If you put any executive “blah, blah, blah” in the way I will kill you

After a spring focusing on the theoretic parts of the new intranet (setting vision statement, mission statement, SMART goals, desired effects, defining target groups and so on) our intranet project is now getting into the visual design phase.

The last few months have resulted in a lot of wireframes exploring different ideas. Here are a few examples of the intranet home page.

 

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This is an important phase. Templates, interaction design and graphical design all contribute to the final UX. Without a good (preferably outstanding) UX we won’t get the desired effects.

In my opinion, two really important factors must influence the design. 1: the mission of the organisation, and 2: the different duties of the target groups, their needs and the general digital maturity in the organisation. Neglect to take these factors into the equation and you will miss the mark.

This is why I’m generally cautious about intranets-in-a-box solutions. Such tools are built with a very generic end-user persona in mind and no specific organisational mission in focus. I keep coming back to a quote in Clay Shirky‘s book Here Comes Everybody:

There is no such thing as a generally good tool; there are only tools good for particular jobs. Contrary to the hopes of countless managers, technology is not an infinitely elastic piece of fabric that can be stretched to cover any situation. Instead, a good social tool is like a good woodworking tool–it must be designed to fit the job being done, and it must help people do something they actually want to do.
Clay Shirky: Here Comes Everybody, p 265.

This is why we need professional intranet manages and this is also why intranet projects take time.

I believe our new intranet will be true to Shirky’s insight. Below is a design rendering from this week. Our new intranet will in this first iteration not have any advanced bells and whistles. Instead we try to get to the core of the organisation’s mission—to provide healthcare—and to be really attentive to the fact that the end users in general are digitally immature.

4

The top box on the intranet home page is the place for warnings about systems failures and other operating problems (we have a lot of it and it really affects the work day for many). The second box is the way to a digital workspace for the unit. And this workspace is most for consuming facts about how to treat patients. It also has a really simple internal information feed for the unit. (Every user test I have done this year show that features like Office 365 and Sharepoint spaces have would be a total overkill.)

This focus on the basics (the new intranet has almost no advanced social features) hurts me a bit, because I’m an intranet manager who personally are accustomed to blogging, being active in discussion spaces and of course has this secret dream of one day building a new, revolutionising, super advanced intranet. But Region Skåne and the end users in my organisation doesn’t need that. Right now, they need to get the ordinary work done in a less cumbersome way. If we were to build a lot of super cool features (Rating content! Activity feed! Delve-esque auto-aggregation of content!) maybe one percent of the users would use them, but I think the other 99 percent instead would get a worse UX, less support and in the end lower organisational efficiency.

I think this solution—focus on the basics—in a way is something of an alternalive revolution in these times when many complain about information overload. Compare the initial wireframes to the design ideas we have right now. We have spent the time not adding features but instead asking ourselves and the end users what is really important and what is secondary.

The French aviator and author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once offered a definition of engineering elegance: ”A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
Chip & Dan Heath, Made to Stick, p 28.

Or, as my wife, a paediatric nurse at Region Skåne, said to me when I started my job in January: “My work day is about saving small children’s lives. Therefore I need to see the essential things right away. Your new intranet must help me with this. If you put any executive “blah, blah, blah” in the way I will kill you.”

I negotiated and got two years before judgement day. The clock is ticking.

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3 thoughts on “If you put any executive “blah, blah, blah” in the way I will kill you

  1. Hi Jasper – thanks for your article – an interesting read. I must admit my first thought when I read the paragraph “After a spring focusing on the theoretic parts of the new intranet (setting vision statement, mission statement, SMART goals, desired effects, defining target groups and so on) our intranet project is now getting into the visual design phase.” – was that you seem to be taking a lot of time to just get something ‘out there’ to your customers/users.

    And the reason for this thought is that I have just completed a project where we very quickly developed and launched an imperfect intranet – it was missing many features. However, since the launch we have received a lot of ongoing feedback and have changed and improved the intranet significantly as a result – our current version is much different to the one we initially released. And it is rapidly building popularity and usefulness. You could say we followed a ‘lean startup’ approach – investing our time into iteratively building the intranet to meet the needs of customers – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lean_startup

    My question is: do you think it’s better to spend a lot of time ( say 6-12 months) thinking, designing, talking about a new intranet – or do you think it’s better to just implement something that it less than perfect but then use the feedback from your customers to continuously improve the intranet? Is it possible to do both?

    • Hi Andrew!

      My preferred way of working is not big 12-18 month projects. I’m more into small iterations, preferably with a small launch every second/third month. See this blog post.

      But in this particular case I inherited an intranet project that was already started and constructed in the “big project model”, so the best approach was to continue in this way.

      Actually, one could think of our project parts as different, separate iterations. These are the major parts the project deal with:

      • Intranet mission, vision and goals
      • Structure and navigation
      • Search
      • Analysis
      • Graphic design
      • News
      • Personalisation
      • Digital work spaces
      • Staff directory
      • Central intranet team
      • Perifer intranet production team

      Had I been able to manage the whole transition myself from scratch, I would have worked in an iterative way, used some parts of the the 6:2 methodology and started with two quick launches containing a) enhanced search and b) a new graphic skin. (Which would have kickstarted the positive “aura” around the intranet team work).

      But, one positive effect of the “slow” big-project approach is that I am new on the job and the six first months have given myself time to getting to know the organisation and its needs.

  2. Hi Jesper – thanks for your reply. Yes I guess each project and organisation is different. I enjoyed reading your Build on Your Intranet, Always article as well. From my viewpoint, I like the idea of getting things out and getting the feedback quickly. While this means there is a possibility of criticism and negative feedback (which can be annoying), I think in the long run, it’s more important to get this flow of information happening. I also think your first 2 proposed launches – better search, new graphic skin – are the two key things that can build engagement. Well done, keep up the good work!

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