Archive for the ‘Needs Assessment’ Category

This is Part 8 of the “What Functionality and Content Should I Add to My Intranet” series.  To view previous parts of the series, click on Series link listed under pages on the right or use the link in the first sentence.

In my last post, I covered law firm intranet content for administrative department pages.  This part of the series will focus on content for internal users of practice group and administrative department pages.  The next post – Part 9 will focus on Research Pages/Portals.

Goals & Intended Outcomes

In a business focused on making money, the creation of an intranet should be based on a goal to increase productivity while decreasing or containing expenses with the outcome of improving revenue.  To reach that goal, the intranet’s functionality and content improves:

  • Business processes
  • Communication
  • Information access

and, in the end, delivery of services to clients.


To date, the strategy for the creation of intranets in law firms has generally been focused on firm-wide initiatives that will make those improvements (e.g., supporting new client/matter intake).  Administrative department pages went a step further in marketing their services/support to the rest of the firm.  In recent years, some firms have begun to work more on practice pages but, in many cases, their focus has been on the marketing of practice groups/areas to the firm.  

To be clear, our strategies have focused on communication and have dabbled with improving business processes and  information access but we have a way to go.  To achieve the goal  described above, firms and their intranet teams will need to focus on processes, communication and information used by internal members of each practice group and administrative department. 

In a sense, what is needed is an intranet within an intranet. 


What would that look like?  Here are some ideas in the case of an admin department, let’s say IT.

 Click on image to view it in a larger format.

In this example, I created a wire frame (using IntranetFactory Modeler – a free SharePoint tool) that included links to other pages, links to bookmarks, the latest posts of an internal blog (internal to IT), announcements, and the IT calendar.  The links to other pages include some that need no explanation – policies, procedures, projects, and others that may not be so easy to determine the content. 

The Network, Help  Desk and App Support team pages are used by those teams to support their work.  As an example, the following image of the Help Desk Team Page, has the same navigation as the IT Department home page as well as a quick launch web part to give team members quick access to their most often used web apps, the help desk request que, a chart with the % of open requests by priority,  and frequently asked questions the team receives.  If you were able to scroll down, you would also see a web part for the teams knowledge base.

Click on image to view it in a larger format.

While this is an example of an administrative departments internal pages, it should give you an idea of what to include on practice pages as well.  Anything the practice group, area, team, etc.  thinks would support its work or requests during your user needs assessment.  For example, a practice area page might include:

Contacts, projects, forms, most often used DMS documents by practice area members, open matters, calendar, who’s an expert in what, etc.  Anything that is important to the practice area (within reason). 

A caveat:  If you get requests for content/functionality that may be used by other departments, groups, etc., you have a decision to make.  Do you treat it as a one-off or do you take a step back and decide if what they are asking for might be a firm-wide, office-wide, etc. initiative.  If you have a strategy in place regarding how this will be handled before it comes up, the decision and how you communicate it back to the group will be much easier.  If you went one step further during planning and conducted a thorough user needs assessment before starting to code, you would have fewer decisions altogether. 

NOTE:  IntranetFactory looks like an interesting product.  The modeler is offered at no charge along with a lite version of a product called SharePoint Works which IntranetFactory says can convert the wire frame into a SharePoint site.  A more full featured commercial version of Works is available as well, along with a commercial version that includes all of the products.


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!

Learn how to conduct research and design, implement, roll out, and measure the success of your intranet—now and in the future! Register now for this information-packed day-long seminar presented by Nina Platt, Laurie Southerton, and Amy Witt.

Date: Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Location: University of Chicago, Gleacher Center Chicago, IL

How will you benefit by attending this Master Class?

Building or redesigning an intranet or portal for your law firm is challenging—and doing it without a plan is near impossible. Creating a successful intranet starts with making a good business case to get the support necessary to succeed.

Why do intranet projects fail? According to Helen Day and John Baptista, in their Intranet Strategy and Governance Report published in June 2007, intranet projects fail because:

  • No clear documented strategy is in place
  • Strategy is not communicated clearly to leaders
  • A failure to align intranet strategy with broader business objectives
  • Lack of senior sponsorship/ownership
  • Difficulty implementing consistent standards

This comprehensive, full-day master class will identify the types of governance needed during your project and after—introducing you to a proven project methodology while identifying tips and techniques that you can use immediately within your firm. Attendees will also understand the research around why intranet projects fail and why engaging your users throughout your project is critical to success!

Upon completing this course you will be able to:

  • Write a compelling business case for your intranet projects
  • Build an effective governance team
  • Use a proven methodology to manage your projects
  • Conduct research by collecting, analyzing and reporting on user goals and tasks
  • Design and organize your intranet to be the most efficient and effective for your firm’s users
  • Decide when to build and when to buy technology and tools to implement on your intranet
  • Plan a successful roll out of your new intranet
  • Understand what to measure to communicate success and to plan for changes for your intranet in the future

Reserve your seat now!

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  • Purchase Creating a Successful Law Firm Intranet

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