Intranets should be task oriented

Terry McGovern

Intranets must help people do what they have already decided to do

Gerry McGovern helps organisations design value-driven intranets. That is, making corporate intranets create satisfaction and added value for employees, companies and their clients rather than pain and frustration. I’ve picked a few of his views on wise intranet design and management shared in a talk he gave in Oslo recently.

Intranets should be task oriented

  1. Organise the intranet according to tasks, not the organisational chart
  2. Allign to the users’ mental models

First, what does it mean to have a “task based organisation of the intranet”? McGovern claims that companies tend to copy the organisational chart when designing intranets. Instead he suggests to put oneself in the shoes of the employee. Employees entering the intranet would normally go there for a reason. He or she is likely to be looking for how to go about with a problem. A well designed intranet helps the employee find that solution quickly.

Most wanted functionality in an intranet (sample)

Thus, identify what are the most crucial tasks for employees in a company to solve. The yellow table below is an example from one of the companies McGovern has helped redesign their intranet. The list shows a set of tasks prioritised order from top (most important) to bottom (less important). This list was made by asking lots of people in the given organisation what kind of tasks they needed to solve in order to get their work done. Then the design, titles and elements of the intranet reflected those needs.

Second, alligning to users’ mental models is essential. McGovern provides an example of another company he has helped: TetraPak, a Swedish company producing milk cartons and containers for drinks and more. TetraPak adjusted the phrasing of their intranet’s menu. That enabled employees to find what they were looking for much faster. Within a few months, the company had reduced their telephone support staff from four down to two persons. There weren’t that many frustrated calls anymore. Suddenly employees started finding what they were looking for.

Test whether the intranet actually helps you complete your work

McGovern emphasises the need for testing the user value of an intranet. Does it deliver what it promises? Does it enable people to find what they are looking for? Does it help the company to cut time wasting or expenses? In order to answer these questions it is necessary to ask the users. One way of doing this can be to create tasks that are typical examples of needs that employees report. This is where the yellow table above becomes valuable. After having identified the users’ needs, now is the time to test if the design of its intranet actually answers those needs.

Observing users performing a given set of tasks will indicate whether people can do what they wanted to do with ease. If they can’t, then it is off to improve the design or phrasing. Because designing and developing intranets should be based on measuring facts, not someone’s opinions.

– The essence of the web is to help people do what they have already decided to do. The same goes for intranets, McGovern says. The purpose of any intranet should enable people in a company to get their work done more efficiently, by wasting less time looking for the information they need to get a task done and making the client happier.

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I wrote this text after having listened to McGovern in a session aimed at intranet managers the 28th of January 2010. The talk was organised by NetLife Research, a user experience consultancy firm based in Oslo, Norway.

Check out McGovern’s web site or follow him on Twitter.

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Intranets should be task oriented

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