Archive for the ‘User-Centered Approach’ Category

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.

Additional reading:

How to scope an intranet release, James Robertson, Step Two Designs

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Creating a business critical intranet for your organization is a difficult task.  Like any project, there are many ways an intranet project can go awry.  In2009, the Standish Group reported that the failure or near failure of IT projects is almost certain in a high percentage of those projects:

The Standish Group’s just-released report, “CHAOS Summary 2009,” “This year’s results show a marked decrease in project success rates, with 32% of all projects succeeding which are delivered on time, on budget, with required features and functions” says Jim Johnson, chairman of The Standish Group, “44% were challenged which are late, over budget, and/or with less than the required features and functions and 24% failed which are cancelled prior to completion or delivered and never used.”

If we apply these statistics to intranet projects, the success seems dim at best.

With a nod to the Discovery channel’ s MythBusters, Bill Albert writes about busting myths often held in regards to online usability testing in his 4/9/2010 article, Debunking the Myths of Online Usability Testing in the Johnny Holland Magazine.  His focus of the article is online usability testing rather than the usability testing that can be done in person with one or more users but much of the content could be directed at either.

Usability testing goes hand in hand with user research or the needs analysis that must be done to create an intranet that meets the needs of the firm.  James Robertson writes about user research in his 2005 Step Two Designs article, Conducting intranet needs analysis.  While a bit dated in Internet time, it is still right on point about user research.

Law Firm Intranet Success Specifically

For more information on user research and usability testing for law firms, read a sample of the report, Creating a Successful Law Firm Intranet, written by us (Nina Platt, Laurie Southerton and Amy Witt) based on our experience in working with law firm intranets and published by the Ark Group.  The sample includes the Table of Contents, Executive Summary, Chapter 4: Research – Critical for Success, and the case study, Chapter 4: Research for Firm’s Intranet Design.

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!




  • kiiac
  • Purchase Creating a Successful Law Firm Intranet




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