5 ideas to improve your Intranet’s usability

Is it difficult to create an Intranet that is loved by the end users? I think not. Then why do so many Intranets still end up as “graveyards of information”, as perceived by the end users? I think I know the answer.

It seems like the Intranet teams often focus on organizing themselves around creating content, migrating content, and struggling to meet the project schedule. What they seem not to do though, is pause for a moment every now and then, asking themselves the simple question: “Will all this make sense for the end user?”

The overall usability factors of an Intranet can be divided into two main areas: Platform and content. The former refers to the publishing tools, page layouts, stylesheets, the features that the Intranet platform provides. The latter refers to the content that you create: pages, documents, images, navigation structure, etc.

It is a well-known fact that great usability is not achieved just by performing a usability test late in the project. Usability has to be bundled into every phase of the project, from the very beginning.

So, how would I ensure great usability? Here’s my top-5 list. The good news is that in my experience, great Intranet usability doesn’t have to be expensive at all. For each rule, I have given an estimate of the cost impact.

Rule#1: Don’t ask the end users!

Correct, don’t ask the end users. Don’t make your end users design your Intranet, don’t ask them to give their opinions on how they would want it to work, and what information they would want to find there. Your Intranet team is in charge. You define the scope, features and contents of the Intranet. The Intranet is only a part of the information landscape your users find themselves in. The end users can’t define the roles of different services, and they are not usability experts. This doesn’t mean users shouldn’t be involved. Users have to be involved in all phases of the project. Read further to understand how.

Cost impact: 0.

Rule #2: Know your end users

Think about the audience. Who are the end users? Sort them into a couple of groups: content producer, administrator, HR user, normal reader, etc. Then figure out what tasks they are trying to fulfill in the Intranet. Start this thinking early in the project, and do it constantly.

Cost impact: Almost zero. Some hours of your own time.

Rule #3: Early validation

There are great tools for testing the Intranet information architecture, such as this one. However, if you are deploying a ready-to-go Intranet solution such as Valo Intranet, you will get the live environment up and running in a breeze (Valo is available within a week from project start, including your company branding and default information architecture, even with example contents). So instead of using a separate tool here, you might instead want to perform the usability testing in the live environment.

Make sure your Intranet project includes a pilot phase. Gather one or two users from each one of those groups you defined (see Rule #2), ask them to perform the core tasks you have also already defined (Rule #2). For instance, as a normal reader user to find a certain HR form and fill it out. How many % of the users succeeded in their task? How many found the information directly, how many went through some trial & error before getting there? Finally, ask them how they feel about what they did.

Cost impact: A couple of days of your and your users’ work.

Rule #4: Great visuals

The first impression of the users is made up by the visual look of your Intranet. This has more with user experience (UX) to do than usability though. In any case, it affects the overall adoption and success of your Intranet. We have some customers who are very design-oriented organizations. They tell their stories with images and colors. Their Intranets give you the “WOW!” effect from the first glance.

Great visual design drives user adoption. Oriflame Valo Intranet.

Great visual design drives user adoption. Oriflame Valo Intranet.

Cost impact: moderate

Rule #5: Governance model to ensure up-to-date contents

Once the Intranet has been launched for the entire organization and users have fallen in love with it, you want to make sure it will be loved in the years to come as well. Users hate “page not found” messages. Setup a governance model where every part of the Intranet has its owner, making sure that the contents stay fresh.

Cost impact: Couple of days of work (the planning part).

Summary

Ensuring Intranet usability is not expensive and definitely no rocket science. All it takes is some thinking and end-user understanding.

As to the platform and technical functionalities, Valo Intranet takes you a long way towards great usability, with features such as setup wizard, intuitive page templates, breadcrumb trail, proven information architecture, drag & drop news images, responsive design, etc. Contact us and book a demo!

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