Our web administrator has been tasked with improving our intranet’s existing navigation via a process which can spell little other than disaster. Maybe I’m a cynic.
A major complaint is how un-user friendly the design is and there is no structure to the main menus and submenus. Content owners have just requested whatever they want over time, with the result being a main menu which is far too extensive, and items which should be submenu items being main menu items.
Our people don’t like it, they don’t use it, and they don’t trust it.
The actual improvement work has been asked to be completed by only 3 people, without involving end users.
What do we do? Do we create something that is marginally better than appalling but serves little purpose because people already don’t use, like or trust the intranet? How can this ‘improved’ navigation actually improve the perception and use of our intranet?
My fear is that if we do something to supposedly improve the intranet, and it’s perceived as ‘laughable’, how does that affect our credibility for longer term, bigger plans? You could argue we just do it and not communicate/announce it, but how on earth would people figure out where their usual sites have gone?
Our biggest challenge is senior management buy-in and support. This is why we still have our appalling intranet and why 3 people very keen to use their collective skills to improve it have accepted that at least for the medium term, we have to stick with what we have. Apart from a new navigation, of course!
[For the sake of brevity, this is a shortened version of the original email however the key questions are covered]
Thanks for your question - it's an interesting one. It seems your key issues are:
- Should you attempt to redesign your intranet navigation in isolation of other improvement activities
- That if you do attempt to redesign the navigation, especially without involving end users, this may make things worse and you may lose credibility
- As bad as the existing intranet is, a new navigation will make it difficult for people to find where their usual sites are
- Your biggest intranet challenge in general is gaining senior management buy-in and support
Let's answers each of these questions in turn.
1. To redesign the navigation or not?
It's amazing what a coat of paint can do to improve the look of a house. Relatively inexpensive and easy to do, it can often inspire other improvements around the place. Like fixing up the garden or repairing that old fence that has fallen over. Once these tasks are done, you gain confidence and start thinking, well the house is looking pretty good now, lets renovate the bathroom... before you know it, you are planning your double story extension...
I'd suggest you paint the house... and attempt a new navigation and a new home page at the same time. If your users don't like, use or trust your existing intranet, what have you got to lose? You also need to gain the confidence from your senior management - one way to do this is to get a series of small wins on the board.
The following resources will give you some ideas for designing an effective navigation:
- Usability.Gov - A great resource containing templates and instructions for building an effective intranet
- A Practical Guide to Information Architecture. Written by Australian UX specialist, Donna Spencer, this book provides ideas and suggestions for developing an effective information architecure (IA). It is great value for around $20 USD.
- Intranet Information Architecture, Based on case studies of 56 intranets' IA design. Has many case studies of navigation structures used by other organisational intranets from which you can get ideas. Jakob Nielsen's report sells for $396 USD for a single user licence
- Information Architecture for the World Wide Web. Around $30 USD.
- Desiging Intranets: creating sites that work. Authored by James Robertson from Step Two Designs (around $60) - due for release on the 15th September, 2010.
There is a useful discussion about Information Architecture taking place on the LinkedIn Intranet Professionals group. There is also a useful discussion about home pages on the Worldwide Intranet Challenge LinkedIn Group that you will find helpful (you will need to be a LinkedIn member and belong to these groups to access the discussions).
2. Involving the end users?
Yes you should involve the end users in your navigation design if possible - and you need to convince your boss. User centred design has many benefits and can be done with minimal disruption. You can involve end users in card sorting exercises, ask them to complete work scenarios using a proposed navigation, get them to rate the most important tasks and make sure these are easily accessible from the home page.
To convince your boss that a user centred design is necessary to an effective navigation, you need explain what the benefits are, what your plan is in terms of how much time will be required from the participants, the dangers of not getting the user involved, and that even minimal usability testing will result in significant improvements.
The resources listed above will not only provide you with the evidence you need to support your case but they will also help establish your credibility as an intranet expert.
3. How will staff find the new sites
Any new intranet navigation (or any intranet change for that matter) will require change management - there is no avoiding this. Some suggestions to minimise the impact of this change include:
- Provide a web page that maps the old paths to the new paths
- Provide a countdown clock on the old page giving people advanced warning that a new navigation is coming eg, 30 days to go, 29 to go, etc
- Obtain feedback from a sample group of end users to make sure the navigation makes sense
- Create a training video using inexpensive software such as Camtasia (you can obtain a 30 day trial of Camtasia at no cost)
- Run 'brown bag' lunch sessions to explain the new navigation
- Provide a support number or email address to allow people to get help if they can't find a site
- If possible, consider providing a link to the old navigation structure from the new site for 1-2 weeks in parallel with the new site - just so that staff have a backup (though I would anticipate that they will get used to the new structure relatively quickly)
4. Gaining senior management support
The million dollar question.... gaining senior management support is an on-going quest for many intranet managers. Respected intranet commentator Gerry McGovern in his article, Intranets: getting senior management attention, makes the point that "If the intranet is to get respect and proper funding, it must prove that it is improving productivity and efficiency". He goes on to say, "A great intranet will save time whenever a staff member carries out a common task. These time savings will lead to greater operational efficiency and a more competitive organisation".
As I mentioned earlier, gaining senior management support is also about gradually winning trust and confidence. The keys to do this are by delivering measurable value added improvements. James Robertson from Step Two Design offers an incremental approach to improving intranets in his 6*2 Methodology for intranets. Essentially the methodology allows intranet teams to achieve gains each 6 months that allow them to build the confidence of senior management.
Gaining senior management support is an easier proposition if you can demonstrate the value that your intranet is adding. Some organisations participating in the Worldwide Intranet Challenge (WIC) have been able to provide 'before and after' results from their participation. In other words, organisations measure the initial satisfaction of their intranet end users, implement intranet improvements, and then re-measure to show a significant improvement.
You may also want to read the article 8 good business reasons for having an intranet which identifies tangible ways an intranet can add value to an organisation.
Good luck with your improvement initiatives, and remember "Smooth seas don't make a skillful sailor".