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Help intranet users achieve their goals

Monday, November 22, 2004  

Intranets are complex. But the key to their success can be distilled down to this: Figure out who your users are. Find out their goals. Help them achieve those goals.

This sounds so simple. But most companies end up guessing at user goals or building an intranet centered on the business goals. Guesswork isn't good enough, and users don't care what the business goals are. They will only use the intranet if it makes their lives easier. Business goals are still important, but they must align with user goals or be dropped.

Here's how to execute on this user-centered approach:
  • Hold a guessing meeting. Pull together 6 or 8 heads and guess who your user groups are. Guess what some of the intranet features are that would help users achieve their goals. Draft an initial list of interviewees.

  • Interview users and stakeholders. Interview stakeholders to determine business objectives. Interview users to find out how they would use the intranet. Suggest some possible broad feature categories, and ask the interviewees for their input. Create profiles of 'typical' users--their goals, likes, pet peeves--to help the intranet team wrap their heads around these people.

  • Determine the 3 to 5 most important features. Look for commonalities. Where business objectives and user goals intersect, plan a feature to support the goal. Concentrate on just a few features--simple is better.

  • Rely on user experience experts during development. For features that already exist in a non-intranet form, a user experience expert should spend time with users to see how they currently interact with the system. For all features, a user experience expert should create mock-ups and prototypes and test these on actual users. Don't skimp on usability.
It's all about the user. It has to be easier for them to use the intranet than to not use it. Help users achieve their goals, and your intranet will be successful.

About the Author

I'm Chris McGrath, an intranet consultant in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. I've been working on intranets since 1997, and on plain ol' web sites for even longer. I run One Intranets, the firm that co-created ThoughtFarmer -- an enterprise collaboration platform for Windows-based intranets.