Don’t ask staff what features they want on a new SharePoint intranet
“If we gave you a team site, would it be useful to you?”
We’ve said before that the breadth of SharePoint is both its strength and weakness. Intranet and project teams now have a powerful new tool to help the organisation work better, but what features to deploy?
The classic technology-centric approach is to talk to stakeholders in each business area, asking questions such as:
- What additional capabilities do you want on the intranet?
- Which of the following features would be useful to you?
- If you had (feature), how could you make use of it?
- What can we do with the new version of SharePoint?
These questions don’t work. Both our books, What every intranet team should know and Designing intranets, make the point “whatever you do, don’t ask staff what they want”. When tackling a new SharePoint intranet, it leads to numerous problems:
- Staff, unfamiliar with SharePoint’s capabilities, are unsure what they need.
- Stakeholders, enthusiastic about future possibilities, ask for features they won’t end up using.
- Excessive functionality and complexity impacts on adoption and use.
- Limited project resources are spent on “bells and whistles”, rather than key aspects.
- The new intranet misses the mark, and a great opportunity is lost.
Working out what to deliver
There are five fundamental approaches for determining the functionality of a new SharePoint intranet:
- Understand staff needs. Conducting effective intranet needs analysis quickly builds up a picture of staff requirements and points of pain, and where the intranet can help. In just a week or two, the intranet or project team will know where to focus efforts.
- Understand patterns of work. The biggest benefit of new technology is enabling new ways of working, which is hard to get shape around. Use scenarios, case studies, stories and examples to uncover how SharePoint can enable new behaviours and activities.
- Get everyone on the same page. “SharePoint” means different things to different people, and all stakeholders must meet in the middle with a shared understanding, definitions and priorities.
- Learn what works. Thousands of organisations have implemented SharePoint intranets, so there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Learn what it likely to work for you (and what isn’t), and use this insight to guide decision.
- Start simple. Deliver an intranet that is simple, usable and easy to navigate. Add new SharePoint functionality as the organisation becomes familiar with what’s possible, never adding more than what’s really needed.
There is always time to work out what to deliver before implementation starts. Even a few days or weeks spent uncovering business and staff needs will save months of deployment work, ensuring that the new intranet hits the mark.
Most of all, don’t fall into the trap of starting with SharePoint features, and working back to the project scope. Even with the best will the world, it’s easy to get caught up in technology discussions and decisions, losing sight of the overall objectives and outcomes.
(Need help with all this? As our client list shows, we’ve consulted to hundreds of organisations on their intranets, and most of our current clients are deploying SharePoint.)