Your intranet is good, but you think it could be great with a few
changes. But what changes? What improvements and modifications would
turn your company’s intranet from an information resource to an
essential business tool?
I can’t tell you how many client conversations have started with
the statement “We want to improve our intranet.” But when I probe as to
which area(s) of their current site needs improvement – all I get is
dead-air. They recognise that something is missing, but they just can’t
seem to put their finger on what exactly it is that is not there. Or,
they have a silo perspective – it is a systems issue, or there is a
lack of “insert department name here” specific content. Very rarely do
clients have an overall perspective of what each area of their
organisation thinks is missing, or needs improvement.
This is when you grab your sleuthing hat and head out into your
own corporate maze and do some business requirements data research
. This is how
you will unearth what needs to be done to flip your intranet over from
being an occasional reference source to indispensable corporate
Setting off down the right path
When kicking off any kind of project, be it implementing an
intranet or revamping a business process, the most important stage of
the entire project cycle is the business requirements stage. And one of
the most productive and useful research methods is the business
Business requirements interviews determine the specifics:
what the project must ultimately achieve,
whether those requirements can be met, and
provide a gap analysis to determine the difference between
performance and requirements, (satisfaction versus importance
No doubt that finding the answers to these, and other questions,
is important – but it may not be the toughest part of the business
requirements collection task. Because before you ask the question, you
have to think up the right question. Then you have to find the right
people to pose those questions to. This is often where the better part
of the work is needed to establish what your business requirements
Where to start
Questions such as: “Who are the company’s SMEs (subject matter
experts)?”, and “What are the organisation’s different stakeholder
groups?” – are a good place to start when gathering business
An old adage dictates that there are usually three sides to a
story; his, hers and the truth. Well, when it comes to getting the
business story straight there are also usually three sides to the
story: the technical side, the business side and management’s side. But
unlike the “he said – she said” debates, these three points of view are
all valid, and together usually triangulate to find the best case
solution for all involved.
But what does admin know about servers?
If it is a business problem, why go to IT? And conversely, if the
project at hand is one based in technology, what could the
communications team possible have to contribute? And management, well
we all know that all they ever do is tell us is to cut costs and find
ways to increase our ROI!
As the analyst, your job is to peel away the layers of
techno-speak and jargon from each of these groups to find the
underlying common message or problem that needs to be addressed. As
well, by dialoguing with representatives from each of these and other
areas, we are better able to identify and pull best practices from
each. That is why it is vital to the success of any business or
technology based project to talk to those outside of the direct scope
of work to ensure opportunities for improvement, efficiencies and even
increased ROI, are not missed.
A little prep work goes a long way.
Knowing your audience and their area of interest within the
business goes a long way to facilitating a fruitful conversation.
- Learn a bit about those you are talking to and their business
before your meeting.
- Meet with interviewees on their own turf, face-to-face whenever
This is particularly important when eliciting business
requirements and/or expectations from managers or executives. These
interviewees will be more candid and forthcoming, and you are more
likely to get the true requirements when in private environment.
Also, keep other interviewees’ opinions to yourself. You are more
likely to get at the truth if each interviewee delivers their opinion
in an "uncontaminated" state.
- Send out an email confirming the time and place – include an
outline of topics to be covered to all participants.
- Questions prepared in advance are a great guide for the
conversation and as fallback device to ensure key points are covered
before ending the session, but responses should guide the flow of the
conversation whenever possible.
Stay focused on the goals of the interview, and steer
conversations back on track if you stray too far from core
Keep to a relatively high level in the interview's early stages.
Don't follow an early comment to a very low level of detail, only to
run out of time and discover that you haven't discussed three other
major areas of responsibility with important requirements for the DW/BI
What to do with all this information
Now that you have information from all aspects of the business it
is time to turn on your fact-filter and decipher what is truly key to
the task at hand. This is often a good time to turn to the data
collected from management and executives, and why it is often prudent
to perform this set of interviews last with added questions meant to
qualify data collected from other sources. These individuals are often
the ones who can see through the clutter, recognize the potential
barriers to success and provide guidance to ensure the project
deliverables are in line with the overall business plan of the
By focusing on the business requirements, not user requirements
during this analysis stage you will be able to identify solid
recommendations for the course of the project, and perhaps even
pinpoint a few 'quick wins' that can be executed early in the
implementation to set the stage for success.
Prescient Digital Media is a
veteran web and intranet consulting firm with 10+ years of rich history.
We provide strategic Internet and intranet
consulting, planning and communications services to many Fortune 500 and
big brand clients, as well as small and medium-sized leaders.