by Carmine Porco — The third best way to improve through experience is to learn from your mistakes. The second best way is to learn from the mistakes of others. And the best way is to learn from your own successes.
My experience in developing and implementing intranet strategies
has exposed me to a number of mistakes, many committed by others and, I
must admit, a few by me. Along the way, I’ve also enjoyed a number of
From my experience, I’ve developed a list of the Top 10 Intranet
mistakes, from which you can learn some crucial lessons without
experiencing the pain that might otherwise be felt. This list can get
you started on your own intranet strategy, or it serve as a checklist
for your intranet endeavors.
Mistake #1: Don’t Talk to Users
“I’m afraid of what they might say” was one response I received
when I asked a client why they haven’t asked what their users want.
Sticking your head in the sand and ignoring the world around you is a
great strategy… if you’re an ostrich. But if you’re creating an
intranet site that will improve the lives of users, you had better
understand how they want to use it. User input is essential,
particularly when you consider how a new intranet affects just about
everyone in your organization.
Engaging employees in usability testing is also an important
consideration because they are your clients after all. Nonetheless,
it’s surprising how many organizations make the mistake of launching or
refining an intranet without formally gathering user input.
Mistake #2: Don’t Build a Plan but do try to boil the Ocean
Too many times, I have seen organizations try to implement
everything at once without a solid plan to guide their priorities.
That’s like trying to boil the ocean: you’ll expend enormous energy and
achieve little as a result. Without a proper plan, your intranet will
As with any new initiative, a proper planning phase is required to
ensure clearly articulated requirements, vision, strategy and
measurable objectives. A proper plan will also allow you to effectively
determine your scope and help map out a phased approach. This is not to
say that your strategy should not include a grand view of the end
product but it should be implemented in 6-8 month stages.
At the rate technology is changing, especially in the Web Content
Management System (WCMS) arena, it is more prudent to pick a few low
hanging fruits and establish success which will encourage buy-in (and
spending) than it is to try and pick the tree clean all at once.
Mistake #3: Ignore the KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid) Rule
This can never be stated enough, yet time and time again we see
organizations trying to “customize” their intranet because they feel
they are “different”. I would venture to say that a majority of the
small to mid-level WCMS vendors can accommodate 80% of many
organization’s requirements without customization. As I mentioned
earlier, when you devise your plan, start small and keep it
The number one comment we hear from our user research is, “I can’t
find anything.” We never hear, “I would like a really neat customizable
application that can’t be bought off-the-shelf”. It makes no sense to
increase the risk of failure by allowing users to, for example,
customize the look and feel of their home page by adding columns,
Mistake #4: Write for the printed page, not the Web
Quite simply, users read the web differently than they do paper
documents. Notice how this article, for example, is written in easily
scannable chunks. I bet many of you probably didn’t read this sentence
until you first scanned the top 10 mistakes and then decided that the
article might actually be interesting enough to read top to bottom. So,
why is it that when Prescient first views a potential client’s site, we
are invariably overcome by long blocks of verbiage?
Your content providers/authors need to be trained on how to write for the web
if you want to avoid this
Mistake #5: Don’t Provide Training
Everyone, from authors and users to administrators and IT staff
need to be trained on how to use the software, write for the web,
administer users, etc. However, if a site is not intuitive enough for
someone to instinctively grasp, then I would say the fault is in the
site, not the user. Don’t’ agree? My 6 year old daughter can surf
Barbie.com on her own. ‘Nuff said.
Authors and content providers need to learn not only how to use a
new CMS, but also, how to write for the web. Administrators, webmasters
and IT staff who receive training also require “train the trainer”
courses so that they can transfer knowledge to others in the likely
event that people change jobs or leave the company.
Mistake #6: Launch Your Site without Marketing It
“If you build it, they may not come”. Not only does marketing your
site help garner greater traffic, it also allows for better buy-in from
your users. Change management is very important when implementing an
intranet as it affects the entire organization and, therefore, must be
acknowledged and built into the planning process.
Marketing should not only be a priority at launch but
features/applications should be continually promoted
to demonstrate success and promote innovation. One simple way to do
this is by highlighting a new feature in a monthly newsletter, on the
home page or on a frequently visited page, such as the employee
Mistake #7: Fail to Build a Governance Model
Who owns the intranet? When asked this question, organizations
often resemble the monkeys who “hear no evil, see no evil and speak no
evil”. Without proper ownership, management and standards for your
intranet, it will surely fail. How the site is managed and governed
needs to be clearly defined during the planning process and then must
be supported by senior management.
Without this, the common excuse for the inevitable poor intranet
is “I have real work to do”. Steering committees, executive champions,
standards and guidelines are all essential components of an overall
governance model. By putting a good model in place, the political
bickering that inevitably accompanies an intranet project is lessened.
See “ The Politics of Intranet Ownership
” for more on this
Mistake #8: Only Look Internally for Best Practices
As I said in the opening, the best way to learn is from your own
successes. If your organization has a strong track record of
successfully deploying intranets, then all the answers you need will be
found internally. If not, you’ll need to learn from others’ mistakes
and successes by reading extensively, attending seminars and hiring
OK, the last point may sound self-serving, but where else are you
going to discover the most up-to-date best practices in a
time-efficient manner? A consultant can assist with your project by
offering an unbiased opinion, by sharing best practices and knowledge
and by offering insight into how case studies can be adapted to your
Mistake #9: Move Ahead Without Senior Level Backing
As with any project, if a new intranet is not fully endorsed by
senior management, it will be more difficult to achieve success.
Prescient has learned two essential ingredients to success. First,
senior management must “get it”. If they see no need for the intranet,
they will need to be “ educated
”. That is, they will need to be shown how
their competitors and others have received return on investment.
The second ingredient for success is recognizing that more senior
managers are requesting a business case for their intranet. This is no
easy task. However, while measuring the precise return on investment
may not be possible, there are ways to demonstrate both potential and
existing ROI. For our free white paper,
Mistake #10: Treat the Intranet like an Event, Not a Process
Many intranets have not been updated since launch. Your intranet
may have been built by somebody in IT who once had some time on their
hands and who now probably regrets doing so because anytime a change is
required/she is the one who gets the call. This role may not even be in
their job description and as mentioned earlier, the site has probably
faltered because he/she has scoffed it off by saying, “I have real work
With a proper governance model in place, the intranet can be a
living, breathing application that grows and changes with the
organization. Ownership, process and content workflow, trained and
decentralized authorship, ongoing marketing and metrics, defined
responsibilities and executive support are some of the essentials that
will ensure your intranet enjoys ongoing success.
Avoiding these mistakes won’t guarantee intranet success, but my
experience has shown that applying these lessons significantly raises
the probability that your site will contribute positively to your
organization’s goals. At a minimum, the list will help you learn from
others’ mistakes, rather than from your own.
A Senior Internet Business Consultant and a regular writer and
speaker, Carmine Porco is the Vice-President of Prescient
Digital Media. For more information on Prescient’s CMS Blueprint
service, or for a
free copy of the white paper “Finding ROI”, please contact us.