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How to Drive and Plan an Envisioning for a Business Intranet

Patricio Cabrera

Introduction

We have all encountered intranets in our professional lives. Often, the intranet is where information goes to die and is forgotten. How do we break away from this pattern? Depending on whom you ask, some users may view the intranet as a tool to find HR Related information; others may use it to work collaboratively with a team who works remotely, and some will simply resist using it at all.

The road to overcoming common intranet missteps and misconceptions begins with a proper envisioning. We will discuss the process of envisioning a successful intranet, starting with a handful of factors: user and business stakeholder interviews, project requirements, documentation, and being mindful of the unique needs of your users as intranet solutions are not one-size-fits-all between companies—or even between departments within a single company.

Business Stakeholders

The first group of people you are going to meet are the business stakeholders or project sponsors. Our job is first and foremost to help achieve success for them. From the project requirements and documentation, we receive, it’s important to identify their goals and what problems they are trying to solve. Now is the time to ask questions, if they are not clear on the metrics they are using to quantify what will make this a successful project. You can design the best user experience for the users. However, if it doesn’t meet the business need, your design will not see the light of day. Meeting with the business early and often should be a top priority.

You can ask this group how they use the intranet as they will be the group who curates the content. This will give you insight into another group of users, management. Watch and take notes as they navigate through their intranet and the words they use to describe their experience.

During this meeting, you should also have an understanding of the number and different types of pages you are designing.

For Example:

  • Homepage
  • Departmental
  • Member and Non-Member Pages
  • etc…

Branding

Most companies require you to leverage their branding for the design of the business’s intranet. You should request to meet with the Brand Manager or Creative Director if those individuals are not part of the envisioning process. Besides receiving their branding documents try to get a feel for their branding outside of color palettes and fonts. How do they want their employees to experience it in their day to day activities? Find out if you have some leeway with their branding?

The Users

Everyone’s time is important, it’s important to choose wisely when deciding what users to interview.  At Tallan we look for extreme users.  When we define the groups of users we look for individuals that have been there a long time and know all the ins and outs of the system.  We are also looking for the new user who has a fresh view of the pain points.  This means that for each group we have at least 2 users, we can add more as applicable, but we consider the extreme users the core set.

Now the time has come to interview the users. Remember, as a UX Designer; you should come across as someone who is there to help and facilitate their experience. It’s imperative to be prepared with a set of questions and a script. Preparation will help ease the process as you will find users that aren’t forthcoming or don’t feel qualified to give feedback.

Try to keep your meetings to an hour as users can get tired. If possible, try to schedule the sessions in small groups, as some users will be nervous and will be afraid to speak up. Create relaxing environment to encourage users to speak up.

Below are a couple of Dos and Don’ts when asking questions to users.

Do ask

  • What do you hope to get out of the intranet?
  • Could you tell me the last time you couldn’t complete a task on the intranet?
  • What information is relevant to you?
  • Tell me about your day to day activities?
  • How do they collaborate and share information?
  • How to they currently consume company information, alerts, etc…?
  • Open ended questions.  Gives the user the opportunity to elaborate.

Don’t ask

  • Yes or no questions.
  • Any questions that can be answered with one word.
  • Questions that will influence the design of the portal.

Observe the group and look at what they do and how they explain their needs. They may say one thing, but their body language can say another. When there are road blocks or the group gets off track, jump in and steer them in the right direction. At all times, keep your composure, no matter the user’s response. Do not pass judgment.

Note: At Tallan when we conduct envisioning’s interviews, we assign one individual to take notes while the other facilitates the discussion.

Card Sorting Exercises

In addition to asking questions, we often perform card sorting exercises with the users. Card sorting helps users get involved and invested in the process. To accomplish this, we write down a solid list of around twenty or more elements on Post-it notes and ask the users to organize them into groups and categories that make sense to them.

Explain to the users how the exercise works and define your expectations. Once the task is completed, you can ask the users to explain their decisions. This will give you an insight into their thinking.

Note: We perform card sorting activities for several purposes at Tallan, from backlog development, sorting and prioritizing features, to Information Architecture, categorizing elements into logic user-centered groups. When developing Intranets, this activity is key to creating a user-centered navigation, rather than just listing departments.

Making sense of the Data

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
― Henry Ford

Now that you’ve completed user interviews, it’s time to make sense of the results. The first step is to create a new document, and then transfer any notes that you made during the user interviews. These should be qualitative observations.
You can break down your notes as such:

  • Users
  • Business
  • Departments
  • Teams
  • Patterns
  • Pain points
  • Surprises

If you find that 10 out of 25 users made a comment about “x” feature, it will behoove you to reach out to the rest of the users regarding that feature. You can validate the comments by emailing or meeting (if time permits) with the users and ask them about it.

During the interview sessions you may get a lot of request for features, it is your job to validate if adding those features will solve their problem. If not, keep track of them on a separate list as in the future.

User Personas

Developing user personas is another tool that can help validate your design decisions. The personas should be generalization of a group of people, not be actual users.
At Tallan, we list the following characteristics for each persona:

  • Age
  • Tech Savyness
  • Skills (Creative, Technical, Management, etc…)
  • Goals and Initiatives

Your list can vary and can have other features. Once created, share them with the business stakeholders and ask them to validate your personas.

The personas are then used later in the process to “walk a mile” in the users shoes and allow us to test out the design from differing perspectives without burdening the process with additional reviews and tests.

Information Architecture

The information architecture should be defined and organized based on the feedback from the interviews.  This is a key component to having a user-centered design.

Remember those card sorting exercises where you asked the users to label and categorize those elements. That exercise should give you an idea of what information is relevant to them.

Empathize with your users and think about what helps them understand the information and what helps them find the information they are looking for.

It’s also important in this step to identify content priority, this leads directly to wireframes and designs and informs what elements need to be on the top, side or bottom of the screen.

Wireframes and Visual Designs

The Final step in our envisoning is to create Wireframes and Visual Designs.  This is the most impactful for users because they get to see what the portal will look like.  Wireframes are the best way to represent the connections between different screens and identify the layout, priority, and placement of content. Based on the information gathered during research sketch out individual screens to demonstrate how a user will interact with the information available.

Don’t forget to show how the user will identify a page and their current location. So that means breadcrumbs and other navigational items.

Conclusion

The envisioning process is like drinking from a water hose. A lot of information is thrown at you in a short period, and it’s your job to make sense of it.

Again, your experience running and planning an envisioning will change over time. You’ll find that every user and company is different as they will bring in their perspectives. Updating your script, conducting dry runs and keeping a list of things that worked will help you run an efficient envisioning.

Good Luck!

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To learn more on how Tallan’s UX Solutions can help enhance your end-user’s interactions with company brand, products, and services, CLICK HERE.

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