Successful intranet projects always start with a clear strategy. Strategy workshops are best held as half- or full-day, on-site events. But it’s not always practical to gather all intranet stakeholders together to a single location. How can you successfully run a remote intranet strategy workshop?

An effective intranet strategy finds the overlap between business objectives, intranet features, and employee goals. See Step 5 for more details.

An effective intranet strategy finds the overlap between business objectives, intranet features, and employee goals. See Step 5 for more details.

I recommend using a combination of video conferencing and web-based activities stretched over a week or two. I’ve laid out an effective approach below. These activities lead up to two ultimate deliverables:

1. Business objectives: A prioritized list of the top 3 to 5 business objectives for the intranet. Example: “Increase workforce productivity by enabling employees to serve themselves.”

2. User stories: A list of 7 to 15 user stories, in a who/what/why format, that describe how a user will use the intranet. Example: “As a marketing manager, I want to provide easy access to brand assets, especially logos and key photography, so that I don’t have to manually fill requests for them via email.”

Prior to the first strategy meeting, send stakeholders the results of any end user research already conducted. (Conducting end user research is a separate topic not covered here.)

Step 1: Frame the possibilities

Conduct a 90-minute video conference with intranet stakeholders, including the executive sponsor. There are three goals of this session:

  1. Excite the stakeholders about the possibilities of a new intranet.
  2. Put a box around the strategy, limiting it to objectives that can be addressed by a new intranet.
  3. Explain the strategy process.

Here's a sample agenda for this meeting:

10 min: Setup and introductions

30 min: Describe the background that led up to the project. Share the results of any end user research already conducted.

30 min: Demonstrate how other companies are using intranets to solve problems. If you already have a technology platform selected, demonstrate it.

10 min: Ensure everyone has Post-it notes and markers. Give them 5 minutes to jot down, in silence, their answers to this question: What issues will the new intranet help solve?

10 min: Explain the next steps in the strategy process. The immediate next step is to take what they wrote down and enter it on an online form. The link should already be in their inbox.

Step 2: Invite ideas

Immediately after the workshop, give participants 24 hours to enter their ideas in an online form. Ask them two questions:

  1. What problems will the new intranet help solve?
  2. What opportunities does the new intranet present?

The first question concentrates on problems (the negative), and the second question concentrates on opportunities (the positive). Provide space for up to 10 ideas. See a sample ideas form using SurveyMonkey.

After understanding what's possible with a new intranet, stakeholders braintorm the strategic possibilities it enables. Their ideas are entered using an online form

After understanding what's possible with a new intranet, stakeholders braintorm the strategic possibilities it enables. Their ideas are entered using an online form

Step 3: Rank ideas

Next, give participants 24 hours to rank the ideas by priority. Provide a list of all the ideas generated in the previous step. Don’t edit them, except for grievous spelling or punctuation errors, because we want participants to recognize their own ideas. Don’t delete duplicates, either, because we want participants to notice recurring ideas. Ask participants to sort all the ideas into 4 categories:

  • Top Priority
  • High Priority
  • Medium Priority
  • Low Priority

A slick, online way to manage this sorting is through a closed-category, randomized card sort on OptimalSort. OptimalSort also performs the data analysis for you, so you’ll know almost immediately what the top business objectives are.

Participants rank ideas by priority. OptimalSort is a slick online way to manage this.

Participants rank ideas by priority. OptimalSort is a slick online way to manage this.

Step 4: Present, Approve, Plan

In a 30-minute video conference with stakeholders, present the top 5 priorities. Invite the ultimate decision-maker to confirm the results — this assures everyone that an executive-approved consensus has been reached. Then assign 5 teams of 2-3 people to consider each of the 5 priorities. Each team should be in the same physical location. If possible, select cross-functional teams of people that don’t often work together. Ask the teams to consider:

  1. CONDITIONS: What must be true for this priority to happen?
  2. BARRIERS: What barriers stand in the way?
  3. MITIGATIONS: How can these barriers be removed?

Before ending the video conference portion of the meeting, tell each team how much time they have to work on their response to these questions and enter them online. See a sample planning form built using SurveyMonkey.

For each business objective, small teams consider what must take place in order for it to become reality. The results are entered on an online form.

For each business objective, small teams consider what must take place in order for it to become reality. The results are entered on an online form.

Step 5: Convert to user stories

You, as the intranet expert, complete this step on your own.

Analyze the input from the prioritized business objectives and the Conditions/Barriers/Mitigations. Consider what you know about employee needs and goals (conducting end user research is a separate topic not covered here). Look for the overlap between what you know intranet software can do, what the company’s objectives are, and what employees need to get done. That overlap is Fit, and it’s what will make the intranet great. Then put it into short user stories, following a Who/What/Why format, that describe how a user will use the intranet.

For example, perhaps you learned that Marketing is plagued by constant requests for brand assets. The strategy sessions revealed that a top business objective is to “increase workforce productivity by enabling employees to serve themselves.” The Conditions/Barriers/Mitigations from Step 4 indicated a need to reduce reliance on email. With all that background, an appropriate user story might look like this: “As a marketing manager, I want to provide easy access to brand assets, especially logos and key photography, so that I don’t have to manually fill requests for them via email.”

7 to 15 user stories is usually a good target. These user stories will serve as the touchstone to judge whether the final intranet has delivered on its promise.

As a... (who) I would like... (what) so that I... (why)
Marketing coordinator to provide easy access to brand assets, especially logos and key photography don't have to manually fill requests for them via email
Employee to get updates on changes related to the merger know as soon as possible if I am going to lose my job
Sales managerwork collaboratively on Word documents respond to RFPs faster

Use a Who/What/Why format to make meaningful user stories. These stories will serve as the touchstone to judge whether the final intranet has delivered on its promise.

Step 6: Present and Finalize

In a 60-minute video conference with stakeholders, present the user stories. Provide relevant background from end user research and the Conditions/Barriers/Mitigations. Show how each user story clearly connects to the prioritized business objectives. Invite feedback and answer questions.

Because stakeholders were involved in the previous steps, it’s unlikely that any of the user stories will be a big surprise. So strive to get a verbal commitment from the group: “Does everyone agree that if the intranet delivers on these user stories, it will be a success?” You might repeat this question directly to the executive sponsor — everyone needs to hear that the ultimate decision-maker is fully on-board.

When you reach consensus, the strategy phase is complete! Now the rubber meets the road: it’s time to execute the strategy.

Need help with your intranet strategy? Contact me.

Shout-out to ThoughtFarmer's Gordon Ross for teaching me at least half of what I know about strategy workshops! Check out the first chapter of his Intranets 101 eBook, “How to Create an Effective Intranet Strategy.”