Too Many Organizations Ignore End-users
The value in an intranet is in its users' engagement. This may seem simple enough, but more often than not, the intranet’s architects are more concerned about the business needs and the intranet strategy rather than the user experience. Both of these are very important but ultimately one of the best metrics to an intranet’s success is how well it is adopted. In order to adopt the intranet, the intranet must prove itself to be both useful and easy to use.
When designing how to compose a user-centric intranet, it is important to consider these three steps:
1) Understand the current state and the needs of the users
2) Engage the users while the new site is being planned and built
3) Test, Test, Test
Understand the current state and the needs of the users
I believe strongly that the more information one acquires the better decisions they make. Before creating an intranet site, one needs to understand as much as they can about the success or failure of the current site and about the user-base and their needs. To learn how users interact with your present site, investigate your site analytics or consider asking the users directly through focus groups, interviews, or surveys. The goal is to understand what tasks are common and where difficulties or complexities currently lie. Next we need to understand more about the composition of the user-base itself. We can do this by gathering the demographic information as well as conducting interviews and focus groups. Tools such as personas can be used to further segment and understand this data prior to acting upon the information. Once we have a deeper understanding of both the user and their actions, we are ready to move onto the next phase, which involves the planning and building of the site.
Engage the users while the new site is being planned and built
A user-centric site cannot be built in isolation. It is imperative that users are a part of the process from the very start and throughout the entire project. This can be accomplished by establishing a project team that includes cross-representation and by involving other employees throughout each of the project stages. Engaged users not only allow the site development to consider their needs, it also creates true advocates of the project. The employees who see that their needs are being addressed will then speak positively about the new site and will be champions among their colleagues.
Test, Test, Test
User behavior cannot be 100% predicted. I have been absolutely amazed while watching users navigate a new site. The locations they look for information and the functionality they expect when they click somewhere can be very different than anything I could have envisioned. But by watching users navigate the site, there are many captured learnings. Usability testing allows us to see user-trends and re-engineer aspects of the site to make it more user-centric and intuitive. Keep testing the site to ensure that it operates as anticipated once it is released into ‘the wild’.
Always keep in mind that it is very hard to win-back support for an intranet that launched with poor usability. It is far better to base the site on research, build it alongside users, and test it appropriately to ensure it is well received and heavily utilized upon launch.