Intranet managers and consultants are the consummate knowledge workers. And most of us have come to learn intimately that knowledge is power.
In particular, an intranet manager needs to explicitly know and understand:
- the requirements of the business,
- intranet best practices, and
- the preferences and needs of employees.
On the last point, understanding the needs of employees, there are a number of tools at the disposal of managers including log analysis, surveys, focus groups and usability testing.
Each tool has its place and its pros and cons. The best tool, of course, depends on…
- the organization’s culture (what metrics does it value best?),
- the present position of the intranet on the evolutionary curve,
- the extent of ‘research fatigue’ at the organization, and
- what data ‘sells’ best.
While not necessarily applicable to other commodities such as, say, consumer packaged goods, the following tables can be used as a quick cheat sheet for comparing the various tools applicable to researching intranet target audience requirements.
What to use first?
Inquiring minds have debated the timing of employing a research tool when undertaking an intranet redesign. It’s almost always best to lead with in-depth interviews (stakeholder interviews) of the business stakeholders (managers and executives) as the first step. It’s critical to understand what the business needs and expects from the intranet.
Once the intranet consultant or manager has a more in-depth understanding of the business requirements driving an intranet redesign then the deployment of an employee user survey can help validate qualitative research interviews with quantitative user research. Quantitative research – large scale statistical data – help support or sometimes contradict qualitative research such as interviews, focus groups and usability testing.
Focus groups can be used at any time, but often are helpful for testing visual designs and concepts, and testing the validity of quantitative research such as user surveys, or to further explore or initiate in-depth conversations on issues that arouse during the survey or interviews.
Usability testing is best done when there’s a working prototype; there’s no point in doing one-on-one usability testing with a site that is going to be completely reconstructed. When usability testing is best deployed is when it is testing navigation paths, forms, and information architecture once a prototype or beta site has been built based on previous research methods.
There are of course many subtleties to site research – and always exceptions to the rule. Many factors come in to play when choosing your research tools and the time to implement each. A lot depends on the culture of the organization, and understanding what executives want to hear. For example, if money is the only thing that sells a project, it’s better to invest your time and energy in measuring return on investment.
When undertaking intranet research it’s preferable that the intranet owner or manager does not conduct the research themselves as results can be biased and the end result flawed.
Finally, user research is only one component in preparing an intranet assessment, and just as important are the requirements and opinions of senior management. As I stated earlier this month in “The destruction of home page news,” the best intranets strike a balance between the needs and wants of employees, and senior management.
Employees want content and tools that are relevant to them; a pull of information based on their profile and/or preferences. Most organizations, and executive management do require a ‘push’ of information in addition to the pull; executives have key messages, strategic initiatives, and mission-critical imperatives that frontline employees may or may not care about, but need to be front-and-center in the communications mix, and the intranet home page.
Finding a balance between push and pull is important, and not easily attained without explicit research and understanding of employee and management needs and concerns. Remember: most organizations are not a democracy, but most employees understand this and don’t expect the home page to be exactly what they want, when they want.