Intranets are products, not projects
Here at Intranetizen two of our most frequent rants are over the low value that businesses frequently ascribe to their intranet and the people who work on it, and the constant cycle of intranet relaunches and declines.
But arguably both of these issues stem from the same cause: the tendency to view intranets as projects.
The intranet-as-project phenomenon – whereby teams are given an unrealistic budget and timeline to deliver something – means that intranets often fail to meet expectations, attention quickly turns elsewhere and the intranet is left to go stale until the cycle repeats itself in five years. Too often, companies plough resources into an intranet or ESN programme, only to de-resource it the moment it goes live, effectively wasting much of their investment.
This means they often don’t deliver the expected business value, and end up being seen as a cost centre rather than a value-generator for the company – in turn impacting on the standing the team delivering the intranet have internally.
Great intranets deliver a ‘long wow’ rather than a big bang, constantly developing to add new services in response to user needs and business objectives. So they’re not projects but digital products, constantly evolving in the same way that an app or good transactional website does to keep up with changing demands.
By labelling them as digital products we help shift the mindset away from the big bang and toward one in which intranets continue to evolve to meet changing business needs, so they deliver clear business value in the long term.
A complex intranet – like a complex website – could easily be seen as a number of constituent products.
What does that mean for intranet managers?
In the digital industry it’s increasingly common for this process of evolution and iteration to be spearheaded by a Product Manager. This role is sometimes described as “the CEO of the product”, with responsibilities such as:
- Representing the user and conducting user research
- Engaging and managing stakeholders
- Prioritising the development backlog
- Liaising with technical teams
- Managing day-to-day running of the product
- Input on marketing the platform to build adoption and use
Product Managers come from a variety of backgrounds. They don’t tend to code, but they have a strong enough technical understanding to be able to effectively translate between the business and development team.
Sounds familiar, right? There are clear parallels between this and the responsibilities that intranet managers juggle.
Inviting the comparison – maybe even labelling ourselves as Intranet product managers – may help those with responsibility for intranets to get remunerated properly for their unique mix of skills, too.
Many of our readers report their role is graded as equivalent to an internal comms manager because of its position in organisational structure, despite intranets requiring a completely different – and much rarer – skillset. Conversely, Product Manager is a relatively senior role and well-paid within a development team, with clear career progression as they take on more leadership responsibility (for example to Head of Product). Choosing a better-understood job title could make it easier for those who have delivered intranet products to move into other digital roles.
Lead the revolution
Our teeth are immediately set on edge when we see recruiters advertise for Intranet Project or Programme Managers. We’re continuing to champion the intranet as an evolving business tool, and we believe labelling them as products – and the people running them as product managers – will lead to better platforms, and better recognition for the people who deliver them.
Here’s some resources on product management that might help you make the case for shifting to a “long wow” product view of your intranet:
- Mind The Product: highly valuable blog on all aspects of product management
- General Assembly’s Product Management course: See if you boss will stump up for this
- The Next Web on the role of the Product Manager: including some videos from well-known names in the digital industry
Have you had success having your intranet seen as a product? We’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below.