Intranet Design in Practice

THIS IS PART 3 OF A SERIES, continued from PART 2. Here we continue to review content of the SharePoint in Practice book.

With a good project management structure in place, it is time to discuss and document your portal design. Engaging and educating key users is an important byproduct of this process.

The keystone document for this phase, and for the rest of the project, is the Design Document, which acts as a discussion platform now and a constant reference during the build. You will use this design phase to define the portal and systematically engage and educate the users.

The Design Team

People support what they create. Bring together a group to determine what the portal should include, how it should work, and who can do what with it.

The Design Team is, of course, a committee. An effective committee has a clear mandate, is well-organized and carefully facilitated. To accomplish this, use a simple Terms of Reference document, approved by the Project Manager and the Project Sponsor.

Armed with your Terms of Reference, recruit the team.

Create a Design Team with as much variety as possible. You won’t achieve perfection but try to get managers and staff from all business areas— especially Communications, IT, HR, Finance, and the Executive. This cross-section of business areas creates a dynamic group with a variety of perspectives. People are often energized by working with colleagues they rarely meet, and an energetic group is more fun, creative, and productive.

It is vital to include the front-line staff—the people who understand the daily challenges and know what is needed to support the business of the organization. They have the motivation and the ideas to design a portal that will support a better business operation.

You may question the value of “design by committee”, but this is a powerful process when the committee is run well. With teamwork and leadership, your committee will synergize to produce great ideas and a sense of accomplishment. And they will come to understand the portal deeply through that process.

Now let’s get that team busy!

The Design Process

You will lead meetings with the Design Team on a regular basis. Usually these “Portal Design Meetings” are held every two weeks, but if there is a push to get the project complete fast, you may choose to meet weekly. In any case, at the beginning of this phase send Outlook invitations to the team to get all meetings in their calendars and the rooms booked.

To engage your users throughout the project and co-create a system, I want to stress the value of having the right attitude. SharePoint in Practice is about developing a company portal that people will use. With an attitude of openness and curiosity, collaborate to create a collaborative system.

In each design meeting, you will come prepared with the Design Document (barely more than a template in the first meeting) and will conduct the meeting based on the following agenda (to be included in the meeting invitations). Note that the agenda will vary slightly from meeting to meeting—for example, the first meeting will focus more on the Project Plan, and the last meeting will focus more on Permissions.

Sample Agenda, First Design Meeting


NOTE: Every meeting should have a clearly stated purpose or objectives.

  1. Ensure shared understanding of the Project Plan;
  2. Brainstorm business challenges to be solved by the portal project;
  3. Work to define the purpose of the new portal;
  4. Brainstorming-style discussion to start portal design.
  1. Project overview (10 minutes)
    NOTE: Refer to your project plan extensively.
  1. Define Portal Purpose Statement (10 minutes)
    NOTE: Use a straw dog approach, based on the draft supplied below.
  1. Demonstrate sample intranet portals (15 minutes)
    NOTE: Demonstrate portals you have built or have access to, or contact Gerry to do this piece for you.
  1. Brainstorm key objects and structure (20 minutes)
    NOTE: Keep this light and fast-moving to capture quantity of ideas over quality. Don’t judge the ideas or get into too much detail; just let them flow.
  2. Discuss design guidelines (10 minutes)
    NOTE: Draft design guidelines are in the Design Document template linked above.
  3. Next steps (5 minutes)
    NOTE: What do we have coming up? The next Design Meeting, for sure. What about actions or activities? Reiterate them here.

Sample Agenda, Subsequent Design Meetings

  1. Convey any changes to the Project Plan;
  2. Continue discussion to design the new portal;
  3. Raise issues and concerns and work them through.
  1. Review agenda (5 minutes)
    NOTE: This gives you an opportunity to review what will be discussed, and how. Since this is a standard agenda, this will be brief, but we allocate 5 minutes to buy some time in case people arrive late.
  1. Review information architecture draft to date (15 minutes)
    NOTE: If you are working on the IA, this should be presented and discussed. This may be part of the Design Document.
  1. Review changes to design (35 minutes)
    NOTE: This is the bulk of the meeting. You will have the Design Document projected at the front of the room with changes since last meeting tracked. Invite discussion and provide ad hoc training.
  1. Next steps (5 minutes)
    NOTE: What do we have coming up? The next Design Meeting? What about actions or activities? Reiterate them here.

### TO BE CONTINUED…In this series, we are posting and expanding on the concepts in the SharePoint in Practice book. This is the first instalment of Chapter 3 and the 2nd edition of the book is underway. Please weigh in: Do these concepts make sense to you? What are we missing? From your experience, what challenges and success strategies can you share? ###