Plan to succeed

The old saying that “a failure to plan is a plan to fail” applies extremely well to most intranets. Without first setting a plan for your intranet plan that includes a strategy, functional details and a building blueprint you may well find yourself six months or even a year or two down the road having to start all over again because the tool is ineffective, out of control or both.
Any successful intranet requires a Functional Plan, a detailed document that identifies the form and function of an intranet, including its Information Architecture—or, where things live on your intranet—the wireframe layouts—or content buckets on the pages—how your intranet looks, and the site’s functionality – what your intranet will be capable of and will be included as part of the solution. Also, without a proper Functional Plan selecting the right technology solution is like trying to tie your shoelaces with your hands pinned behind your back – not impossible, but a lot more difficult than it needs to be.

In previous editions of Prescient’s newsletter we have provided details on the value and essential importance of a well thought out and planned Information Architecture, and have guided you through the three critical steps (DI, DII, DIII) of designing a killer site. That leaves us with site functionality to cover.

So how do you plan something when you don’t know what you need? The obvious answer is you don’t.

Needs Analysis

The first order of business when developing a functional plan - one that will allow you to grow your site and have it evolve as the needs of your business and employees do - is to execute an in-depth needs analysis. A needs analysis will set the bar on the current situation for your intranet’s environment.
  • Challenges: perceived and real,
  • Objectives: short and long term, and
  • Functionality (tools, process applications and information categories): “can’t live without”, “would be nice to have”, and “don’t need even if the CIO thinks it is really cool”.

Challenges – Addressing them head on

When it comes to implementing, or revamping, an intranet it is a very good idea to know just what people are thinking. Is your corporate culture one that resists change at every corner, so that you need to roll out your new business tool slowly with lots of communication and orientation? Or do your employees embrace anything that is hip and bleeding edge in the technology world – so that whatever your intranet solutions contains it better offer a slew of bells and whistles like team rooms and blogs? Are all of your employees in one building in the same city – so that that a simpler technology solution can be used? Or are they so geographically dispersed that you need Google Maps to find them – so you had better have a robust networking system that can accommodate log-ins from around the world?

Whatever the issue at hand is that may affect the implementation and/or adoption of an intranet it will pay off in the end to acknowledge, and address it, as best you can at the outset.

Objectives – today will turn into tomorrow

Knowing what you want to accomplish today is important. Equally important is knowing where you want to be tomorrow, next week, and have a least some idea where you want to end up next year and even five years from now.

An intranet needs to be able to morph and grow with a company as the organization changes and evolves. Things to consider with planning for the future:
  • Plans for employee growth. If a take-over of another company is planned that will double current staff numbers, the intranet’s infrastructure better be able to handle the increased traffic.
  • Is the intranet going to be the one-stop-shop for all things corporate: document repository, employee communication tool, HR functional tool (forms submissions, payroll documentation, vacation requests/tracking, etc.)? Then the technology implemented needs to be robust and chock-full of capabilities and upgrades.
Without looking at the big picture, as the intranet’s administrator you may find yourself back at the starting line before finishing even the first phase of the intranet’s solution – having very quickly outgrown your original plan.

Functionality – one person’s dream is another person’s nightmare

Understanding your company’s culture will go a long way to providing the right mix of basic tools and way-cool functionality.

A good place to start is to make a laundry list of all the requests for tools and features for the intranet. Be sure to throw in a few of your own that you have read or heard about that you think may be a good fit for your organisation. Once you have established that list, sort the items into three columns:

  • Can’t Live Without – these are capabilities that your organisation needs to either maintain or improve upon current “must have” functionality. This list of often includes: company directory with search functionality, remote access, forms repository and HR resources.
  • Nice to Have – this list will be comprised of components that, while the company could do without them, would still he advantageous. For example, if your employees are spread out across the country, but you HR department resides mainly at head office, having the capability to submit forms and requests would be an excellent tool. Or perhaps IM (instant messaging) would also be a welcome addition, particularly in our current world of open-concept cubicle configuration. Could the company live without these tools, sure, but why not take the opportunity to improve upon a required process, or add something that will facilitate communications for employees. These can be relatively easy components to implement, and go a long way to making the intranet an important and well used business tool.
  • Don’t need – so your CEO is a daily blogger with her running club and she is insisting that blogging functionality be set up for all employees to use. You know, because you have done your homework, that your employees just aren’t the blogging-types (you still have employees who won’t use email!). You can therefore make the case that this is just not going to be something that will be used enough to warrant the added workload it will require to implement, maintain and govern it. In this case, blogging could be added to the list of “future considerations” so that your CEO can still see some light on the horizon.
Once these lists have been generated and consent required from across the organisation has been received – not as easy as it sounds sometimes – the selection of technology (if required) and implementation of the selected functional elements can occur.

Once the Functional Plan is finalized, it is on to the next steps in your intranet’s evolution – site design, content management plan and a governance model. But with this well researched “plan to succeed” shared with everyone else who is helping with the site, you can minimize the time spent discussing what should be on the site and maximize your energy on making those elements perform at their peak.

Prescient Digital Media is a veteran web and intranet consulting firm with 10 years of rich history. We provide strategic Internet and intranet consulting, planning and communications services to many Fortune 500 and big brand clients, as well as small and medium-sized leaders.