Mike Maass, Citrix Systems, Inc.
Intranets can be messy. Lots of content, lots of stakeholders, and very little (if any) governance. Having recently completed an intranet redesign project, I can speak with some authority on the remarkable disorganization an intranet can achieve when allowed to metastasize, unchecked, for years. Our initial audit revealed more than 11,000 individually created team microsites (mostly neglected), innumerable document libraries, and volumes of broken links and dead ends. In short, it was a project “rich with opportunity.”
My team quickly realized we needed some tools to get the job done. With the user experience (UX) and information architecture (IA) work being managed by our partners on the web development team, we—the content design team—could focus on stakeholder engagement, writing, and design.
Tapping the resources we had on hand (tools and best practices collected from industry conferences and the interwebs), we stocked our toolbox with some of the best thinking available on content strategy.
Here are the tools we found most useful:
Stakeholder Welcome Kit
Content strategy is hugely about people and relationships. No single human being (or content design team, for that matter) can possibly know every piece of content that lives on a corporate intranet. This knowledge is held by business stakeholders—Human Resources, IT, Legal, and so on—making them integral players in the content development game. Be nice to these people, they are your friends (and they are very busy). To help our stakeholders along and save them some time, we created a Welcome Kit to answer any questions they might have about their role, the process (see Figure 1), team responsibilities, project ownership, and overall timeline. Each time we kicked off a new section of the IA, we’d start by having a conversation. The Welcome Kit, which includes all of the resources I’m about to go over, helped guide those conversations.
Figure 1—Our content design process followed a set workflow, as illustrated here.
Complements of esteemed author and UX practitioner Aarron Walter, who has graciously made his persona template available for free download, the design persona captures the personality of the product or experience you want to create. Our persona was named Claire (see Figure 2), and she soon became the symbol of everything we wanted our new intranet to be. From voice and tone to visuals and engagement methods, Claire embodied the ideal user experience. Not only did Claire ensure that the design and development teams were on the same page, but she also served as an objective, third-party referee when there were differences of opinion among the team and/or stakeholders. Simply put: Claire was a powerful metaphor that transformed abstract UX and editorial concepts into a concrete and understandable design direction.
Figure 2—Claire, our design persona, transformed abstract editorial and UX concepts into a concrete and understandable design direction.
Inspired by the good people at Brain Traffic, we adapted the page table (a staple of content development) into a collaborative stakeholder engagement tool. Our page table had two parts: priority matrix and outline. The priority matrix laid out the top-level goals of the page, key messaging, stakeholders and contributors, and where the page would sit in the IA. The outline complemented the matrix, providing an additional layer of detail that the writing team could use to begin crafting the language. The outline also contained sample copy and links to graphic elements, source material, and top-priority tools and applications. Together, the priority matrix and outline served the needs of our stakeholders and our writers and kept the content focused on specific employee goals.
Editorial Style Guide
Like most editors, I love style guides. The nice thing about style guides is that, no matter what you’re working on, the fundamentals of good writing remain the same (you know, stuff like using the active voice, writing for your audience, using present tense). Perhaps the most gratifying thing aboutauthoring a style guide is that, although this stuff comes naturally to language pros like us, it can make a huge impact on a project when it is simply written down. Seeing a rule or guideline written in ink somehow makes it feel “official.” At the very least, it gives you something to point to when you have to pull out the red pen. Our writing guide was based on our design persona and, in addition to voice and tone examples, provided guidance for writing style, punctuation, grammar, and an A-Z list.
No content strategy is complete without an eye on governance. Identifying early in the process the importance of governance is, by some measures, a win in itself. And while governance is an ongoing and forward-looking process, we thought it appropriate to at least start capturing high-level governance requirements as early as possible. We created a simple governance document to do this. It consisted of one simple table and captured things like stakeholder and contributor contact info, review dates, refresh cycles and triggers, sunset dates, department blackout periods, and tags. We filled these out when we did our page tables and updated them as new requirements came in. The web team is now using this governance data to automate the process for page reviews, updates, and refreshes, ensuring we don’t end up right back where we started before the redesign.
A homegrown project management and collaboration tool, Podio (See Figure 3) is where we housed all of our documentation and managed our workflows. The tool’s social activity streams allowed us to work collaboratively with stakeholders and contributors and provided a central platform for commenting and discussion. We also used the tool to assign tasks to one another, review wireframes and designs, and hand off approved content to be authored in the content management system.
Figure 3—The team used Podio to manage documents and workflows.
Changing How People Think
Identifying the right tools early on is important to any project, especially one as messy as ours. Having the right tools and strategy allowed us to
- Engage stakeholders early in the content-creation process and get buy-in
- Help owners identify realistic goals and write to them
- Dramatically cut superfluous content
- Bring consistency of voice and tone to the experience
- Create a truly employee-focused intranet
Beyond the process and development stuff, however, came something even more gratifying. Not only did our strategy set a new bar for collaborative content creation at Citrix, it truly changed the way people think about content. No longer was our intranet a dumping ground for outdated documents and abandoned microsites—it was now a place earnestly focused on employee needs and uniquely Citrix.
Mike Maass is Managing Editor at Citrix, where he leads a rock star team of UX writers and editors. Mike was the content design lead for the company’s intranet redesign, and recently presented his work on the project at LavaCon 2014.