Top Tips for Project Managing Your New Company Intranet
So, you’re considering deploying a new intranet; exciting times! But which project implementation methodology should you follow? Read this blog to get to grips with two popular project management options for intranets and learn the classic pitfalls to avoid.
Agile and Waterfall – What Are the Core Differences?
Picture yourself in Starbucks; you’re waiting in the queue, pondering what drink to order. Will it be the chai tea, the mocha frappuccino, or perhaps a caffè misto? And what even is an iced Teavana?
Now imagine you’re browsing a menu of project management methodologies – and it’s equally mind-boggling. You’ve got PRiSM, Scrum, CCPM, PRINCE 2, Six Sigma… the list stretches on. But if you strip back all the fancy names and acronyms, it comes down to a set of guiding principles for delivering a project.
And as this blog is about implementing a new company intranet, the good news is that most organisations tend to choose between two methodologies: agile or waterfall. So, what’s the difference?
Let’s start with agile. As the name suggests, it’s a fluid way of managing a project. You have a goal, but it’s an iterative process. You’ll make many crucial choices as things unfold along the way. In contrast, waterfall is quite rigid. You’ll set all your critical decisions upfront and follow a fixed plan.
Sometimes I feel that waterfall is the wrong name, as it evokes force and energy. So, it might be helpful to think of it this way: a waterfall always flows in the same direction. But agile – sticking with the water metaphor, resembles a meandering river with many tributaries flowing into it.
For the nitty-gritty, we like this blog by the project management people at Hygger – Agile vs Waterfall: the Difference Between Methodologies.
This is also a thoughtful article from 2014 by software architect Ryan Hall: Agile Design on Your Intranet, but we would add that an agile approach should always be guided by your overarching purpose. As David Bowman, our Product Director for Fresh, advises: “You need an owner, and that person should be influenced by the results of incremental change and feedback across a broad range of audiences. While much feedback will be useful and insightful, they’ll also need the judgment to recognise what’s opinionated nonsense and people taking an opportunity to have a moan.
“Agility without consistent purpose and direction is just reactive, unfocused stuff happening. And while a waterfall approach is more likely to avoid these pitfalls due to the volume of planning (read over-planning), it will suffer from the reverse of the benefits listed in this article.”
Which Approach is Right for Your Organisation?
Whether you opt for agile or waterfall depends on two principal factors:
• Readiness. Do you have a fully formed view of your requirements? Have you listed your objectives, and to what level of detail? Do you have a designated business owner and sufficient resources, including technical people? And the same question applies to the systems your intranet will connect to; which ones will fall under your project’s scope?
• Culture. How do your leadership team and people usually operate? Before embarking on something, is it customary that all the i’s are dotted, and the t’s crossed? Or is your organisation comfortable with making decisions as you journey along?
Your answers are the lead indicators as to whether the agile or waterfall approach is best for you. To give each of these project management scenarios some context, let’s take two of our intranet products: Fresh Explore and Fresh Go.
Fresh Explore is nearer to the waterfall approach, while Fresh Go is closer to agile, although neither are at the extremes, and each model has a review cycle. Fresh Explore has most of the finer details mapped out before the launch, while Fresh Go is an incremental process of feature requests and changes in a live intranet.
Think of Fresh Explore as a long-term, pre-defined plan; you’ve always known the direction your waterfall is going. With Fresh Go, it’s an evolution dotted with mini projects, like tributaries joining the stream.
But ultimately, the success of any new intranet implementation, regardless of the project methodology, requires someone who cares about it, which is why the next chapter is vital.
You Need a Leader
Traditionally, intranets suffer from a lack of ownership. To succeed, they need a leader – not just during implementation, but beyond. “We have this concept of the designated business owner,” says David Bowman, our Product Director for Fresh.
“From the first meeting we have with a new client, we’re looking for that person; I need to put a name in the box. And customers will say we have Jess, Mohinder and Rafa, and they’ll share responsibility, and I’ll say no, I want one name.
“Because without a lead person, there’s nowhere for anyone to go, and it can always be someone else’s problem.”
And the same applies to an established intranet because when an authority figure is lacking, it can rapidly become a wild west of content and messaging. David Bowman continues: “Fast-forward to nine months after the launch, and someone in your business says this important thing is happening and it needs to go on our homepage. Your designated business owner needs to make an informed and considered decision; an IT admin is likely to just react to all incoming requests.”
An Exercise in Hearts and Minds
When introducing any new technology, it’s natural to encounter resistance or anxiety. With company intranets, the potential blockers tend to be the content owners, rather than the general user population.
There can be an unwillingness to let go, which is often rooted in worries over a loss of control or the short-term pain of learning something new. David Bowman continues: “You might be surprised how often we encounter this, and it’s quite a thing for some people to be able to get over.
“During our readiness workshops, we’ll get them to a point where they can start reimagining their content in Fresh and increasing their comfort. We’ll reassure them that they’ll still own it and we’re not reducing their control; we’re just changing the way they work.”
You might also like: How to Make Your Company Intranet Sing.
Common Pitfalls in Intranet Implementations
But leadership and winning hearts and minds are only part of a successful and enduring company intranet. Here are five common pitfalls to avoid:
Not thinking far enough ahead
In the heady days of a designing and scoping a new intranet, it’s easy to get carried away with the wow factor and go for lots of advanced features. But the complexity of your intranet is commensurate with the need to have someone dedicated to managing it.
If you introduce a dozen sophisticated tools, someone needs to maintain them long after the laser and lights show of your launch day. And all IT projects have a pot of money which, once spent, leave a gap. So, before you create that shiny intranet masterpiece, make sure you also have the budget to keep its lustre year in and year out.
Over to David Bowman: “While there can be a temptation to get things done quickly and impress everyone, be considerate of the long-term and what legacy you’re creating. This may mean spending more time designing your intranet upfront to simplify its maintenance.”
It’s worth emphasising that the more complex your requirements, the more layers you’re adding to your intranet. Never lose sight of your primary objectives and consider how each piece of customisation impacts on the user experience and the management behind the scenes.
Again, people can get hung up on exciting new IT projects and overlook their long-term sustainability.
Going it alone
The cost of fixing problems rises exponentially the later they’re discovered. There’s a wealth of statistics backing this fact, such as this post by deepsource – Exponential cost of fixing bugs.
To keep costs down, you may decide its sensible to fly solo with your new intranet. But if you have no previous experience, this could be a false economy. What may feel like the right decisions at the beginning can turn out to be spectacularly wrong (and expensive) ones a few months later. In the next section, we give an example of this.
Working with a subject matter expert will ensure you avoid the classic trips and spills because they’ve done it hundreds of times before and eat new intranets for breakfast. An intranet partner can also help get your project over the line quicker.
Growth and Scale
A classic schoolboy error in going it alone is making the wrong decisions about where to keep your content, and how it’s surfaced in your company intranet. For example, you might decide to store your content in one place because you think it will help navigation.
Unfortunately, this often leads to headaches around capacity and can rapidly descend into an unholy mess. You can end up with all sorts of security conundrums, as the access permissions related to each user and the type of content can vary significantly.
Six or twelve months later, you’re in content hell: it’s unmanageable, people are randomly deleting and replacing files, and there’s zero version control. And to make matters worse, the absence of best practice leads to broken navigation, making it doubly hard to add new content or platforms.
“It’s all about the underlying architecture and not anticipating the challenges you might have,” adds David Bowman. “At some point, you may have to unpick things because you didn’t foresee how they were going to change. Your intranet needs to facilitate appropriate content curation and controls, and this means planning for them at the start.”
Our Fresh Approach
David Bowman and his experienced team would be delighted to have an informal chat with you and discuss the merits of an agile or waterfall approach for your organisation. And whatever implementation methodology you settle on, we have the packages and services to fit your needs.
And in these unprecedented times, you might like to learn more from David Bowman here: Crisis Communications: Advice for Employee Comms in the Covid Era.
Content Manager, IT Lab Group
Christine joined the IT Lab marketing team in 2017, following the acquisition of cybersecurity specialists Perspective Risk. Her focus is on delivering content that meets the needs of a diverse client base, and that demonstrates the group’s expanding portfolio of solutions and services. Quality and the customer are at the heart of everything she does.