Intranet Information Architecture – Part 2 – Purpose and scope of the intranet

This is the second post in my blog post series explaining how to plan and implement an effective intranet information architecture. In the first part we got the ball rolling with the basics, and now it’s time to start defining the purpose and scope of the intranet.

In the upcoming parts of this blog post series we will then dive deeper in all areas of the planning process:

  1. Understanding the basics – what is information architecture
  2. Defining purpose, roles and contents of the intranet (THIS POST)
  3. Planning the physical infrastructure (hubs and sites)
  4. Organizing contents in topic sites, navigation and metadata
  5. Creating awesome and accessible pieces of information using content pages
  6. Improving discoverability with landing pages and additional paths
  7. Ways to take care of content findability
  8. Implementing processes to keep the content up-to-date

Part 2Purpose and scope of the intranet

It might sound trivial – of course we know what an intranet is. It’s a place where we bury all the information and materials related to our business and support functions. Usually there’s also some kind of a news feed and lunch menu available.

However, from the information architecture point of view, we have two extremely important questions to answer:

  • Who are the users and what are their use cases – why on Earth do they visit the intranet? What are they looking for?
  • What are the contents of the intranet – how does the intranet differ from a business unit public team? Or Yammer news feed? And what about file shares?

When we are able to present answers to those questions with clearness and clarity, we have actually defined the purpose, role and scope of our intranet – and after that it’s suddenly much easier to plan the information architecture so that intranet stuff is easy to find and stays up-to-date.

It starts with the Playbook

I have to admit – personally, I don’t fancy the word playbook. We’re all adults here and should know how to play this game already. But it’s the word Microsoft uses and I don’t have anything better to offer so let’s be happy and stick with it.

Usually, playbooks are used to support the move from a traditional way of working (file shares & email) to modern, cloud-based applications, and more communicative and open working culture. In a nutshell, playbook is a presentation which describes:

  • roles of communication and collaboration tools in our organization
  • ways of working together using those tools

If you find yourself thinking “well, I didn’t need any playbook to understand how to work”, you’re most likely right. The need for a playbook is quite a new phenomenon. Previously we only had two tools with very clear roles: email (to communicate) and file shares (to collaborate). And even with the rise of SharePoint portals and workspaces there was still just one simple place where to work together.

But in a modern, Microsoft 365 -powered workplace there are plenty of different apps with quite similar possible use cases. You can store and share your files using OneDrive, Teams or SharePoint. You can post announcements as SharePoint news, Yammer group conversations, Teams channel announcements or private chats – and yes, you can still use email. And if we don’t agree when to use what as an organization, it will be a mess.


Some concrete examples of playbook contents:

Pic 1: Explaining the move from old communication and collaboration tools to the new ones

Pic 2: Explaining the basic roles and use cases of the new tools

Pic 3: Explaining ways of working: content creation process on Teams, publishing & outer loop discussions on SharePoint and Yammer

Well, okay – we could have a dedicated blog post series for the playbook, but let’s get back to the topic! So why do we need the playbook to plan Intranet information architecture? The answer lies in defining the scope of the intranet. With the help of playbook we can pick any single piece of information and answer the question: Should this reside on the Intranet?

Yes, we do want to be a little bit exclusive. There are some qualifications for the intranet content. In my opinion, contents of the intranet should be:

  • Published – we don’t want to have any drafts or unfinished or not-yet-approved content on the intranet
  • Non-negotiable – there’s definitely time and place for the discussion about the content, but it should happen either before publishing (when working together) or after publishing in enterprise social network platform (like Yammer), and not directly as a part of intranet content
  • Valid and up-to-date – it’s okay to have an archive but it should be clearly separated from the operative content in active use

In a nutshell, playbook is a presentation of the design of your digital workplace. Intranet is one element (service, platform) of that workplace, and it should have a very clear specific role and scope. But what about users and their needs?

User scenarios – what are you doing here?

Every intranet is – of course – unique. But after 12 years of planning and implementing them I dare to say this: they do have a lot in common, too. The two most important, core use cases for every intranet I’ve seen are these:

I want to find the information I need (in order to thrive at my job)

I want to be aware of what’s happening (in order to feel connected)

So it’s pretty safe to assume that these two should be kept on top of mind during the planning process. But in order to dig deeper in and find out how your intranet should serve the organization, it’s important to identify business-specific scenarios.

A scenario or high level use case is a written description of how the intranet is used and what business challenge it will solve. Simple way to document scenarios is to write sentences with these four elements:

  1. As someone in [team, unit, role]…
  2. I want to [do something]…
  3. Using [tools]..
  4. In order to [goal / success measure]

For example: As a Contoso employee, I want to glance through the global news feed every morning while commuting using SharePoint mobile app in order to keep on track of the important updates and announcements.

Microsoft provides a lots of SharePoint-specific material with very similar scenario model and even ready-to-use workshop materials – you can find them here: https://resources.techcommunity.microsoft.com/resources/SharePoint-adoption/#scenarios (Envision Workshop Concept).

Wrap up!

So, in the pursuit of proper intranet information architecture we ended up (re)designing the whole digital workplace – and that’s not a bad thing to do! At the moment way too many organizations live in a communication & collaboration chaos.

Ideally, the process for defining the scope, role and purpose of the Intranet goes like this:

  1. Identifying digital workplace scenarios
  2. Planning digital workplace tools and ways of working to support the scenarios
  3. Explaining and visualizing them with the Playbook
  4. Recognizing intranet-specific scenarios, tools and ways of working –> purpose, role and scope of the intranet

With this information it’s easy to continue to the next step in the intranet information architecture planning process: planning the physical infrastructure (hubs and sites). See you next time!


Psst, if you’re willing to achieve more in the modern workplace with Microsoft 365, let’s meet in Las Vegas @ SharePoint Conference!
Use discount code JOKISALO and save $50: https://sharepointna.com/#!/register?utm_term=JOKISALO

Three tips for Modern SharePoint

Modern SharePoint is beautiful, mobile-friendly and fun to use. Moreover, it’s an increasingly effective platform to tell your story, digitalize business processes and help employees to share and find information.

Modern Communication and Team sites have been around for years already, but just like the whole Microsoft 365 stack, they are constantly evolving. If your daily tasks (or hobbies!) do not include checking out the roadmap, admin message center and all the blogs around there, it’s very likely that you are not aware of all the fancy new things available. (… and don’t worry, that still happens when keeping track of new things IS your job :D)

In this post I’ll cover three very different features which may be useful to know about whether you are planning to introduce Modern Sites to your organization or to finetune already existing solutions.

Newsletter (aka News Digest)

Newsletter or news digest is an out-of-the-box way to manually send teasers of selected news articles via email. It’s especially useful in these two cases:

1) If your organization has previously relied heavily on mass email communication (proactive), and you’re trying to move to the Intranet News world (reactive), it might be wise to also provide the information in familiar email form during the onboarding or adoption phase, by sending the summary news digest for example once a week.

2) Because you can easily select the news articles included and the receivers of the newsletter, news digest is also an effective way to provide extra targeted information for special groups. For example, you can send a newsletter to team leaders once a month reminding them of the most important HR news.

How to send a newsletter? It’s easy! Just locate the News web part configured to show the articles you want to include in your news digest. Then click Show all to get to the news archive, and there you’ll find Email a news digest -button. Detailed guidance can be found here: https://support.office.com/en-us/article/create-and-send-a-news-digest-42efc3c6-605f-4a9a-85d5-1f9ff46019bf

Look book – copy the examples in your tenant!

Look book is a website by Microsoft with almost 20 examples of modern SharePoint sites. The purpose of the site is to help you discover what kind of experiences can be built with Modern SharePoint and also get an idea of how these sites usually look and feel.

Look book does not only show nice pictures of sites but it also provides a list of features and elements (web parts) used in each examples – with links to actual guidance on how to use and configure the web parts.

Although Microsoft already published the first version of the SharePoint look book during the Ignite conference in 2018, they only recently gave it a new and straightforward URL address (https://lookbook.microsoft.com/) and the fabulous option to provision the examples in your own tenant with one click! So nowadays, when you find a great example to use as a starting point for your own site, you don’t need to build your site from scratch manually.

Custom List Formatting

SharePoint lists and libraries are flexible and efficient means to store, analyze and report your files and data. However, modern SharePoint lists used to be a little bit limited when it comes to changing the way the data is displayed.

With the new column and view formatting capabilities, you can customize the look and feel of your list – and you can also add actions to streamline user interaction with the data! Typical use cases for list formatting:

  1. use conditional formatting to highlight the most important data or visualize changes
  2. highlight every other row or add icons or other visual elements to make your data easier to read or understand
  3. add an action (for example link to start workflow) to allow smooth interaction with the data
  4. have the branding, look and feel as you wish – which is important for example when you show the list in your Intranet page

How to get started? Option to format the list view or column is available out-of-the-box in list user experience, but I’d recommend starting with official documentation: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/sharepoint/dev/declarative-customization/column-formatting. There are lots of examples and ideas available in GitHub, and when you find something useful, you can just copy it for yourself and start tweaking.

PS Here you can find my presentation slides about Custom Formatting: https://sulava-my.sharepoint.com/:b:/p/katja_jokisalo/EQPPdJqkYhRPhlx6RmYCsjwBKC2LoYmAtOuwB0Mj-BKt9Q?e=enjPeF

Wanna hear more? Join me in the SharePoint Conference this May!

The SharePoint Conference is the world’s biggest and most comprehensive event empowering you to achieve more in the modern workplace with Microsoft 365. It’s happening in May 19-21 in Las Vegas. I’m proud to be part of the team presenting there!

This conference offers more than 200 sessions, panels and workshops to cover all the new stuff, as well as deep dives into existing technologies and practical how-to guidance to help you plan and implement them. This year there will also be specific sessions for people who are new to Office 365 or modern workplace concept.

And of course, it’s much more than SharePoint nowadays: we’ll be talking about Teams, OneDrive, Yammer, Stream, Power Platform and more. Don’t miss your chance to join – register now! If you register by this link https://sharepointna.com/#!/register?utm_term=JOKISALO or just use my family name JOKISALO as a discount code, you’ll save $50 😘 See you there!

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