The A to Z of intranet diagnosis: 29 data inputs, triggers and sources

We recently wrote about how an intranet diagnosis, an honest assessment of where you are with your intranet, is critical for crafting any plan forward. To get to point B you’ll need to know where point A is, otherwise all plans and roadmaps are effectively pie in the sky. Understanding where you are is relevant from top leading-edge performers to the weakest about-to-implode intranets.

To get your diagnosis you need evidence. However in the bold new world where everything is “data-driven” many intranet teams might not feel they have a rich enough set of data to enable accurate decision-making. First of all you don’t need to have just numbers as a data input to understand your intranet. Secondly there are a huge variety of sources out there which can help. Thirdly, you can drive some specific initiatives to help understand your intranet’s successes and pain points.

Here are 29 (count ’em) data inputs, triggers and sources of wisdom which can help with your intranet diagnosis. We’re sure there are more out there, but this is what Chris and I managed to bash out.  Here goes:

Advocate networks and site owners

Publishing, super-user and advocate networks are a good source of quality feedback. They usually have know-how to understand the deeper functionality of the CMS and enthusiasm to bother to give you the feedback. Their input can be rich and valuable.

Application owner roadmaps

What’s going on in the technologists heads? Where are they going? Can you go too? Will it be expensive? Probably. WIll it be better in the next version? Certainly. Get connected. This is rich data to show the gap where you are now and where you need to be.  See also Vendor roadmaps.

Case studies

Chris has his reservations about case studies but I love ’em! They are a good way to illustrate how and what other companies do and therefore by implication what you could be doing too. The best sources for case studies are things like Nielsen Norman and the Intranet Innovation Awards but there are also lots of webinars, Slideshares from the intranet conferences and even vendor-driven case studies.

Content audits

Content audits tend to be time-consuming and done in preparation for content migrations, but you can learn a lot.  Is your content rubbish and out of date? Is there duplication? Is it actually not that bad? A content audit gives big hints about what you need to do.

Corporate strategy

Does your intranet support your content strategy in any way?  Going into new markets? Acquiring many businesses? Changing customer perceptions? If your intranet doesn’t help your organisation deliver on its strategy, it should do. A change in corporate strategy or an organisational change such as a merger will be a major influence and input into your own intranet strategy and future direction.

Email usage stats

Email stats are indicative of both trends and issues which intranets can positively influence, for example reducing internal comms related emails or reducing the numbers of attachments sent.  Intranet driven self service can reduce emails to your IT and HR helpdesks.

Employee engagement survey

The annual engagement survey might deal with some corporate generalities but it does show long term trends and also identifies high level issues, for example around communication. More specific breakdowns, details of feedback comments (if available to you) and output from employee listening programmes can also be gold dust.  Use it!

Employee interviews

Why not ask a few regular Debbies, Daves and Delias how they work and what they need?

Employee observation

Why not watch a few regular Debbies, Daves and Delias to see how they actually work?  For example when was the last time you hung out with some frontline workers?

External benchmarking

External benchmarking of your intranet or digital workplace can give you powerful insight. Both Chris and I do work for the Digital Workplace Group, formerly the Intranet Benchmarking Forum, which is probably the market leader with the most mature methodology.

Focus groups

Oh no, focus groups! I’m picturing you rolling your eyes. But if the feedback is useful, what’s not to like?

Forum and community research

If you already have a set of communities, forums and discussion groups this is a great place to learn about the topics that people are discussing or also a forum to ask focused questions? A bit of sentiment analysis could be just the ticket, for example to learn about the behaviours of sales staff, personal assistants, factory workers and other groups.

Glassdoor employee reviews

Are the wretched and ancient systems that people need to wrestles with so bad they are mentioned after people have left the company? Powerful stuff.

Guerilla user experience feedback

You can use “guerilla UX techniques” to get quick feedback on designs by asking questions in the lobby, setting up a stall in the canteen or going from desk to desk. It’s quick, instant feedback.  You could even use polling functionality on your intranet for a snap poll too.

Help desk stats and feedback

IT and HR helpdesk data is a key source of information on common pain points, but there’s also often some rich data and feedback buried in exchanges. If your IT folk codify feedback and can provide output….then grab it!

Imagination and gut feel

You are not a scientist. You are in business so it is OK to follow hunches, but remember to check in with the real world. The aim is to understand reality a little better, not to make any fantasies more elaborate.

Intranet metrics

What do the numbers say? Do people really use this stuff? Do they get value from it? Be broad in what counts as an intranet metric. Numbers from any of your sources count – visits, hits, registrations, engagement etc. etc.

Intranet survey

An intranet survey nails down the opinions of your users. Clearly this is a key source of data. Whether you do this annually or more ad hoc to feed into projects, past and present data are both an essential ingredient to inform your intranet direction.

Output from other projects

Other initiatives which involve workplace technology may already have done some extensive research or just have some good war stories. Don’t reinvent the wheel – go and visit your friends from another department about what they did a few months previously.

Peers in other organisations

What do you peers do? Are you behind or ahead? We know the plural of anecdote is data, but put some structure behind it and you can get something useful together. LinkedIn, conferences, Twitter, training course, your little black book. The only limit is how much of a brass neck you have.

Research and thought leadership

There is research and thought leadership out there which can be useful background for your project. Some is intranet-specific but others look at related issues. Be wary that many whitepapers have a vendor message lurking somewhere in the background. Be even warier of sweeping statements about millennials.

Screenshots

There are lots of intranet screenshots freely available which both give ideas for design but also illustrate in a very tangible way potential use cases and the art of the possible.

Stakeholder interviews (anonymous)

When you want the issues to be more important that the personalities. Do a series of interviews and make sure that everyone knows things are going to be anonymised. People can speak freely.

Stakeholder interviews (on-the-hook)

Get the senior stakeholders to put their money where there mouth is. Do a series of interviews and relate the write up to who said what.

Usability testing

How’s usability? And your information architecture? From high tech user labs to cardsorting, it’s all useful stuff.

User testing

What do people do all day? How do they feel when they do it? To what extent does your intranet help or hinder? Get people to write down in diaries when they used the intranet and for what. Then analyse.

Vendor roadmaps

Vendor roadmaps are an influence on what you may be able to implement, for example if you’re locked into the Microsoft stack. It also gives you a flavour of tools available.

Worldwide Intranet Challenge / Digital Workplace Trends

Andrew Wright’s long running survey can show you the basics and give you a heads up about where you are intranet wise. Jane McConnell’s survey has a wider scope looking at the wider world of digital working. Both provide some positioning compared to the other data which can be very useful. Moreover the service is free.

Workshop

Well, we would say this wouldn’t we? Come to our London-based workshop on June 30 2016 for a very practical and focused day on kickstarting, refreshing or reviewing your intranet strategy.

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.

Intranet diagnosis cards

Another free gift from Intranet Directions!

Last Christmas we enjoyed giving away our free cut-out-and-keep Intranet Tactics cards so much that we wanted to experience that warm glowing feeling again. So, in the same spirit of global intranet community-ness, here are our Intranet Diagnosis Cards.

Before you can work out where you are going, you need to work out where you are. Again, evoking the spirit of Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies, we’ve created some cards which have some questions, some suggestions and some ever-so-slightly antagonistic statements on them. These are designed to get you thinking about what problems you, your intranet and your organisation may have. Is it the technology? Is it the users? Is the approach? Is it the coffee out of the vending machines? Do you even have any problems?

These cards can help get you in the zone for brainstorming areas of weakness and frustration with your intranet, and diagnosing the causes you’ll need to address. This is a first step towards a cure by playing some quick tactics or kicking off the whole strategic shebang. Conversely they’ll help you to consider your intranet successes – don’t be so hard on yourself.

Use the cards in an intranet team meeting, away day, or just occasionally visit for some fresh thinking. Or scrunch them up, set fire to them and wish you’d never downloaded them in the first place. It’s up to you.

As with the whole of Intranet Directions, this is a bit an experiment. We’d love to hear what you think, how you have (or haven’t used) the diagnosis cards. Enjoy.

Steve Bynghall and Chris Tubb, May 2014

Instructions for use

  1. icon_mis  Wake up one morning feeling like your intranet has so many problems you just don’t know where to start.
  2. icon_download Download the Intranet Directions Diagnosis Cards PDF (239 KB, on us, for free, no sign-ups)
  3. icon_print Print it out on real world paper. Or on some nice card with a view to getting it laminated if you have loads of time and budget. But you won’t have either
  4. .icon_papers  Take the pieces of paper from the printer, and go back to your desk.
  5. icon_cutting Get some real world scissors and cut across the dotted lines. Be careful with those scissors, now. You might want to get someone with a technical background to help.
  6. icons_cards  Place the cards in a nice neat pile and contemplate their zen like papery-ness. Grab some of your colleagues for a meeting.
  7. icon_cardsStart to think about some of those things the users and your team moan about.
  8. icon_look  Look at the cards to start to tease at exactly what the problem is. You can’t blame everything on the users or IT, you know. How about a few post-its?
  9. icon_idea Also identify some successes. Make small paper aeroplanes out of the ones that aren’t problems. Start to see some common themes emerging. Articulate the major pain points and prioritise what needs to be addressed.
  10. icon_happy  Feeling motivated, commit to making a plan of action.
  11. icon_drinkYou’ll now need a stiff drink after such brutal self-honesty. Raising a glass to the Intranet Directions team, you’re now on the path to success.

Download

Download the Intranet Directions Diagnosis Cards PDF (13 pages, 230 KB, 52 cards, on us, for free, no sign-ups. We are nice people)

thumbnails for diagnosis cards