Intranet redesign, Phase 6: communications, launch and evaluation

Familiarisation

To help staff become acquainted with the new look and feel and functionality before the launch, we published a set of *intranet familiarisation* videos, using the new intranet template, and linked them from the existing intranet via a feature story.

Familiarisation

In the month before launch we scheduled several intranet feature articles detailing the forthcoming launch. Our in-house design team created a flyer insert for our monthly staff magazine and we let our stakeholders know through email bulletins and newsletters. We published a final intranet article as we broke up for Christmas holidays saying bye bye to the old intranet.

Launch

I was very proud to press the button on New Year’s Day which would set the CMS in motion, publishing the new homepage, the news section and linking to all newly migrated content. It was then time to sit back and wait for the response from staff.

We had managed to migrate all of the content except for some older news stories and we were busy pedalling away in the background as the new intranet went live to staff.

Post-launch

There was an eerie silence after the launch. Business as usual. No cries of joy and no rotten tomatoes. Staff were just getting on with it. Hopefully our comms and familiarisation helped to bed them in a little.

Evaluation

The average time spent in a visit to the intranet has fallen from an average 2 mins 30 down to 1 min 20 since the launch. We’ve almost halved the time that staff take in a typical visit to the intranet. I’m optimistically reading this as evidence to show that they are finding and digesting information faster. Hopefully the improved navigation, legibility and layout are having an effect.

Uptake for feature news has almost doubled since the launch and is steadily rising. All the time spent in planning the news delivery was worth it.

Feature news content shows a steady increase in pageviews since the launch
Feature news content shows a steady increase in pageviews since the launch

Around 3 months after launch, we evaluated the *usability and design* benchmark as part of our annual IBF review. We also used Customer Carewords again to run the intranet staff satisfaction survey. See my previous blog posts for the results:

Evolution

Since launch, the intranet has changed and adapted, due to requests for new content and campaigns, issues highlighted by analytics reports and recommended actions from benchmarking evaluation reports.

One glaring problem that came out of our benchmarking report this year was that although I had done a lot of testing with the navigation to ensure staff could find their way around the intranet, I had not paid so much attention to the task of downloading a document. In the new intranet, downloads such as PDF and DOC files were listed in the right hand column. However, staff (rightly so) saw this column as links that would take them elsewhere – *related information*. As a result, they often missed the links to the documents. So we’ve been working to remedy this, moving download links to the body section of the page, in context.

I feel now that the intranet has reached a level where further enhancements can dripfeed through, rolling out small improvements and developments one at a time. Although the intranet is alive and constantly changing, this redesign project gave it a much needed kick in the butt to bring it into a state where no further big bang launches are necessary.

Other intranets within the organisational group have adopted the new design template and this is a good first step in providing a unified experience across our family of intranets.The intranet has come a long way, but work doesn’t stop. There is always room for improvement, as well as trying to keep up with what’s happening out on the web and constant changes and restructures within the organisation. I blogged previously that we are currently working to introduce more engagement functions on news stories, including *Like*, *Share this* and *Comment*.

I’m aware that we don’t have a true task-based navigation system and that several sections still hang off the departmental structure. We have no proper social functions on the intranet because we don’t have the technical architecture or platform. We have *strap-on* sites such as Huddle and Civil Pages but they don’t talk to each other and they don’t integrate with the intranet. We still have the most useless employee directory, again not integrated into the intranet or any other systems such as Outlook. And I’ve been waiting over a year (or is it two?) for our Google Search Appliance upgrade.

So plenty to get on with.

For now, that’s the end of this budget intranet redesign series.
Thanks for all the mentions and RTs over the past weeks.

Mentioned sites

In this series

  1. Research, surveys and brief
  2. Information architecture and content audit
  3. Wireframe designs and user testing
  4. Visual design, HTML and CMS build
  5. Migration, content freeze/dual publishing
  6. Communications, launch and evaluation

Intranet redesign, Phase 5: migration, content freeze, dual publishing

The end is in sight

Remember that migration plan from phase 2? Having decided to publish back-issues of news stories to the start of 2009, I could quantify how much content we would need to migrate. I managed to cut the original content from 6416 entries down to 3000 entries. Some of this was by losing older news stories. The remainder I did by reorganising content into simplified chunks. Where a section had dozens of one-paragraph pages, I grouped and combined them into fewer pages. I removed out of date content. Cut out duplicated content. Barred the *what’s this doing on the intranet?* content.

So it was at this point in the project, around September 2009, that we agreed on an unofficial launch date of 1st January 2010. We reckoned we could populate the new intranet in that time. We would divert all our attention to the migration and bat off any new development work.

Migration checklist

We pulled a few extra resources from the web team to help out with migration. We had hands-on training for the CMS publishing and strict rules on page titles, metadata and file names.

I shared the master migration plan with the team through Google Docs which worked wonders for collaborating on our progress, showing up to the minute changes and no document check-out and check-in. Meh!

Content freeze

We announced a moratorium on intranet updates with the exception of corporate news and features and urgent ministerial and board messages.

Curious to note that having announced a content freeze, intranet content owners who had not done anything with their content for months and months suddenly wanted to update their pages. Don’t you love human nature?

Dual publishing

Because we had agreed to continue to publish news stories, I divided the migration work amongst the team with one person responsible for publishing ongoing news onto the existing intranet and also entering into the CMS for the new intranet. We had a few people working on news story back-issues. And a few working from the existing Dreamweaver content, manually building the green, blue and purple sections of the site.

Migration production line

Cut and paste. Cut and paste. Robot-like for weeks. The migration team laboured on. The traffic lights on our Google Docs spreadsheet slowly changed from red to green. We took this chance to do a little editorial work on pages as we moved them across, rewriting in plain English and reformatting pages to improve readability. I was also keeping an eye on our Google Search Appliance as it indexed the migrated content. Up and up went the page count. Perfect page titles all round!

A URL was leaked at some point and from studying Google Analytics I could see that there were about 60 people around the organisation looking at the new site before it was officially launched. I’m glad they were that interested!

Communications and launch

In my next post I’ll cover how we worked with our internal communications colleagues to prepare staff for the new intranet and how we have evaluated and evolved the intranet since launch.
In this series

Intranet redesign, Phase 4: visual design, HTML and CMS build

News delivery design

With several stakeholders interested in news delivery across the intranet, this was an important part of the redesign.

In the existing intranet, a news story would appear on the homepage with a URL from the latest news section and then drop into an archive, with a different URL. So the same story had 2 different URLs in its lifetime travelling from homepage to archive. A nightmare for analytics and evaluation and back-linking. The news archive itself was just a bulleted list of text headlines, grouped by month, buried in a structure that was difficult to navigate and, to my mind, did not encourage anyone to browse through back-issues.

I wanted to turn this on its head and bring the news stories alive. I wanted stories to link to each other forming a thread. I wanted to eliminate the idea of an *archive* which reeks of a dark, locked away place, underground, filled with cobwebs. I saw news being displayed as a stream of thumbnails. And wouldn’t it be nice if staff could *Like* stories?
News

Devolved news publishing

Also on the cards was a plan to devolve news story publishing to the internal editorial team. Up until this point, the central intranet team handled all intranet content, coding up and publishing manually in Dreamweaver. To get the news stories flowing through the new intranet via the editorial team, we needed a CMS (content management system). And because news would appear on the intranet homepage, it meant that the CMS would have to publish the intranet homepage. Scary, because we’d always had manual control of the homepage.

Technical development starts

Armed with my wireframes and a visual design prototype (built with Fireworks – great for WEB graphics) it was time for the core team to come together ready for the build. Up until this point I had been working very closely with the intranet development manager. Nobody had seen any visual design work or prototypes. This was the point when I presented all my findings to the team and we got our heads together working on the interface.

We had two developers who would build the HTML and CSS template for all sections of the intranet. Then two CMS developers to take the template and build the homepage and news delivery system within the CMS. And I stress again, we were working with a webserver that just supported flat HTML and Javascript on IE6+ browsers.

Team meetings were more scrum than SCRUM and I was probably seen as a tiresome pain in the neck during development. Constantly tweeking parts of the interface. Trying to defend usability design choices. Causing hell for the CMS developers whose inbuilt navigation system would not bend to my contextual designs and pushing them to the limits of programming creativity. Trying to turn their mindsets to new ways of thinking. I still remember roaring at the team during the news section development “THERE IS NO ARCHIVE!” and fighting for pixelspace on the width of the search box. Such is the life of the user experience designer.

Compromises, battles won and lost, we came up with the following main design elements.

Page layout, consistent design & colour coding

We decided that the header bar should stay the same throughout the intranet. This contained the logo, strapline and search box (including people search). Plus a global navigation bar containing the top-tasks and A-Z lookup pages. I was quietly pleased that it would leave no possibility of having any spam banner ads forced upon us from overly keen stakeholders.

Homepage main menu. Simples!
Homepage main menu. Simples!

The left-hand menu on the homepage displayed the top 4 sections.

I added an A-Z box to the homepage to give quick access to any letter plus a scrollable billboard space for internal advertising. The billboard gave the user 10 seconds to do what they came to do from the homepage and then started slowly scrolling the adverts for those who hung around. We managed to get RSS feeds from our public site and the BBC into the homepage and the only bit of personalisation on the intranet; a graphical bookmark link back to a choice of local intranets (implemented with cookies).

We changed the default typeface, increased the font size and line-spacing and improved text flow on the page. We used a three-column approach, left-hand menu, body content, right-hand for document downloads, related pages and external sites, adverts and contact information.

News stories

On individual news story pages the developers came up trumps allowing us to display popup images, scrolling photo galleries and video. A big plus for engagement. And we managed to get voting on stories into the mix through a convoluted use of jQuery, cookies and Google Analytics to store the votes. We added *next* and *prev* on each story to encourage paging back and forth between stories. Back issues were still organised by month but we now had a visual display of stories using thumbnails. And there was no mention of archive 🙂

User-centric dates

Instead of using a typical datestamp on the footer of each page, I took the decision to move to user-centric dates in the style of Facebook. Yes I did sit and watch in wonder as a freshly published page changed its status on the footer bar in real-time from Published just now, to a few minutes ago to 10 minutes ago. Much more human to see, than to read a date and have to remember what day it is now and work out how long ago it was. Little shortcuts in the brain’s workings help the user experience.

Working interface

Here are some example thumbnail images of each section template, showing the homepage, a help page and then each section landing page paired with a themed detail page. Not counting news & features, each section landing page acted as a partial sitemap giving quick access to popular content within sub-sections.

MoJ intranet colours

Accessibility testing

It was at this stage when the first drafts of the site had been built that I tested the intranet template on staff using assistive technology. I sat with people using JAWS and SuperNova screenreaders and Dragon voice recognition. Always a good experience watching (and hearing) the intranet being used from this side of the fence. And great when all the hidden code in the back of the pages works. However, I sat with one blind lady and I was pretty gob-smacked to find out that she was not aware of access keys and how to jump around the site. She’d been relying on her own method of jumping to the H1 tag on a page but was unaware of all the other shortcuts. It was also interesting to sit with another lady using a headset to easily browse the intranet through spoken commands.

After building the templates and CMS system we were then ready to haul over the content, which I’ll cover in my next post.

In this series

  1. Research, surveys and brief
  2. Information architecture and content audit
  3. Wireframe designs and user testing
  4. Visual design, HTML and CMS build
  5. Migration, content freeze/dual publishing
  6. Communications, launch and evaluation

Mentioned sites

Intranet redesign, Phase 3: wireframe designs and user testing

The previous phase of the project gave me 4 main intranet sections with specific content functions and a detailed map of all the content that was cherry-picked to make the migration to the new intranet. There were going to be a fair few chunks of content left ashore, and no doubt a few stowaways.


The top-level, homepage, main navigation options, as voted for by the willing and much appreciated members of staff who took part in the online experiments were:

News & features

Containing 2 types of news; corporate *must read* announcements and feature articles, promoted as the online staff magazine. In addition, this section would be home to the corporate calendar, press and media coverage, the monthly staff magazine, and our holistic section (sports, social, weather, travel, photo galleries).

Guidance & support

Look-up, reference and guidance material, policy and procedures, forms and templates. All the stuff you need in your day to day job.

Ministers & parliament

Content relating to official ministerial business. (Cardsorting put any guidance of this nature into this section, rather than the general guidance and support section.)

Organisation & vision

Content about our structure, goals, ways of working, strategies and initiatives. Promoting internal campaigns.

Contextual navigation

For this next phase, I ran some time trials, using 2 sets of wireframe prototypes (created in Axure) to test the existing navigation against the proposed contextual method. I created a set of tasks for face-to-face user testing, designed to bounce the participant around different sections of the site. Contextual navigation came out way ahead, with task completion times significantly faster than the existing method. Decision made.

I was then able to document a complete intranet navigation structure based on the 4 main sections, plus a supporting section for global pages (A-Z, search, help.)

Wireframe and prototype user testing

The next step in the project was to work out how best to present all this information on the intranet, how the navigation menus would work and to start to implement some of the design ideas from the project brief.

I spent a month making heavy use of a trial version of Axure (are you getting how many cost-effective tools were used in this project??) to create protoypes using the full intranet IA, implemented with the proposed contextual method of navigation.

Having spent some time setting this up in Axure, the product really came into its own when I started the iterative testing. I’d do short bursts of tests with just a handful of people, individually at their desks. Glaring problems immediately came to light and with a few adjustments in Axure, a press of a button gave me a new prototype in seconds. Then more testing and adjustments, round and round, until I was confident in the navigation and layout, and just before the trial license ran out 😉

Early wireframe prototype page (before final cardsorting results.) Note the drippy *Corporate services* label which crashed and burned in cardsorting as a possible name.
Early wireframe prototype page (before final cardsorting results.)
Note the drippy *Corporate services* label which
crashed and burned in cardsorting as a possible name.

Benefits of contextual navigation

One of the most striking effects of using contextual navigation was that it made the intranet seem smaller. Because left hand navigation menus were shorter on every page. Because they didn’t include all the unnecessary baggage of same-level branch options. And I think this made the intranet seem less daunting to people during testing. Wherever they were in the structure, they didn’t feel lost. Golden usability rule; take away choice and you make it easier (therefore faster) for the user.

Bye bye breadcrumb

I also got the idea that the left hand menu could double-up as a breadcrumb, always leading back to the homepage and always showing you the path you have taken. An added benefit (later implemented with colour coding) was that the menu acted as a depth gauge. The less darker menu colours, the nearer you were to the homepage, the more darker colours, the deeper you were in the structure. Removing the traditional breadcrumb that spans across the top of body content saved some screen space and would also speed up migration time since developers would not have to manually code breadcrumb navigation.

Flexible menus

I was very optimistic about all the benefits of switching to this type of navigation It is flexible. It is not rigid. But I found this the hardest part to explain to the developers who were stuck in a rigid mindset of using up to 3 levels of navigation levels and no more. The intranet is not an evenly distributed field of content that falls neatly into ordered layers. Some sections go deep. Others are shallow. But, most are a combination of both. Sections consist of sub-layers of varying depth. So it is illogical to try to force the structure. To try to make it fit. Or to limit the structure to a finite number of levels.

Examples from two pages showing flexible, contextual menus made from the following building blocks: I can go back to this page/section (dark shade, one or more of these) I am in this section (medium shade, just one of these) I can go forward to this page/section (light shade, one or more of these) A bullet point marker to show *I am here*
Examples from two pages showing flexible, contextual menus
made from the following building blocks:
I can go back to this page/section (dark shade, one or more of these)
I am in this section (medium shade, just one of these)
I can go forward to this page/section (light shade, one or more of these)
A bullet point marker to show *I am here*

Information and navigation design completed, I then moved on to visual design, which I’ll cover in my next post.

In this series

  1. Research, surveys and brief
  2. Information architecture and content audit
  3. Wireframe designs and user testing
  4. Visual design, HTML and CMS build
  5. Migration, content freeze/dual publishing
  6. Communications, launch and evaluation

Intranet redesign, Phase 2: information architecture and content audit

Back in the good old days when the IT department allowed me to use DOS (the operating system that I was brought up on,) I managed to do some jiggery-pokery and get a complete intranet file-listing. And a few deft keystrokes later, I was spreadsheet-a-go-go.

dos

Content audit

My previous analysis already told me what was popular content on the intranet. The spreadsheet gave me the complete picture and what kind of state it was in, structurally.

Using our Google Search Appliance, I also generated a listing of all content that Google thought was on the intranet (having crawled from the homepage.) The resultant list contained 6416 entries (HTML, DOC, XLS, PDF) and was a fraction of the DOS listing, meaning that the webserver was filled with rubbish, albeit invisible to staff.

I then spent a long time sifting and sorting, grouping and batching, slicing and hacking. By the end, I had a good idea of what I was dealing with and what would make it into the final mix.

Top-level navigation

I decided that I could group the whole of the intranet into just 4 main sections. Big change. Big simplification. What I didn’t know for certain was what I was going to call these sections. So, with the core team, we came up with a good handful of ideas for the names of each of the 4 sections.

I started involving staff with an online, closed cardsort using all of our ideas for names. I invited staff from all over the organisation to take part. I tested a representative selection of all intranet content. The tests worked by showing the participant an intranet page or document and asking them which of 4 boxes they would put it in. Each question tested one section and the 4 boxes were labelled with a selection of names for that section.

I wanted to test a lot of content, against a lot of possible names with a lot of people, online. I had to find a way to distribute many smaller tests, testing different variations of sections with content while keeping the number of questions to a minimum, to encourage staff to complete the test. I was also working with a webserver with no coding capability (PHP or ASP). So I developed a simple set of HTML pages, which linked from question to question while passing the chosen answers to Google Analytics. I’d be able to filter the analytics for the test questions and answers.

For the intial test page which all participants landed on, I used Google Website Optimiser, setting up an A/B test which redirected participants to one of 12 different pages. Each of the 12 pages started an individual test containing 20 questions. The purpose of Website Optimiser is usually to find the best combination of elements or wording on a page to drive a particular outcome. In this instance, I just took advantage of Website Optimiser’s method of evenly distributing tests.

We advertised for participants across our family of intranets and got a really great response.

Cardsorting stats

Google Analytics report showing bursts of cardsorting activity during 2009
Google Analytics report showing bursts of cardsorting activity during 2009

I like looking back on these analytics. During the online cardsorting sessions I covered over 1000 content items and got nearly 36,000 individual responses. The first batch of tests was in February, designed to elicit our main navigation labels. Subsequent tests then checked that the chosen names would suit all the intranet content. It was a much larger set of tests, again using Website Optimiser for distribution and Google Analytics to capture results.

The Test Tube advert
The Test Tube advert

The “Test tube advert”

I attribute the success of the number of responses partially to the advert that I designed to entice staff to take the test. The advert lets people know what to expect: answer 20 questions. The text acknowledges that people would be supporting us in taking the test and also mentions that this is the second round of tests. There was no first round of tests; the line is there to give a sense of having missed out on something. I also chose *experiments* which I felt was slightly more sexy than *tests*. A bold, clear call to action encourages a click, and the test tubes are just dripping.

Cardsorting results

The stats from the cardsorting gave a clear visual indication of success or failure. Here is an example of results for a single card with the option of 4 placements (boxes). This card got 334 responses with nearly 80% concurrence of opinion. I tested iteratively until I was confident that everything fitted and would work well with staff.

Google Analytics results for a single card
Google Analytics results for a single card

Remaining information architecture

After the cardsorting exercises were finished I then got to work on creating the master IA for the intranet, creating the secondary and subsequent navigation levels. I could then map the initial intranet structure to the newly created structure, producing the content migration plan, ready for phase 5 of the project.

IA is such an important step in any web or intranet development project. And it is important that it is done early in the project, before any page layout or visual design.

In this series

  1. Research, surveys and brief
  2. Information architecture and content audit
  3. Wireframe designs and user testing
  4. Visual design, HTML and CMS build
  5. Migration, content freeze/dual publishing
  6. Communications, launch and evaluation