Intranet in a Box
Building intranets using data from 55 organizations and 49,000 employees
By Brian Lamb, Fredrik Wackå, Audun Rundberg and Gerry McGovern
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Brace yourself for this message: You are not unique. Your intranet could, even should, share its basic framework with other organizations.
Yes there are different organizational cultures, different traditions and customs. And certainly, a local government intranet serves different needs than the intranet of a global tech company.
However, there is a basic set of common Top Tasks, identified in this paper, that provide a framework for an employee-centric, productive intranet.
Top Task Management is a set of principles and methods for building customer/employee-centric sites, both intranets and websites. The starting point is a Top Task poll where customers vote for their top needs – the things that are most important to them.
For this paper, we analyzed Top Task poll results from 55 intranet polls. Altogether, 49,000 employees in the US, Canada, UK, Belgium, Holland, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway participated in the polls. There was a mix of government and business intranets, from medium to large organizations (10,000+ employees).
For our analysis, we combined the top voted tasks from each poll and then looked at them together.
Striking patterns emerged. Firstly, four common groups of Top Tasks were present in every set of poll results.
‘About Me’ is the group of tasks related to the personal experience of being in employment. If you have a job then you do ‘About Me’ tasks – apply for holidays, claim travel expenses, find out what benefits you are entitled to, etc. The names of these tasks might vary but ‘About Me’ tasks are ubiquitous in both the public and private sector. They are often the most visited and used parts of an intranet.
In some polls, we saw two clear sub-types of ‘About Me’ tasks. Firstly, there are ‘Service & Support’ type tasks which make use of an internal service. For instance, “order work clothing” or “what is available for lunch at the canteen”. Secondly, there are ‘My Employment’ tasks such as “what was I paid last month”.
These tasks relate specifically to the organization you work for:
- What are your organizations’ published strategies and plans?
- Details about its size and location and how it’s organized (although organization charts are also important in Find People and Collaboration)
Finding people is a classic intranet function and unsurprisingly it appears as a group of tasks in all our polls. This is the Company Directory, the Phone Book, or just Search for people. The underlying concern here is the need to find a person with a special function whose name you don’t know. For example, I need to find someone who speaks German and is experienced in sales. Our polls show the importance of this task is increasing.
Once you find an expert or colleague, often what you want to do is collaborate with them using the growing number of tools available to you on your intranet. This could mean inviting them to join a discussion, following their blog or yammer posts, asking them a specific question via IM, or simply calling them up.
These tasks are concerned with keeping updated about what the organization is doing externally and internally. Again, this is a classic intranet function that is very important to employees. Included in this group is a growing number of news tasks that are ”bottom up” like popular recent posts on yammer or blogs, as well as more traditional top down news from the CEO or the central communications team. Also in this group is news from external sources about the company or organization.
These task groups are like the heat, light and power in a building. They are the needs employees expect an intranet to fulfill. The names of the groups might vary with language and culture, but there is a basic expectation from employees that they should be able to complete these sorts of tasks on an intranet.
Alongside the four common Top Task groups, we found another group of Top Tasks in each poll result. These were tasks that did not fit into the common groups but were particular to an organization. They relate to the core purpose of an organization, its essence, the thing people are employed to produce or deliver. We call this group Core Tasks.
What are Core Tasks?
Often these tasks are centered on the Products and Services an organization offers to its customers.
- In a Bank, we found Internet Banking to be a top task.
- In a Healthcare organization, Patient Safety and Clinical Standards were Top tasks.
- In a railway company, it was Ticket Types.
- In a pharmaceutical company, Clinical Trials.
- In a technology company, it was Products and Services (ReD, sales and marketing, support.)
- In a company that made engines—surprise, surprise—there was a lot about Engines.
- In the Internal Revenue Services, it was Reports and Audits.
- In a retailer, it was their Stores (merchandising, stock management, promotion, performance).
- In an airport, it was Security.
Core tasks are where the intranet can be seen to be really adding value and contributing to performance goals like increased sales and reduced costs.
Often politics, emotion and opinion play far too big a part in designing intranets. By using the Top Task groups, designs start with data (not opinion) on what employees need from their intranet. We can short-circuit pointless turf wars and debates and move rapidly to basic designs focused on Top Tasks. How does this work in practice?
Navigation with the Top Tasks
Our data shows that the five groups described above are always priorities for employees. Sometimes they are called different things but they’re always there. So why not use them for navigation design? The basic wireframe below shows what this looks like.
This may not be the final top level navigation but it is an excellent starting point and allows you to move quickly to testing and refining your design.
Where is ‘News’?
News is different from the other Top Tasks. The task is not to read news in general, it’s to find news relevant to you. News needs to be seen as several different tasks depending on the needs and concerns of employees. On the home page, the easiest way to complete this task is to have a list of news items so people can scan and decide what to read. Navigating to News is often not as important so the “news archive” link doesn’t need to be in the main menu.
Using individual Top Tasks in Navigation
When an individual task is voted number one by a wide margin we refine the basic model. In the poll below, Training was the number one voted task by a significant amount.
Singularly high priority tasks like these become part of the global navigation, as in the example below.
Further levels of navigation
The clusters of individual tasks within the 5 Top Task groups show which tasks belong together. This clustering is the basis for creating task subclasses.
We can use the clusters to derive subclasses of the main groups like About Me.
Again, we stress that these are starting points, not a finished classification scheme. However, they allow us to make rapid progress in designing the navigation aspect of the intranet.
Top Tasks doable on the page
Employees will judge the effectiveness of your design by how easily they can get things done. This means making it possible to start Top Tasks (not just navigate to them) on individual pages. In our ‘About Me’ example shown above, following any of the links in the dropdown menu leads to a page where it’s possible to immediately start doing a task.
The mock up below illustrates these and some other uses of the Top Tasks in design.
So do we have an Intranet in a Box, ready to go? Not quite, but it’s certainly a good start. Without doubt, the best intranets are built by those who view them in a logical way, based on data of what employees actually need to do.
Using the Top Task groups as a jumping off point, it’s possible to design navigation and classification, drive development of applications based on top tasks, configure search, and improve the way content is written – using data, not opinion.Download PDF version of Intranet In A Box (PDF 1.64MB)