8 intranet research tips from intranet designer
Intranets can be efficient and helpful systems and they’re usually designed and implemented in a way that reflects the needs of people who use them every day. The key to identifying the right needs is thorough, structured research.
The key element during the early design process is to generate answers to two fundamental questions: Why the company needs the intranet and how its employees should use it. To get right answers to these questions, design teams need a trusty research toolbox ready and understand how to make best use of it.
1. Plan your research
Research phase starts before day one. Efficient research starts with good preparation and planning. Unfortunately for your project management team, listening and observing takes time and resources, but this time will pay dividends: it will quickly identify unwanted functionality and save time with improvement iterations. It’s well worth the investment.
Hiring researchers will require specific budget. Take time to explain why the research is necessary, how it will be conducted and the expected outcomes and benefits. Your research will reveal some insights that may result in significant changes to the design and later overall intranet performance.
2. Involve stakeholders
The top management is not the most important target group for this kind of system, but if the time allows they should be involved in the process at the early stage to explore their perspective on the intranet and make sure the tool meets long term business aspiration.
The most important group to listen to is the core team of the project, comprising representatives of the companies different divisions and specialities – maybe 2-3 people from each. If the company is divided into different subsidiaries or divisions, then each subsidiary should be also represented so you grab the whole picture.
Make sure you involve experienced employees as well as people who have just joined the organisation to get a fresh and mature perspective of the potential obstacles and areas for optimisation.
Workshops are a great way to talk, listen and collect requirements but they need proper planning and management to get the most from them. You know how people love to talk, meet and discuss so prepare a clear agenda and a list of topics that will be discussed. Moderators should be quite strict about timings and list the requirements. Make sure that requirements are clearly prioritised so you can focus on the needs and features that are mission critical.
3. Create a space for discussion and complaining
During the workshops, it’s important to create conditions that will help to reveal the real picture. You need people to describe the problems you’ll ultimately hope to solve and so people needs to feel safe and comfortable. Make it clear that it’s anonymous so they can be free to give their real perspective.
This openness will have strong dependency on corporate or national culture – in some countries, like here in Poland, complaining is part of our DNA! People should feel that they are allowed to complain. Consider organising separate workshops for managers and specialists.
4. Mix qualitative and quantitative methods
Clearly, unless your organisation is very small, there is no opportunity to speak to every employee in a workshop so getting the broader perspective via a survey is a good solution.
Surveys are particularly useful for discovering trends and collecting ideas but remember that every idea proposed should not automatically be added to the requirements list. Look for trends; add those that are repeatedly mentioned.
To understand the survey results, you’ll need to deep-dive with some qualitative research. Conduct in-depth interviews, ethnography-inspired research and user testing with a select few, to better understand the trends and specific needs identified.
5. Be an anthropologist
During several of our projects we found ethnographic methods really valuable. Ethnography or cultural anthropology is a discipline that focuses on analysing different cultures and their rules by studying the behaviour of different members.
To understand how the company really works, visit the offices, observe everyday work and ask questions about the tools used by different employees. Spend some time sitting next to the desk, listening to the conversations with colleagues and customers.
When observing employees at the office, pay special attention to post-it notes and their content, their notebooks and different excel files that people use. These usually bring impetus for new features.
6. Use card sorting
Card sorting is another interesting and easy-to-use tool. It is widely used in the information architecture field to determine how to structure, divide and name the bits of data to make it easily accessible and findable. Respondents are asked to arrange cards with the name of different sections and articles, thus the name, into meaningful structure.
You do not need huge group of respondents. Usually, 30 or fewer employees should be enough to reach the right structure.
After some analysis the designer can create the information architecture backbone of the system and also discover how people name the main categories.
No matter how good and experienced the team is, it is rare that the first version of the design is perfect. Organizations differ a lot and technology and people’s expectations also constantly change.
So no matter how confident the designer, the design should be tested to reveal potential problems or issues that have been missed. Typical user testing with a small group of 8-10 participants can reveal almost any issue that have not been addressed properly. Applying eyetracking technology – which allow to collect precise data about respondents’ perception – can give even more insight about the origin of observed problems.
Tests should be repeated a few times during different phases of the design. Make sure you conduct user testing on early prototypes and after the content is put into the system to make sure that everything works fine.
8. Check satisfaction
The projects seems to be done when the system is there up and running, but in fact the intranet is a process. Companies rarely stand still and the intranet system should be flexible enough to reflect the company evolution. And it’s not just employee and company needs that will change over time: their habits and attitude may also change. Last but not least the intranet content and functionality can itself alter the system so it’s vital to measure the satisfaction and perceptions regularly. Often, a simple survey with just a few questions can reveal problems that were not anticipated or not identified during the design phase.
Satisfaction surveys allows the team to also measure the impact of the changes introduced and allow focusing on the areas that need to be optimized.
It will also allow the project team to demonstrate that they’re listening and alive to new development opportunities.
We’re very grateful for Hubert’s insights!