In the last year or so, we’ve been doing a lot of work with global organisations who are redesigning their corporate intranets. This includes a global agribusiness headquartered in Basel, Switzerland; a major non-profit headquartered in Oxford, UK; a UN agency based in Geneva, Switzerland; a luxury brand house also in Geneva; and a global financial services firm headquartered in Sydney, Australia.
These projects have been both fascinating and challenging. Ambitions are high, but the challenges and complexities are daunting. And like every intranet project, strategic objectives must be tempered by practical project management realities.
One of the things we’ve realised is that global intranet projects aren’t bigger versions of ‘normal’ projects. There is an extra layer (or two) of thinking required, beyond just ‘scaling up’ typical intranet methodologies.
Complexities and challenges
We love complex projects, and global intranets are certainly that!
- Overwhelming scale. When the global intranet consists of thousands of sites containing millions of pages across dozens of countries, the scale becomes too large to tackle in any one project, or even in a planned series of projects. (The thought of doing a content inventory on a million pages, for example, is clearly impractical to say the least!)
- Cognitive overload. At the size of most global projects, it becomes impossible for one person to hold in their head a picture of the whole landscape, and the whole problem. This makes it impossible to ‘solve’ the situation in a single activity.
- Organisational complexity. No organisation is simple, but at the scale of global firms, there is a remarkable cross-hatching of regions, countries, divisions, market units, brands and products. For example, in the global non-profit we worked with, every country was a separate legal entity, with headquarters funded by the countries as a ‘secretariat’. With no central leadership role, there was no mechanism to ensure consistency across the globe, amongst other challenges.
- Global character. There are many ways of ‘going global’, and organisational models vary widely, from launching copies of the parent into new countries, growing as a conglomerate or working as a ‘house of brands’. This hugely shapes global intranets, and the project to redevelop them.
- Distance from the ground. It’s normally a headquarters-based team that’s running the global intranet redesign. With the size of global firms, there may be a dozen or even 20 layers of management between the central team and operational staff. This raises the important question: how many of the organisation’s problems as a whole is the central team (and the project) responsible for solving?
- Multiplicity of channels. Local staff in one part of the organisation may have their own intranet, plus a local collaboration solution, as well as local systems. All of these ‘compete’ with the desired vision of a single firm, and a single global intranet. There will be no one-size-fits-all solution that will meet all these needs.
- Local variety. In a global firm, there is an enormous difference between headquarters in Paris, a sales office in Australia, and a manufacturing hub in Mexico.
- Project constraints. Global projects are confronted by the same constraints as any project (time, resources, staff, technology, etc), but expectations may be much higher.
These challenges are the reason why global intranets are the last ‘uncharted territory’ in the intranet landscape. Only now are businesses, and intranet teams, getting to the point where they can start to deliver real global solutions that work.
Looking through multiple lenses
While the list above may suggest changing careers, there are practical ways of delivering successful global intranets.
In our work, we find that it’s necessary to look through a number of different ‘lenses‘, to determine the right way to proceed. No one perspective gives the complete answer, but looking at the situation from multiple angles surfaces the right solution.
These lenses include:
- The global/local intranet model, describing how all the pieces fit together in a way that matches the shape and nature of the organisation.
- Intranet governance and the role of the global intranet team, which determines which problems are to be tackled, and how.
- Intranet priorities, as defined by the five purposes of modern intranets, which prioritises potential activities.
- Strategic alignment, which positions the intranet within the business landscape.
- Technology considerations, taking a pragmatic look at the feasibility of using technology solutions to solve complex problems.
- A clear definition of project success, for the team and its stakeholders.
- Project scope, making sure there’s a clear outline of what will be delivered (which is even more critical than for typical intranet projects).
In addition to these lenses (and others), we’re also collecting a number of guiding principles that help to shape global projects. More on these in future posts….
Getting clarity early
Every intranet project benefits from having a clear plan of attack, and this is doubly the case for global intranet projects.
In our professional services work, we are now regularly helping global intranet projects, as well as other highly complex projects.
In many cases, we’ve flown internationally to spend a solid week with the core team, quickly resolving uncertainties and determining solutions. We then provide ongoing remote support as the project unfolds.
It’s also never too late to get assistance, and we’re very experienced with ‘parachuting in’, and quickly hammering things into shape.
Do get in touch if our global intranet experience would be of help to your project.