Just getting stuff done on the intranet

Menus menus menus. Curated lists of ‘how to do’ stuff are great, but sometimes the simplest list is the ‘killer app’ of your intranet. Try the ‘I need to…’ list, and help your people get things done fast.

Too many intranet pages try to persuade, educate and, sometimes, lecture the reader when all the reader wants to do is get stuff done. And fast. Information might be the lifeblood of your company and your intranet, but acting on that information is where the benefits arise.

If you have drop-down menus, are they focused on departments and teams, or are they focused on helping people with their work? In either case, a simple menu that helps people achieve common tasks may well be what’s needed.

I said ‘achieve common tasks’ – I didn’t say ‘learn about tasks’, ‘learn how to do a task’ or ‘read through a rubbish FAQ. It’s about doing the task.

My ‘I need to…’ menu

I’m sharing my curated list of ‘ common tasks’ because Content Formula published the idea and it seemed so obvious and yet so fresh. Those of us who consider the ‘common task’ list / ‘I need to…’ menu an obvious design detail must remember that many intranets are swamped by departmental politics and that some intranets are about information broadcasting rather than ‘online workspaces’. We’re all evolving along the ‘usefulness curve’ aren’t we?

So, if your intranet isn’t entirely ‘function focussed’ and ‘user centred’, try adding a common tasks list and see how your people appreciate your effort.

I need to…

  • Book a room
  • Book training
  • Check travel / roads
  • Book travel
  • Find a site’s address / post code
  • Change my personal details
  • Book holiday
  • Record my time
  • Complete my appraisal forms
  • Manage my cashless vend card
  • Claim expenses
  • Pay a supplier
  • Order printing
  • Raise an IT problem
  • Report a concern about facilities
  • Report a security incident
  • Write news for our intranet

Remember, this isn’t about teaching people anything. I also have a major ‘How do I… ?’ section of our intranet that is specifically for explaining processes and systems. This isn’t about crowbarring in the H&S policy. No one says “I need to… read a manual”. Ever.

Also, let’s agree that alphabetical listings usually suck. If Jenni is looking for a ‘Work Permit’ and you’ve decided that it’s called a ‘Permit to Work’ then you’ve just ruined Jenni’s perception of the intranet, and slowed her down. Curate lists so that they’re (reasonably) grouped around themes.

Yes, people like to see ‘I’ and ‘my’ on the intranet, hence ‘I need to… do something’ and ‘Record my time’. Personally, I don’t like it, but intranet design is about the company’s audience, not about the intranet manager.

My ‘I need to…’ menu is separate from the main drop-down menus (which deal with normal content). the ‘I need to…’ menu links directly to the system / online application / online database required for the task. That’s the point; it’s like the ‘Start’ menu on Windows computers – it helps people launch the thing they need to get stuff done. Our intranet is not a simple ‘website’, it is of course a ‘web app’, or indeed a ‘platform’ for business. It’s our online workspace.


Photo credit: afloden

  1. The UI most be focused on what people are doing. Many times the UI trys to teach becuase the creator of the system is finding no one is using the tool. People only want to see content that makes sense to them, things they are involved with. At Vuuch we are using this idea in the development of our Enterprise Social System. In Vuuch people create web pages that “represent” the items they are delivering. People involved with the deliverable are connected to the page through a page invite or being part of an active activity for the deliverable. That way if you are involved with say an issue for the deliverable you will see the page representing the deliverable, but when the issue is resolved you would no longer see the page. The UI and content is dynamic based on work.

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