Intranets are hard. They serve people in all areas of an organization, but there’s often no natural fit for who’s responsible for their care and growth. Some have dedicated teams, but I’ve more often seen pockets of people or teams of one juggling intranet work beside their core jobs, and managing the best they can (I’ve been there, too!). If you’re working on an intranet, you might be doing any of these (and more):
- Document or content management
- Records and archives
- Digital strategy
- User experience design
- Strategic internal communications
- Information technology
- Web development
- Information architecture
There are many resources focusing on the technology and implementing features. They’re helpful for solving specific problems, but less so if you’re wrestling with more existential questions – what is your intranet for? How can it better serve employees to do their jobs? What do people really need?
Which is why we started the Intranets Edmonton meetup group. We’re jokingly referring to it as a “support group” for intranet people, because this can be difficult, isolating work. We’re bringing people together to talk about intranets, and as we do so they often ask, “what should I read to learn more about what I’m trying to do?”
So here are some recommendations for books and resources we’ve found helpful for ourselves and the people we work with.
An effective intranet balances technology, business, and user needs. In the scurry to implement new platforms or address business challenges, user needs can get underestimated or missed. But they’re critical, because people don’t find what they need on an intranet, they’ll use some other source, or make it themselves.
Don’t Make Me Think
Steve Krug, 3rd edition 2013
This book is on many reading lists for a reason. It’s an approachable, entertaining introduction to web usability. Krug zips through fundamentals such as writing for the web, navigation, information design, accessibility and usability testing with memorable examples and a smattering of cognitive psychology. This book is a great starting place, and is broadly appealing, which makes it a great book to gift to others who could learn a thing or two…
Ready for more? Try: The Elements of User Experience by Jesse James Garrett (2010)
Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design
Lisa Welchman, 2015
Digital governance is tricky, and can be a tough topic to sink your teeth into. Welchman’s take is readable and approachable. While much of book addresses overall governance of web properties, the principles can be readily applied to intranet governance, or to thinking about how all of your web properties and the people working on them can fit together.
The Right Way to Select Technology: Get the Real Story on Finding the Best Fit
Tony Byrne and Jarrod Gingras, 2017
Chances are, your organization is either in the process of adopting a new workplace technology (such as Office 365), or has plans to do so in the next five years.
To me, this reads like the missing manual for evaluating digital platforms. There’s an emphasis on planning, governance and decision-making frameworks, which is something I see many organizations struggle with. Byrne and Gangras briefly refer to their process as “agile”, in contrast to traditional technology selection being a “waterfall” process. This muddled analogy with project management processes doesn’t fit for me, but what they’re really talking about is a user-centered design process; doing user research to gather requirements, and using those as a framework for asking well-formed questions and evaluating vendor solutions. The big takeaway for me was asking “how” questions of vendors instead of “what”. Not “what can your solution do” but “how would your solution address our requirement to…”
The last half of the book focusses on practical advice for navigating the alphabet soup of RFIs, RFPs, and RFQs, how to evaluate proposals and hold demos.
How to Make Sense of Any Mess
Abby Covert, 2014
Intranet professionals are often practicing information architects, though they may not realize it. Structuring and organization information to be usable and findable is at the core of navigation, labeling, metadata, site organization and content writing decisions. Getting the right information for the right people at the right time is a key challenge of building or maintaining intranets.
How to Make Sense of Any Mess is an elegant little guide for making sense of messes made of information (and people). It’s a quick read and can help you frame your problem, use maps, models or diagrams to make sense and share it with others, and find new directions for untangling the mess. The book itself uses its own principles to bring clarity and simplicity to a difficult subject.
Ready for more? Try: Information Architecture for the World Wide Web by Peter Morville and Louis Rosenfeld (3rd edition 2006)
Step Two is a digital workplace consultancy based out of Australia. They have created a wealth of great resources that are available on their website, and also have some books and reports for sale. Many of the articles are older, but the principles still hold up:
The Nielsen Norman Group also regularly publishes articles about intranets or issues relevant to intranet professionals. Some highlights:
Intranets in Edmonton
We had our first Intranets Edmonton meetup on Monday, November 20. There was a great group discussion and we filled several whiteboards with ideas for future discussions. If you’re local and interested in intranets, join us!