Redesigning the Intranet
When building a new intranet from scratch, it's impossible to predict
how it will grow and how it will be used. After several years of
rapid growth, it's a good idea to reevaluate the design and make
adjustments as necessary. How does one perform an intranet redesign?
When we first built the intranet, there was very little content
and we were all new to the organization. Lacking any better alternative,
we decided to use basic content categories from another successful
health care intranet built in a prior "work life." This
was OK for a starting point, but as this intranet grew, we began
to worry that we had outgrown the original design.
was our sense, from anecdotal feedback and casual observations,
the basic design (page layout) was still OK, and
worked well; but
was hard to find items without search.
needed proof and some direction.
Corporate intranets are very expensive in terms of staff time. According
to one influential study
by the Nielson Norman Group, if an organization the size of ours
improves the "usability" of their intranet from "good"
to "best," it will save nearly $5 million annually in
staff time wasted trying to find information. So it is definitely
worth investing some money and effort to make the intranet as efficient
Based on a recommendation from a former colleague, we engaged the
Bentley College Design
and Usability Center to conduct usability testing of our intranet.
The process was very interesting.
goals for the study were to:
how easy or difficult the site is to navigate
whether the information architecture and navigation are intuitive
and efficient to use
preparation for the usability testing, our first assignment was
to identify three user "profiles" that best represented
most of our workers. We decided on these:
selected four participants for each of the three profiles, looking
for a mix of technology literacy and organizational roles within
physician (x2); clinical specialist; psychologist
ward clerk; admin coordinator; financial analyst; nutritionist
ambulatory; clinical finance; HR; nursing
we selected a set of tasks for participants to perform during the
testing, including about a dozen common tasks for everyone and five
different tasks for each role:
tasks (finding information about people, a specific policy, two
(finding a specific form, who is on call for oncology, two lists,
and specific patient education items)
(finding supervisory assignments, HR requests, responsible manager
for a department, IT requests, and a specific list)
(finding maintenance requests, HR requests, conference room scheduling,
IT requests, and a specific list)
a period of three days, each participant spent an hour with one
of the Bentley staff, talking about their experiences with and perceptions
of the intranet, and attempting to complete the tasks for their
role. Everything was videotaped with simultaneous screen capture,
allowing the Bentley staff to conduct detailed analysis of exactly
what each person did and said while attempting to complete each
The conclusions from the usability study included:
site navigation was easy.
particular success was the use of search.
most significant problem was the information architecture itself:
e.g., which of the main "tabs" would contain the desired
item. Some tabs contained objects ("Directories," Resources"),
while other tabs were role-related ("Staff," "Managers,"
Now that we had identified the problem, Bentley staff recommended
a "card sort" exercise with users to identify the proper
information architecture and top level "buckets" (tabs).
staff selected 75 terms from across the full range of intranet
content, with a definition for each.
identified thirty more participants, ten from each of the same
three profiles used for usability testing.
participant was offered a $20 Amazon.com gift certificate upon
completion of the exercise.
exercise was conducted on-line, from anywhere the participant
chose, and required about 30-40 minutes to complete.
sorted the 75 terms into groupings that they found logical and
analyzing the results of the card sorting exercise, Bentley staff
recommended new groupings of the intranet content. Based on these
recommendations, we selected seven new top-level tabs for intranet
navigation, in descending order of frequency of use:
(things used to accomplish a task)
(everything related to working here)
(lists, charts, team sites, wikis, etc.)
(policies, procedures, general reference)
(anything useful for someone working in clinical areas)
(reorganized into clearer groupings)
(anything related to teaching programs)
also reorganized everything within the primary buckets, creating
new categories that were more consistent with the groupings from
the card sorting exercise. Although it was still a lot of work,
our database design (Driving
with Databases) made the reorganization much easier.
we have not yet done another usability test to validate any improvements,
anecdotal feedback indicates that people are more satisfied with
the intranet's navigation and better able to find what they need.
Hopefully the next usability test will confirm that the redesign
moved the intranet from a "good" to "best" design
based on Nielson Norman Group criteria.
testing is well worth the cost in time and money.
in the best possible intranet design is justified by improved
intranets make reorganizing content much easier.
Posted 3 April 2008