Archive for the ‘Planning’ Category
This is the second of a series on law firm intranet functionality and content. See Part 1: Scope.
Before you start developing your intranet, you will need a blueprint. Imagine building a house without one? Your intranet is no different – you need a plan before starting to develop the site. Defining the site architecture for your intranet is the foundation upon which you begin. What is site architecture and what has been most prevalent in law firms?
Intranet content in a law firm is there to support the firm’s business goals. To ensure that the content is what the firm needs and that lawyers and staff can get to what they need in a productive manner, a good structure should be in place. This structure is most often referred to as the information or site architecture. Think of it as the framework that supports your intranet’s content.
Using the firm’s business goals as the starting point, keeps everyone thinking in terms of what is needed to move those goals ahead and, in the end, increase productivity. When this isn’t done, the architecture design becomes more of a political struggle with many competing to have their content at the top-level than an exercise that ensures a success structure for the content.
Again, this exercise should not be done in isolation by one department, but by a cross-functional team that represents the business.
Most of the firms we’ve talked to want to provide access to information on the intranet first on a broad level, and then, in some cases, a personalized level. A good strategy to do this is to start by creating your intranets site map. That may sound backwards but it does work.
How are most firm’s intranets organized? Using an organizational site structure. In other words, mimicking how the firm is organized. The top-level menu with drop down choices might look like this:
While this seems to make sense and is most widespread in use, there are issues in using this type of architecture. The most import is that the structure is very limiting. You will find that once you start adding content, that not everything fits within the structure.
This means that you will need to get creative about where you add content and that generally means that content starts to be added in places where users won’t find it. Your intranet could eventually come messy in structure and unusable. Think of how houses look when they’ve been added to over and over again. The outside isn’t pretty and in inside isn’t as functional as those houses that were built from a good design.
There are some firms that have gone down the avenue of structuring there intranet using a task-based architecture. The top navigation menu with drop down choices may look like this:
Click on image for a larger view
This is a very simplistic view of a task based structure but it should provide some idea of how it would work. It too has some limitations but if thought through completely with a lot of imagination, it might work better than the organizationally based intranet. I think there is one more structure that might work better than both of these.
That structure would be a combination of both structures described above. More about that in my next post.
As a consulting company, NPCI is often asked what functionality a law firm intranet should have and what content should it contain. The answer to those questions is largely, it depends. This post is the first in a series that tries to answer the questions while keeping in mind that the options for creating an intranet can be limitless. Another caveat: What follows is based on our experience and probably not complete if you want to see the whole picture.
Before we dive into functionality and content, lets start with scope. As you start planning your intranet, you will likely have many ideas as well as many needs expressed by your users. The fact is that you won’t be able to meet all the needs before the initial launch. Like development teams that create the many applications developed and marketed by commercial entities, your best bet is to keep the scope narrow enough to be able to complete your effort and release it to your users. What you don’t get done initially can go into your release planning.
While user requirements for functionality as described above are going to help define your intranet, initially, you want to develop your goals by asking questions about the firm’s goals:
- What is the purpose of the intranet?
- What problems are we solving?
- How can the intranet increase productivity?
For example, the development of the scope for a new intranet might include:
- Improve communication across the firm
- Improve employees access to information
- Improve processes that are currently paper based but could be automated
- Create a means for collaboration
More specific goals for the intranet might include:
- Integrate content across disparate applications
- Maintain native security of enterprise applications
A redesign of the intranet may include the following goals in the scope depending on your needs:
- Migrate to more up-to-date technology
- Distribute the ability to add or update content
- Increase the intranet team’s productivity (reduce development time)
- Improve search capabilities to allow searching of content stored in applications
- Reduce the time it takes for attorneys and staff to find information
What you include in the scope will depend on what your firm’s needs are. Note: developing a scope is your first step to obtaining buy-in from management and your users. For the best results and, ultimately, the buy-in you need, developing the scope should not be done in isolation. Even though it might take longer, you will be more successful if you develop a cross-functional team to define what you want your intranet to provide.
One point to remember: The success of the firm’s intranet depends on it meeting your firm’s business needs as well as your user’s needs. If you don’t plan accordingly, you will end up spending more money and more time than planned. What happens then is your loss of the firm’s partner’s confidence in how much you understand the needs of their business and ultimately what you are capable of achieving.
How to scope an intranet release, James Robertson, Step Two Designs
Even if you’re a seasoned intranet professional, there’s always something you haven’t heard before. Sometimes, the very nature of the intranet (being internally focused and heavily customized to your corporate culture) lends itself to being cut off from the outside world. I read an article recently called 12 Workplace Phrases You Probably Don’t Know…But Should. Many of the phrases are applicable to the intranet world and are worth repeating. Below are a few of the phrases the authors listed, but I added my own thoughts on how they apply to intranets.
Holistic: No matter what you’re doing with your intranet – redesigning, building, planning, maintaining – you must always keep the big picture in mind. That means taking into consideration things like the number of users affected, other practice groups involved, resources you might need, time for development and testing, other projects happening simultaneously, the external website and any duplication of effort or content, etc. Look at everything around you – this is what a “holistic” approach means.
Running in parallel: If you’re developing something new for your intranet, it’s always good to keep the old system around for a period of time, even if it’s just as a backup. I’m not saying that you should allow people to use both old and new for very long, but running in parallel until the new system is stable is a good idea.
Use Case: These are critical for intranets when developing something new and testing. Use cases are documented situations that explain a specific situation to follow in order to determine if the solution will meet the needs. You should write multiple use cases for various situations in order to thoroughly review the solution.
Wireframe: Wireframes are especially helpful for intranets when you are in the beginning stages of a new design. They are simple pictures to show your developers how you’d like the screen to look. They should be low-tech and low-cost. Draw a picture, if you must! Creating wireframes is a way to ensure that the project is programmed they way you envision.
Now here are a few more phrases you should know that I’m adding to the intranet list:
User-centered design: Involving users in every phase of an intranet project enables the team to effectively prioritize features and functions, select the right tools and design the most efficient ways to accomplish tasks online. During each phase of development it is critical to engage, involve and interact with users. Asking basic questions and documenting findings will enable the team to make better decisions throughout the project.
Needs assessment: Exploring they way things are in the current intranet is critical, as well as determining where things should be. An assessment in my mind is different than an evaluation, which occurs after the fact. You might be locating gaps, assigning priorities, finding causes and identifying solutions. Again, intranet end users are critical to finding this information, so involve them early in the process.
Do you have some intranet phrases of your own to add to the list? If so, I’d love to hear them!