Building your workplace’s digital ecosystem

My previous posts have focused on the more tactical elements of managing your company’s intranet space, particularly reframing how decision-makers and leaders view their “intranets.” The truth is, I don’t like the word intranet. It’s got a bad rap, for one, and does not represent what intranets have become.

They are no longer shared file systems. They are no longer shared hard drives. They aren’t even online communities, anymore. Why? Because the employee wants and needs an integrated, seamless user experience to do their job effectively and with minimal friction (and thus frustration).

For most of my career, I’ve been watching technology teams pursue a magic one-size-fits-all tool for an intranet, online community, etc. The most progressive companies have given up the ghost, realizing that the space has only become more splintered and specialized, and that a modular approach is needed.

It’s time to expand the definition of “intranet” to something bigger, something that encompasses the overall digital experience of your employees.

I call it the digital (workplace) ecosystem. It’s not just an intranet anymore, or any one tool that a majority of employees use. It’s all of the tools, all of the employees use, together, whether they’re integrated or not. It’s the consideration of the full employee user experience (EUX).

Like a biological ecosystem, it’s complex (many moving parts), includes organisms (human workers), faces threats (security threats), and is in an ever-changing state. The great thing about the concept is that it is just abstract enough to apply to any vertical, any team. The problem is, of course, that it is abstract and people get overwhelmed or confused trying to make sense of it all.

Making tools work together, through complex integrations or basic manual processes, helps everyone. It’s hard work, though. How do you manage collaboration across different project teams? How do you get into the heads of the employees? How do you balance the tactical, the technical, and the content?

There are three key components to a successful Digital Workplace Ecosystem:

An owner. You need at least one impartial person to engineer (or architect) the entire framework. Someone who can think big, consider all sides, without getting bogged down in the tedium or politics of it all. Someone to call for action when people are distracted by other projects or bogged down with politics and indecision.

A council of knowledge. This is all the people that own the knowledge systems across your organization. This isn’t a steering committee. It’s an ongoing meeting where all voices connect, share best practices, ask questions, stay updated on what’s changing with the organization, and discuss opportunities to collaborate on the ground floor.

C-suite collaboration. You can get every single project team running on the same path but if the leadership at the top is pointing their reports in different directions, who will the project team answer to? You’ve got to go all the way up to the C-suite. No one part of the organization can own it exclusively, or information and processes become too siloed.

Easier said than done, I know, but I’ve been banging this drum for a long time and firmly believe any company can do it with the right support. Patience pays. Impatience also has its moments. It can take a long time to create a healthy ecosystem, but you’ve got to start somewhere. I recommend starting right now.

How you fit into the intranet lifecycle

I just wrapped a presentation for Ragan where I talked about intranet lifecycle and wanted to share one of my favorite components of the presentation: Identifying where your organization fits into the intranet lifecycle.

While I talked a bit about the lifecycle in past posts, this is a more light-hearted approach to help those individuals who do the heavy lifting (IT, site administrators, content managers, HR reps, etc.) orient themselves and prepare for next steps.

Here’s how I broke down each stage, including potential pitfalls. In a perfect world, we’re all “Holy Grails,” but obviously the world (and our businesses) are far from perfect.

Which one are you? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.

The Fighter

You’re actively working to launch a new intranet. It’s hard work but you’re making it happen. Reaching out to stakeholders, understanding employee needs, and hoping to meet project deadlines.

The Survivor

You recently helped launch one (and it may or may not be going well). Pat yourself on the back because this work isn’t easy. And remember: unhappy stakeholders are the loudest, so try not to take negative feedback too personally.

The Bandaid

Your company needs a new intranet but is not taking action for one reason or another (usually funding) and you’re helping to keep the existing one alive. You might feel like the little boy with his finger in the dam.

New Shiny Syndrome

You’ve been told your company needs a specific new tool or platform by someone in leadership. The rub? Your current intranet is fine or fixable, or the recommended tool is not a good choice for your organization.

The Holy Grail

Your company actually needs a new intranet, has funding, and is ready to move forward. Time to do the snoopy dance!

How mature is your intranet?

Whether you’re looking to resuscitate yours, launch a new one, or decide if it’s time to pull the plug, this guide is designed to quickly show you two things:

  • Where your organization is at in the intranet lifecycle.
  • What you can do next.

The three acts

Like a good play, there are three “acts” to your intranet lifecycle:

  1. Pre-launch: This includes researching what your organization needs, what tools are available, vetting vendors, and testing.
  2. Launch: This includes the first day of go-live with a non-test audience. Everything is rolling out now. Cue the trumpets!
  3. Maintenance: This includes everything you need to do to make sure the site stays alive. Updating content, moderation, holding people to the site’s governance, onboarding new site admins/community managers after turnover, adapting the site structure to any significant organizational changes, and addressing any day-to-day bugs or user issues that come up.

The stages

Within each “act” is one or more stages. Launch is pretty self-explanatory. If you’re in this stage you’re probably executing on internal promotion, answering questions for new users, and are generally too busy to browse this site. Let’s focus on the other two stages:


As I mentioned in my previous post, this is a critical stage in preparing your organization for the tool(s) and vice versa. Some key elements include:

  • Identifying technical requirements and timeline.​
  • Coordinating test users and other stakeholders to ensure timely feedback. ​
  • Connecting with leadership to create any needed learning materials for employees.​
  • Working with test users to create community and content governance for standard and admin users. ​
  • Identifying influencers and content owners.​
  • Developing a communications plan for internal promotion of tool.​

Maintenance (post-launch)

Maintenance is what leads to the maturity of your site. It’s one thing to create a big splashy entrance that invites everyone to jump in and start posting or relying on a tool. Just because you’re launched, doesn’t mean you’re done. Long-term ownership of the tool includes all of the below, and more!

  • Addressing any feedback and requests for features
  • Providing technical support (e.g. addressing bugs, adding integrations)
  • Providing user support (e.g. how to use the tool)
  • Executing on the long-term content strategy
  • Training new users and/or new admin users
  • Ensuring new content complies with governance
  • Adapting the tool to meet changing organizational needs

What to do next

There are many good intranet checklists to help organizations prepare for new tools. For example, this one helps the IT team think through technical implementation, while this one helps organizations think about the content side of things.

The best thing you can do is find a project manager to support the process properly. Maybe it’s someone in IT, maybe it’s someone in HR, maybe it’s you. It doesn’t matter as long as there is someone on the hook to make sure that the right people are engaged along the way (and that the project is seen through properly). Those checklists above are pretty common: focused on either content or technology, but rarely do they address the overall integration of the two. It’s important to have someone to bring all aspects together.


If you’re in maintenance mode, the next steps depend entirely on how your organization is handling it. Here are some questions to get you thinking:

  • Who owns the intranet technology?
  • Who owns the content in the intranet? (If it’s multiple people, who will train them all?)
  • Who is monitoring it to make sure the governance is adhered to?
  • What happens if somebody posts inappropriate content?
  • How do content owners know to review their content to keep it up-to-date?
  • What happens if the information is outdated?

If you don’t have governance before launch, you’ll find you need it pretty quickly. Governance addresses all of the above. While it’s much easier to introduce rules at the beginning of the game, it’s never too late to create them. Google is your friend here; all the intranet vendors have their version of governance. Or you can just answer the questions above and go from there.

Most importantly, make sure to provide some sort of formal feedback loop, so that your employees have a place to report bugs or offer suggestions. If you don’t, the project manager (probably you) will turn into that feedback loop pretty quickly.

Understanding the intranet lifecycle

Everything has a lifecycle. Sadly, many an intranet’s life has been cut short due to misunderstandings within the organization. With the expectation that an intranet tool should be all things to all people, and that available tools can be a one-size-fits-all, prospects for their longevity grow duller by the minute.

One of the biggest threats to the success of an intranet is that it is often handled by an internal team that is not focused on user experience or product development. As a result, they tend to treat the intranet as a static resource rather than a living driver of organizational culture.

As a result of this, they view the lifecycle along the lines of Roger’s Bell Curve shown below:


Except, that’s the adoption for a tool once it’s released to the world. What’s not accounted for is any pre-launch efforts.

Now, let’s shift gears and take into consideration a standard technological life-cycle.


This is more like it. Look at all that preparation (aka R&D). Unless an organization purchases consultative support or spends the money on a fully customized tool(s), that ‘pre-launch’ work typically falls onto teams that, again, don’t think like product developers. User research, product development, testing and so forth, are not always considered. And many organizations approach launch in this manner, what intranet expert Shel Holz refers to at, “Godspeed.”

The first step in making your employee UX better is in shifting this mindset. Your intranet is not a plug-and-play item that wears out and can be easily replaced. It’s the school, the library, the pressbox, the historical record, the legal protection (or risk), and possibly even the social center of your organization. It’s time to take its presence seriously.

[originally posted on September 22, 2019]