Many companies still see their intranet as something that is still being installed. Like a new software, that should be used by all employees. So the intranet project manager creates a specification booklet, defines functions and milestones. Then the software is checked against the requirements and ticked off (or not). Based on a decision matrix, a software solution is chosen and installed. Then quickly some training is provided. Done. A classic software project.
But in reality, an intranet is not a software program, but a platform for communication and collaboration with various components. And at the centre of all of these components are the real owners of an intranet: the employees. It’s about a change of paradigm from predetermined clear processes and results, to collaborative achievement of results. That’s exactly where a conventional perspective on what a project is doesn’t help. In the conventional perspective everything is predetermined: beginning and end, tasks to be carried out, required resources, the goal or goals (‘target-oriented projects’), and it’s a one-off event. Once this one-time project is completed, everyone is happy and satisfied, and goes back to their daily business. Until, a few years down the line, someone defines a new intranet project.
However, the reality is different: The project doesn’t run for weeks, but months, and the environment changes faster than there is time for project steering groups to advise the project manager, never mind decide on proposals. After a year the budget is exceeded by miles and all project members, the project manager, the steering group, and the executive board only wish for one thing: for the nightmare to end.
Intranets should not be graves for documents, but reflections of vibrant corporations through constant movement. Centralistic voting and steering processes cannot keep up in the planning phase nor later in everyday working life.
A flexible approach with multiple components takes constantly accumulating knowledge into account, and ensures acquisition of this knowledge. To do justice to this constant change of paradigm, all participants should envision the following:
Collective errors, collective learning.
When the environment changes or someone was wrong, it’s not a failure, but a learning step. Don’t see the planning phase for a new intranet as a collection of rules you have to implement, but as a collection of hypotheses you have to establish and check.
Build know-how, at the beginning and throughout the project. It’s fine to begin with a small application, which may ‘stretch’ the company (or the business unit). A core team of interested and engaged people ensures basic understanding of the solution through reading, learning and networking. The first steps are mostly about trying and DIY.
You possibly already have a small application that a few use and doesn’t require a huge budget. Use these applications more widely to learn to win over the management (or other members of the management team) in the second step.
From a certain size, management support is irrelevant. This is especially true for today’s intranets, because networking and collaboration over and above organizational units should be encouraged and supported. Each initiative requires sponsors, who want to drive changes for the company. Introduce your initiative to ‘keen people’ and convey a feeling of what is possible.
Don’t just involve management from one field. Try to find people from various fields and inspire them.
Maybe you already pictured a certain vision of how the company (or even just a part of it) should be in two or three years, how it should operate and work differently. Together with the management, brainstorm about how this vision could come to life. Maybe a half-day, or even a full-day workshop can help you figure this out and to develop your vision to reality.
Our vision is a self-organized workforce, where employees with complementing skills find each other and miraculously adjust information-flows to information-requirements of colleagues.
Once you have a clear vision, you should think about a strategy:
- Check and analyze the situation in your company (maybe with a SWOT analysis).
- Define basic goals, which bring you closer to your vision.
- Determine who is concerned and who is involved, and make the concerned involved.
(Also think about which external stakeholders you could involve.)
- Determine a rough framework for the schedule, cost and evaluation.
Think about how you want to measure and document your progress. Determine indicators (Key Performance Indicator), such as employee satisfaction or engagement.
Here, simple numbers (for example the number of comments per blog article) or surveys can help. Carry out an initial measurement (a ‘zero-measurement’), before you start with the intranet or making larger changes, and regularly check for visible trends.
Start with two or three cases, which you can implement in a few weeks with relatively little difficulty (and resistance). Learn from the implementation and don’t cling to a goal once set . You will possibly learn about your company, its processes and employees, and change your way of thinking.
Don’t just use these cases to learn from them, but also to better assess reactions and attitudes within the company. Continue looking for cases which require little effort, that could be of great benefit to employees.
7. Market observations and networking
Constantly observe market activities and developments for intranets and digital workplaces. Don’t restrict your observations to your industry, but also watch out for the activities and initiatives of companies who might only be partly comparable to yours or match in unusual aspects. When it comes to intranets, problems and solutions are usually less related to criteria like industry or size, but to factors like number and distribution of locations, company culture and internationality.
Don’t just copy what others are doing. Just because a competitor was successful with a certain method, doesn’t mean it applies to you. But also don’t fall back to allegedly simple solutions, which have always worked in the past. Neither a thoughtless imitation of the competitor, nor a euphoric waving of flags are suitable approaches.
When observing the market, it is also important to network with employees from other companies and to learn from their successful and failed initiatives. Join an intranet work-group.
Identify employees and managers in your company, who are open to topics such as social media, networking and know-how. There might be colleagues, who are active in social media in their private life, and are consequently fond of such topics. To exchange experiences you might create a regular round table, to which you can invite such persons, one after the other.
Build capacity step by step. Not just for the core team, but also for employees in operational areas. Build contact with employees in various areas early on. Try to win employees as ‘ambassadors’ or ‘gurus’ in operational areas.
Be sure to involve the IT department early on. Even though today’s technology is significantly simpler and cheaper, you should not approach IT four weeks before your planned start date and confront them with a predetermined solution.
Build a policy of guidelines and rules. This policy should convey security, support and strength to all employees and help you avoid legal pitfalls. Important components for this are, for example:
- Social Business Guidelines
- Reporting to or holding round tables with the executive board, or top-level management
- Responsible and competent persons
- Business applications in process descriptions
Further information regarding this can be found in the blog post The meaning of governance for digital for digital workplace and intranet projects by Thomas Renken.
Constantly check your progress and components.
- Market observation and networking
Think about which might be the correct sequence of components for your company.
And if you ever think you have an intranet: Start from the beginning.
This article is translated from the German article written by Frank Hamm.