A SharePoint Online intranet, unlike an organization’s public website, focuses on communicating and engaging an organization’s employees, across business units and functions. They tend to serve a broader menu of information, which can include building company culture, cultivating thought leadership and insights throughout the organization, and/or serving as a hub for operational info employees need to perform their day-to-day responsibilities.
As a solution architect, I am often involved from the beginning of an intranet project, and I am writing this to provide key guidance for people interested creating a new intranet or refreshing a stale intranet. If you can ask and answer these five questions, it will jumpstart the intranet project, whether you choose to engage your internal IT team or seek out a consulting partner to make your SharePoint Online intranet vision a reality.
Question 1: Why are we doing this?
It seems unusual, but it’s fairly common for a decision maker to ask for an intranet without getting into why they are asking for this. I have also found that not everyone responds positively when asked “Why?”, even when it comes from a place of genuine curiosity. If you have run into this, I have had success reframing the “Why” question into something like “If we imagine the first launch of the intranet, what does this experience look and feel like for our people?”
This is a crucial question to be able to answer, as if we do not understand the “Why” behind an intranet, we will struggle to measure if the intranet we create is successful. There can be multiple “Whys” for an intranet, such as an Executive “Why” to increase engagement between leadership and employees, and an Employee “Why” to spend less time finding information, forms and documents they need to get all their stuff done!
It’s great to have many answers to the “Why” question, and we don’t have to try to satisfy all the “Whys” in a single intranet launch. We can also target a specific why for first release, then expand the intranet over time to answer other “Whys”.
Question 2: What are we going to call this?
It can be challenging to get people interested, engaged, or exciting about a thing with a generic name, like “the intranet” or the “SharePoint”. If the people are unhappy with the existing intranet, we are going to bring up those negative feelings, even though we are talking about it to make something better. A great technique to start engaging the organization and overcoming the past feelings is to give the new intranet a new name! I like to create a naming contest where anyone can give name ideas, then have the organization vote or the intranet team decide on the winner. We want our users to think of the intranet as more than just another piece of technology and giving it a name helps it have a little personality!
Question 3: Have we tried this before? What worked well or did not work well last time?
No one knows everything! Not all intranet initiatives result in a launch, and not all launches are successful. These failures and stalled attempts are only costly if we do not learn anything from them! So, whenever we are embarking on a new intranet project, it is important to examine past attempts and/or the current implementation. Talk to the people involved in the earlier attempts and survey the organization about the successes and failures with the current intranet. If we do not have an existing intranet, we can seek out other technology initiatives and learn from those successes and failures.
I also like to run an exercise early on in an intranet project, where I ask the team to imagine we have launched the new intranet, and it is a complete failure. Everyone writes down things that would lead or contribute to the project failing and shares each one with the group. We can then analyze these projected issues, and tailor the project to predict those failure points, instead of reacting to them after they happen!
Question 4: What are the problems we are trying to solve and who has those problems?
In my decade of Microsoft Consulting, I have learned that no two organizations are exactly alike, even when the organizations are in the same vertical, have similar numbers of employees, and even if they do the exact same thing for their customers. As alike as two organizations can be, they consist of different people! If I consult for two credit unions, are there similarities in the problems that branch staff face in supplying excellent member service? Of course! But I have found that taking the time to understand the human beings experiencing the problem or frustration helps us supply the best solutions for those problems.
When starting an intranet initiative, I have found using a combination of surveys and brief interviews really help to define problems from the perspective of the people experiencing them. For the surveys, I will shoot for a few Likert scale questions to measure the overall sentiment about the current intranet and if people feel informed or engaged. I will also ask a few open-ended questions probing for specific problems performing day-to-day work, finding information, and working together across teams or functions. I keep these anonymous with the choice to provide contact info, but I usually will require some demographic info like role, job title, and time with the organization.
Anyone willing to put their name to the survey is a great candidate to follow up with a brief 15-minute interview! I will use this to dive deeper into the problems reported or ask them to perform a couple of tasks within the current intranet, so I can see any struggles firsthand to better understand the root cause.
Question 5: Who is the intranet decider?
A successful SharePoint Online intranet takes a village to raise it from a first idea to a first launch and then continued growth and refinement. We will need experts in the technology, experts from the business lines and functional units, and a cohort of editors. Without that group effort, an intranet will struggle to get off the ground and quickly become stale. However, without a Decider, the intranet will never leave the idea phase! When I am looking for a Decider, I want someone with influence and decision-making power within the organization. They usually bring vision and big ideas and are able to support that by approving funding and allocating person hours towards an intranet. We want to bring the Decider in from the beginning, and though they do not have to participate in all the learning, designing, and implementation, we will leverage them whenever we can’t reach a clear consensus on the path forward. Without the weight of a Decider behind it, it can be a real struggle to gain any traction or momentum for a new SharePoint Online intranet.
Whether you intend to create your new intranet in-house, or partner with an Intranet consulting firm like Total Solutions, asking and answer these five questions will lay down a foundation for success. With a clear purpose, a compelling name, preparing for pitfalls, having well understood problems, and having a decider to back the intranet and break up roadblocks, we can feel confident as we move forward. If you are considering a new SharePoint intranet and need help answering these questions or figuring out what to do next, contact us to schedule a time to speak with one of our SharePoint Online consultants.