Why diagnosing your problems beats a fancy vision for your intranet strategy

Before you create any plan to take you forward, you need to understand where you are. This is paramount whether you are already a stellar performer, or if you are experiencing total failure. The more that I work in the intranet and digital workplace field, the more I am convinced that it is this phase of analysis that determines success or failure.

In strategy-speak this is known as diagnosis, and in this post I going to try to convince you to spend a lot more time and effort on it at the beginning of your project.

It’s something we’ve covered in the past with our diagnosis cards and we will also be covering in our one day training course in London in January 2016.

The doctor will see you now

First off, let’s understand the term. The diagnosis is the period of research and analysis that defines the problems and attempts to explain the challenge that your intranet project faces. Similar to the idea of a medical diagnosis, not only do we try and describe the current realities (think of them as symptoms – say aaaaah!) but critically it gives us the opportunity to consider the reasons why.

Imagine going to the doctor:

You: “Doctor I have a sore throat.”

[The doctor peers into your open mouth.]

Doctor: “You have a sore throat.”

That is useless – you know you have a sore throat, that it why you are here. For the Doctor to earn their keep,  you need and expect an answer like this:

Doctor: “You have a sore throat because you have a streptococcal infection. You need antibiotics and some time off work. Are you a bit stressed and overworked at the moment?”

The doctor of course has lots of training and tools that allow them as a professional to be able to tell a nasty case of strep from throat cancer. Us intranet professionals have a bunch of ways of collecting data to try and understand the current state and what people think about it. For instance:

  • Stakeholder interviews
  • Focus group and workshop findings
  • User interviews and observation
  • User surveys and free-text feedback
  • Analysis of metrics
  • Benchmarking data

By pooling this rich source of data, themes will emerge:

  • How people feel about what they’ve got
  • The sorts of things they really want
  • Sources of enormous frustration to them
  • Their overall satisfaction all things considered.

This is data you need in your hands before you even think about the direction you need to go in. The trick here is to enter a phase of objective self-criticism by seeing the reality of your intranet and your organisation for what they truly are, and this is where it gets tricky for most.

You are literally your own worst critic

Explaining your bad points to yourself is a hard problem. No one would like to admit that they are not very good at something or was the cause of a problem. Professionally we are all taught to say we are brilliant at everything we do, all the time and unfortunately we all buy our own cover stories. Organisations are no different and tend to fall back on the clichés of management or the comforting illusion of best practice. We all have the irritating ability to protect ourselves from perceived criticism. We love to build a cosy bubble of belief around us. It is your duty to burst it with other people’s views of what you do – both stakeholders and users before you go too far in the wrong direction.

You need to understand what you are a bad at if you are going to create complicated plan to shift from one state to another:

  • Do you have the skills to do this? Do you need outside expertise? Do your big projects keep getting ruined by outside expertise?
  • What do people really want? What would be most valuable to them? Would they prefer efficient basics over the latest shiny doobury-wotsit?
  • How has the organisation changed? Is there a different business strategy? Different sorts of customers? Different sorts of employees? Less money? More mobile? More international?
  • Is there something that repeatedly goes wrong at your organisation? Over optimistic project plans? Incompetence at content management? Bad change management? A stifling management culture with no interest in social media? Is trying to keep anything findable a losing battle?
  • Has the market moved since you last did this? You might have a team to cut code but now should you use an off the shelf product? You might have always had on-premises, is now the time for cloud?

Notice it. State it. Discuss it. Plan to mitigate your weaknesses. This is the source of success.

We all know it is ****ed, why rake over the ashes of failure? Let’s build the FUTURE!

Because unless you have a true view of what you do and how it is received it is going to be a failure again. So much of strategy is not in fact the “what”, but the “how”. You might have the vision to provide the all singing all dancing workplace of the future but, as it pains me to say it, you’ll just be spouting clichés that we have all been chasing for 20 years, elaborated by the marketing departments of vendors. By focusing on the fresh view of your problems and how they are, you will start to generate your own ideas that are truly fit to what you need to do.

There is a paradox here. The more you understand about the nature of the problem the better you can tackle the beast. Using an “external” resource is a good way of breaking through the veil of stuff that you can’t see through (or are too afraid to ask).  This could be a consultant or a peer within your organisation, but probably not a vendor for obvious reasons of bias. However once you’ve got a clear view though you need to be really intimately involved in those next steps because you will have a much deeper view of the organisation that any suit on a day rate.

Diagnosis is not requirements gathering

This is an important point. People will of course tell you what they think the solution is as soon as you ask them anything. That’s what people do, they can’t help blue-sky solutioneering and it is likely that they are trying to be helpful. At this stage just notice the themes of things they want. This isn’t a stage of hardcore requirements gathering. Consider what people say they want at this time as symptoms of the problems they are suffering.

Playing the intranet game

Here’s my intranet strategy philosophy in its shortest form.

Given rules 1 and 2 of the intranet game, how do you play the intranet game and win? Without a critical view of your strengths, weaknesses and the obstacles in your path, you won’t and your fancy vision will remain only that.

Chris Tubb September 2015

Steve says.

“Getting a thorough diagnosis is the basis for a good cure. For intranet teams the act of diagnosis is also about being honest with yourself and having clarity of thought.  And that’s difficult when a) You are knee-deep in operational stuff and have no time for clarity b) When you realise that a new intranet  is not really the solution, and  that devalues what you’ve been building diligently for the past five years. I’m not sure there’s a magic solution but I believe focusing on the real problems and discussing them in the open will be ultimately rewarding for both organisations and intranet teams. That’s the sort of approach which leads to unexpected and interesting avenues.”

Need a diagnosis?

If you’re considering your intranet strategy and need a little diagnosis, why don’t you join me and Steve Bynghall on our day long intranet strategy workshop in London on January 21st 2016.

Whatever the stage of your intranet we think you’ll find it useful.  We’ll help you think through the issues in a structured way and you’ll leave the workshop with a much better idea of the way forward for your intranet. It’s going to be intensely practical.

There are still early bird tickets available until the end of September and if you want to discuss the day further with us you can contact us. We’ll also both be at the Intranet Now conference in October.

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