Umm… you could always ask them

I’m part of a LinkedIn group called Intranet Professionals.

It’s a great group with lots of interesting topics, discussion and support. But there’s been a few questions put to the forum of late that have baffled me.

The first one was:
Schoolboy asking a question

We are trying to revamp the HR section of our intranet and am looking for ideas/inspiration on how others have tackled this area? If anyone would be willing to share how they’ve structured this information, what categories they have used, screen shots etc, it would all be gratefully received!

What baffles me is the underlying assumption of the question and many of the following comments: all we have to do is think about this hard enough and we’ll get the right answer or let’s just get some ideas from our peers and then use them. It’s like they’re working in a vacuum.

Now of course I’m characterising this narrowly. One of the intents of the question is obviously to create discussion and motivation. But…

There’s a problem here: How could other intranet professionals know what was going on in the organisation, how staff think about HR, use language and group concepts together?

Would it kill to ask the visitors to the intranet what makes sense to them? (BTW: My published comment was a little more circumspect in trying to get my point across than this.)

The second LinkedIn question was:

For me it is obvious to sort topics in the top navigation according to functions, processes and what the user needs rather than by organization. But can anyone help me with a few bullet-points to convince C-management in the subject. Grateful for any feedback.

Try data.

Data should work for management and if it doesn’t then you should consider changing jobs.

You could, for example, say something like:

  • 80% of the staff we tested were able to find the target information within 6 seconds; or,
  • we discovered in keyword and card sorting research – see this research – we can improve our staff’s ability to complete this task by a factor of 2 – see research

On usability data, as Jakob Nielsen said recently, “Make no mistake: if you require perfection… you’ll have no research … Go with … some data, because it’s much better than guessing.” (Strength of User Research Evidence)

Get so-called C-management to watch a video of someone being tested trying to use the current system – highlight all the problems. Stop dealing in guesses and start dealing in facts.

I think the main problem is not that people don’t want to ask they just don’t really know HOW to ask to elicit the data they need. We’ve all done surveys that just ask for lots of opinions about stuff – but what do you do with all those opinions and all the expectations you’ve set up by asking?

At the time you’re redesigning navigation, functions or content you need to FOCUS down onto what’s really important not open up to everything.

I hope I don’t see many more questions like those above, but when I do my answer will always be some variation on “umm.. you could always ask them”.