Microsoft oriented company, so the intranets I am involved in always use one version of SharePoint or another. Sometimes we grumble at SharePoint, when it does not do what we want. But now nobody can claim that SharePoint is unsuited as a platform for great intranets.
  • Understanding employees
    It cannot be stressed enough: the only way to design a great intranet is to understand what the users need and then make it happen. The winners used different methods, but they all did something to involve the users in the design process. Even the team that had to create a new intranet in 60 days… The winners’ methods included analytics, interviews, surveys, “Listening Labs” to observe users at their desktop, early usability testing to define the Information Architecture and personas.
    This one struck me, because I recently heard – again – that we do not have time to involve users or to find out what they need. But if we don’t at least get some idea of what they users really need, how do we know we are not wasting our time on a useless intranet?
  • Content clean-up
    You won’t end up with a great new intranet if you migrate all old content that has gathered over the years ‘as is’. The redesign of your intranet is a good opportunity to clean up the content.  You need to analyse your content, determine what the helpful content is, design a structure to make that content easy to find., and plan the migration of the different types of useful information. One winner found that in their staged migration, the content that was planned for later stages was no longer relevant after all.
    This one resonates with me, because currently I am involved in a migration project. We are trying to avoid the ‘garbage in, garbage out’ approach. But because of time and technology constraints we unfortunately have to migrate a lot of sites ‘as is’. But fortunately, we have some governance in place that has already allowed us to remove obsolete sites earlier. And we plan on having even stronger governance in the new situation, to keep our environment clean. After all, you don’t have to wait for a migration to clean up your environment.
  • Helpful Help
    Over the years Help had become unfashionable, because it was unhelpful. But this year’s winners do offer help. Even though the intranets are clear enough to use intuitively without help, the teams realised that some users need some guidance to feel more confident and to make the most of the new intranet.
    I see the same need: not all users are confident enough to just go with the flow. They like to have something like a quick reference card, a short video tutorial or even an old fashioned user manual for advanced functionality.

Best practices

With 15 years of experience in ‘best intranets’, NN/g have come up with a nicely consolidated list of general best practices, that pertain to different aspects of the process of designing a great intranet.

Find out what your users need

  • Watch employees work, because then you see what they actually do in the intranet and how they do it. I even get surprised sometimes when I see users click around in their site during consultancy or training sessions.
  • Look at the available analytics. Do so before you start redesigning and afterwards, to see if you have made a difference. And keep it up while the intranet is being used.
  • Conduct usability research, even if it is just a quick test. It is better to get early feedback from wireframes or prototypes than to test a finished design when it is too late to make changes. The important thing is to watch users attempt a task and to discuss the findings with the entire team.
  • Use the social features to learn what interests or annoys the users about the intranet.

 Plan what should be done in which stage

  • Consider incremental feature additions. There are definite advantages to implementing the intranet a few features at a time rather than all at once, with a big bang. The project is easier to manage, and you show progress as you build it. However, you need to make sure that the users experience it as progress in a cohesive intranet and that you avoid the “Frankensteinian experience”, where the users do not know and do not understand what they get today.
  • Plan for mobile from the start. Mobile has become too important to be tacked on at the end. If you don’t plan, design and test the mobile experience explicitly, it will be disappointing.
  • Personalise after you create the infrastructure. Targeting content by role and sometimes location is very popular, because it reduces clutter for the users. However it can only work if the intranet knows what role and location each user has. If these data, which typically come from some HR system, are incomplete or incorrect, your personalisation will end in disaster. I have seen often enough that these data from HR were not good enough…

Don’t just build it and run, but keep the intranet alive and evolving

  • Support the launch of the intranet: involve key users at an early stage not only for their feedback but also for their contagious excitement, make sure people are available to answer users’ questions, promote new feature for some time
  • Plan to maintain and enhance the intranet, so that it says relevant and continues to meet the evolving user needs.
  • Help content contributors succeed. The intranet is not filled with content from the intranet team but with content from the business. But the intranet team can help these people.
  • Measure ROI. It is always difficult to quantify the return on investment of the intranet. But at least try to pinpoint what you hope to achieve with the new intranet and measure if you have succeeded: does usage increase? Is user satisfaction as measured in a survey improved? Do processes that are facilitated in the intranet take less time?

I have just dipped into the report. It has over 500 pages, so I still have lots of browsing among the top intranets to look forward to. In any case, I recommend it to anyone who is working with intranets or digital workplaces or whatever we call these environments these days. So see to get your own copy.

February 28, 2013

Nielsen Intranet Annual 2013 Trends in the intranet world

Filed under: Usability — Tags: — frederique @ 20:08

A new year, a new Nielsen Norman Group Intranet Annual. As always, they have looked at a lot of intranets and picked the ones that are most useable and user-friendly. And don’t think “we use SharePoint so it does not apply to us”, as 70% of this year’s winners are on SharePoint! These some of their lessons learned and trends that resonated with me.

  • It takes time and people to make a great intranet
    In these days of tools like SharePoint that we can use out-of-the-box, creating an intranet is no big deal, right? Wrong! “Just because a tool lets you do something doesn’t mean it’s a good design solution for your users. Across the years, our winning designs have tended to be from organizations that customized an existing technology solution to fit their needs, rather than simply doing an out-of-the-box implementation. That is, team members took the time to understand the tool inside and out, and worked with the tool to meet their organizations’ needs.” [p.363]. So development of the winning intranets took 2,3 years on average and the team consisted of 18 people, including consultants.
    “It’s not fair to ask a tiny team to take on an endeavor as great as designing and managing an intranet, even if you are “simply deploying” an out-of box solution.” [p.7] You don’t just need to build something nice. You also need to embed it in the organization, finding out what the employees need, asking feedback, testing with them what works best and communicating to them what they can do with it. “Even the busiest development teams, or those with the craziest deadlines, should take time to watch people attempt basic tasks using the design” [p.363]
  • Involve the content owners from the start
    One of the classic goals of an intranet is that the employees can find relevant information on it. In that context, we often talk about the ways to find it, via the search function and smart navigation options. But there also has to be a good, up-to-date, readable and fitting story when you have found the page. The winners have made sure of that by involving the authors from the start and helping them with their work. Not just writing new stories, but also determining what needs to be migrated from the old intranet: restart from scratch or clean up the content. But whatever you do, don’t just copy over the entire garbage heap – garbage in, garbage out.
  • Manage the content well
    That attention to the content is not just needed in the beginning, but continuously: “For the past few years, great intranet teams have been emphasizing regular content updates and creating processes and workflows that religiously keep content up-to-date.” [p.25] We – and they – see a lot of intranets that fall into the trap of content pollution. Users have a hard time picking the nuggets of golden info from the heaps of garbage.
  • Findable content: Filters gebaseerd op metadata
    To find that content, users can filter it via faceted search, which is really taking off by now. That makes sense, because “one of the greatest issues with today’s intranets is that they house too much content for users to deal with in an IA or even typical search results, [so] employees are willing to manipulate results to find exactly what they want.” [p.23]
    This kind of smart search only works if the information has been labelled properly with metadata. Social tagging is a catalyst here, and we see that SharePoint’s options for entering metadata and tagging help as well, such as the term store with type-ahead functionality that makes it easy to tag consistently. But it still takes time and effort. So according to Nielsen structure and navigation is still the number one challenge for struggling intranets, and there is still too much information in silos where it can hardly be found. But the winners say that it is definitely worth the time and effort.
  • Full on social integration
    In earlier editions of the report and some intranets in my experience, commenting en tagging are isolated in a separate section of the intranet or even a separate site. But then I see that users do not visit that section and hardly anybody participates. Now you can get social and interact on all content everywhere in more and more intranets. “There shouldn’t be a sense that there is one place for users to share information, and another for them to consume information.” [p.366] Companies that are still hesitant to get too social can at least make it easy to find people with particular expertise, so that you can contact them offline.
  • Take immediate action when you have found somebody
    Using the people search, it is easy to find people and then to contact them. If you have SharePoint and Lync, this is out-of-the-box functionality that is quite helpful. And it is not only available via the people search, but you get these contact options anywhere, like in the Members web part displayed on the homepage of your team site.
  • Pseudo-personalized homepages
    Personalization of the homepage based on your role has become very popular, but it can be very tricky to keep that up-to-date and working properly. Many companies therefore they take a step back: they let the users select for example their language and company code, or the type of home page they want, like a marketing home page or a customer home page. It needs to be very clear to the users why they should select anything and how they should do it. If you do automate personalization, check with HR regularly of the profiles still make sense.
  • Integration with enterprise applications
    The winning intranets make it easy for the employees to get into other applications – they talk about apps, very hot & happening …. The apps are often put on the home page and/or in the main navigation. And you see the apps that fit your role and/or the apps that you selected. Of course then you want to be able to access those apps without logging on separately – Single Sign On.
  • Feeds from the outside world
    Intranets already had inward facing social features, now they also display Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social sites from the outside: “offering these features as part of the intranet news serves as a frequent reminder, enables speedy access, and demonstrates support for the organizations’ representation on social sites. It also sends a message to employees that they should care about what customers are saying” [p.22] I’ve seen RSS feeds from the internet before, but I also see this outward facing view get emphasized now.
  • Mobile hardly there
    For years we’ve all been saying that mobile is hot or should be hot. Last year, we were disappointed of the mobile presence in great intranets. And this year is no better: the researchers have found only one instance of a mobile application for a winning intranet: an app for de iPad, for sales people. The others do something for mobile access, but haven’t optimized anything for it, for security reasons, because it is too difficult to choose a platform, because there is no money to develop or manage it, or because they don’t know how to tackle it.
  • Collect feedback and communicate
    Build your intranet and the users will come? Not necessarily… The winners were very serious about communicating its benefits and collecting feedback from the users to improve the intranet: users can send an e-mail easily and from everywhere, fill in feedback forms, respond to discussions about the new intranet. During launch, this gets additional attention by way of a banner on important pages. And they really do something with the feedback, so that the users know it is worth responding.

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