Plan an intelligent SharePoint intranet

Microsoft SharePoint offers a wide variety of options and tools to create intranet sites for your organization. Moving your intranet to SharePoint in Microsoft 365 might take a while, particularly if you already have extensive intranet content. In this article, we'll look at how to plan a new SharePoint intranet with a focus on quickly bringing sites online and getting a return on your investment.

We'll cover how to:

  • Understand your key organizational priorities
  • Understand your audience
  • Plan for governance
  • Review your current intranet
  • Identify and prioritize your business initiatives
  • Identify one key scenario to prototype and pilot
  • Launch the pilot and engage with your users

What's possible with SharePoint?

With SharePoint, any user can create highly functional intranet pages quickly without the need for writing code or other difficult customizations. These sites look great on any device or screen and provide deeply engaging experiences for your users.

If you're currently using SharePoint Server for your intranet, you'll find SharePoint in Microsoft 365 to be much easier to work with. Responsive, dynamic pages are easy for anyone to create, and the requirements for IT to build and maintain custom solutions are much less.

As a first step, to see examples of what's possible with SharePoint, we recommend that you review the SharePoint look book. The look book provides a variety of examples about how to include news, events, resources, and personalized content in SharePoint sites that anyone can create and maintain.

For an understanding about how the different component parts work together, review the Guide to the Modern experience in SharePoint.

For an interactive workshop to learn how to succeed with a SharePoint intranet, look for an Accelerator workshop in a city near you.

In the following sections, we look at how to find the best starting point for your SharePoint intranet and how to prioritize the different intranet solutions that you may need for your organization. Keep these references handy as you work with your stakeholders - they can help you get the most value and best time to value for your intranet solutions.

Understand current business goals and key stakeholders

The most successful intranets don’t just look good, they are primarily focused on helping people get work done and often on promoting engagement. The look book can help inspire you to think about how your content might appear, but your business outcome goals are important to understand what content and functionality are most important for your users and your organization.

All organizations have important strategic goals that drive behavior and investments. If you want to be sure that your intranet is successful – and gets the right level of funding – you need to ensure that it is aligned with these goals. You can also use these goals to help prioritize your intranet initiatives. Unlike many technology projects, an intranet project is never “done” because your organization priorities and interests will change over time. But, at any given time, you want to focus on the intranet initiatives that are most closely aligned with your organizational priorities and key business stakeholders.

In addition, take a look at recent employee satisfaction survey data. A good way to become more informed about the information and tools that your employees need is to look at the pain points identified in these surveys.

Understand your audience

A good place to start thinking about your new intranet is what it will be like when the intranet is in place. What will people be able to accomplish? How will they start their day? What will people say about the intranet? One potentially helpful exercise to frame the overall objectives for the intranet is to engage your key intranet stakeholders in a cover story exercise. This is an exercise in imagination. The purpose is to think broadly about an ideal future state by imagining a magazine cover story about the new intranet, including the key headlines, sidebars, and quotes from users.

With the end in mind, it can also be helpful to create personas for your key users. A persona is a fictional but realistic description of a typical intranet user (for example, new starter/new employee, knowledge worker, field worker, sales rep, people manager, or content author). You’ll want to do some research to engage with people who represent these different personas to understand their information requirements. You can’t build an intranet without an understanding of the people for whom you are building it. Site owners alone are not enough – their perspective is what they want to publish. That is often not the same thing as what their users want to consume.

Think about governance

If your users complain that search is not successful because too much irrelevant content is discovered, this can indicate a governance problem. Before you think about your new intranet project, think about how you will govern the architecture and the content. These are decisions that are a lot easier to make and enforce if they are decided early in your intranet project. For example, you will want to think about:

  • Who can provision new sites and when they are provisioned, what is the process to ensure that sites are discovered in navigation or as key bookmarks in search?
  • Do you want all sites to follow a similar pattern so that users can easily find key content as they move from site to site?
  • Who is accountable and responsible for the content on sites? How often does content need to be reviewed?
  • Is content management for intranet sites in the performance goals or job descriptions for people with edit or owner permissions?
  • Does intranet content need to be retained based on your retention policies or classified based on its sensitivity?

You do not need to make every governance decision up front, but if you don’t have a plan for how you will govern your new, intelligent intranet, it can quickly become a wasteland of information that fails to achieve your critical business goals.

Review your existing intranet

Your current intranet may be composed of sites from different business groups, such as HR, IT, Facilities, Engineering, and others. As a first step to planning your new SharePoint intranet, we recommend taking an inventory of your existing sites and meeting with the owners of each to determine their business outcome goals for new sites. Take stock of where your content is located and how much content you would need to move when creating a new intranet site. Look at your current content to understand if it is current or needs to be updated prior to moving to a new site. It’s not unusual to find a migration strategy where existing content is left behind. You don’t have to migrate anything – you may find that it is more effective to create new content that is optimized for the modern SharePoint experience rather than migrate existing, out-of-date content to the new location.

As part of these meetings, you can identify the business needs that are addressed by each existing site as well as any requirements you might have for new sites.

In addition to meeting with current site owners, you may also want to convene a focus group of new employees. New employees are a key audience for the intranet and people who have joined the organization in the past two to three months can provide some valuable insights about what is missing or hard to learn in your current intranet, or resources they wish they had when they first started. They may also provide you with some valuable ideas from the organizations where they previously worked to help you think about new and important capabilities to incorporate.

Think of this step as an opportunity to learn. You are learning about what is important to your users and to the business. You will use this information to identify initiatives for your intranet.

Identify initiatives

Using the information you gathered during your research, work with your key intranet stakeholders to identify initiatives that reflect your organizational priorities – as well as any barriers that might exist when you are implementing them.

While you may ultimately implement solutions to address all of the identified initiatives, prioritizing which project to do first will help you achieve early success and user engagement as efficiently as possible.

Review each initiative you have identified for the following criteria:

  • Does it solve a real problem?
  • How many people will use it?
  • Can it be built in a reasonable time frame?
  • What's the return on investment?

Analyze each initiative for its positive impact on your users with respect to the ease of implementation. A high impact initiative that can be built with a minimum of customization can be an ideal first project.

Consider plotting your business initiatives on a grid, like the following, and review with your intranet stakeholders and IT department to choose the best option to start with.

Chart showing relationship between impact and ease of implementation for example intranet sites

To help decide which initiative to address first, work with the business leaders for that area to work out the objectives for the solution, who will be responsible for driving success in this area, and the metrics that you'll use to measure success. Don’t just focus on system metrics. Think about actual business impact. For example:

Initiative Key content Business owner System success metric Business success metric
Educate employees about benefits (Benefits site) - Announcements
- Training videos
HR - News post views
- Training video views
Help requests are reduced by x%
Weekly news post by a senior leader - Streaming events
- Formal training
Engineering - Training content produced for all aspects of coding excellence
- Monthly streaming events
Training completed successfully by x% of engineering staff
Foster positive employee agreement about company strategy (Executive Leadership Viva Engage Community) News posts
- Streaming events
- Viva Engage conversations
HR Ongoing monthly activity posts by leadership and comments by employees - Viva Engage conversations show positive sentiment
- Comments addressed within 24 hours – “no question/comment left behind”
- x% increase in employee satisfaction scores for executive communications
Improve timeliness consistency in proposal development (Marketing site) - Company business value slides
- Proposal templates
Marketing - Slide downloads
- Sales team alignment
x% reduction in the time to create proposals

Choose pilot scenarios

Work with the owner of each scenario to determine what an ideal solution would look like to them:

  • Who are your visitors?
  • What do the visitors to the site want to accomplish or learn?
  • What tools or technology do they use today?
  • What information do you want to promote?
  • What tools or technology do you want visitors to use to accomplish their key tasks?
  • Who are the champions who will help them transition to the new site or solution?
  • How will you know if your solution is successful?

For example, create a table like the following to list business scenarios that you want to address with intranet sites across your organization:

As an... I need to... So that... I know this is successful when...
Employee Understand and be able to update my benefits I can take advantage of a key lifecycle benefit Help requests are reduced
Employee Learn about how to use the self-service benefits portal Make updates on my own Help requests are reduced
HR employee Promote the use of the self-service benefits portal I can spend more time working with employees on unique benefits questions and scenarios All of my employee interactions are about individual critical scenarios

From the high priority scenarios, identify which ones meet these three key criteria:

  • Can you build a prototype quickly (a few days)?
  • Is there a committed sponsor?
  • Is there enough up-to-date content to demonstrate key capabilities?
  • Is there a specific audience for a pilot?

After you have compiled this information, create a design brief to help map out the user journey about how you want the site to operate. For example:

User journey component Description
Scenario Leadership site: One-stop site for employees to hear from company leadership, learn the company's goals, and hear the latest news from customer meetings and industry events.
Users All company employees.
Value Increase employee awareness and alignment with company strategy and business initiatives.
User journey - News post is sent to the company announcing a leadership Q&A meeting
- Allan goes to the leadership portal to watch the event live
- Allan uses Viva Engage to ask a question at the meeting
- Allan shares the recording link with coworkers.
Metrics - Live event views
- Event recording views
- Viva Engage engagement
Stretch goals - Continued Viva Engage engagement
- Improving employee sentiment (survey)

Choose solution components

SharePoint offers a variety of building blocks that you can use to create an intranet:

  • Communication sites - Use communication sites to share news, reports, statuses, and other information through a variety of templates and web parts.
  • Home site - A home site is a communication site that you set as the intranet landing page for your organization.
  • Hub sites - Use hub sites to organize related sites and teams and centralize news, search, and content management.
  • SharePoint news - Use the news web part to post important or interesting stories, announcements, people news, status updates, and more that can include graphics and rich formatting.
  • Viva Engage - Use Viva Engage to connect with people across your organization beyond the boundaries of projects, functions, and departments.
  • Forms - Use forms to create custom quizzes, surveys, questionnaires, registrations, and more.
  • Stream - Use Stream to deliver live and on-demand meetings, events, and training.

For the scenario that you've decided to build, choose the components that you'll need to use to meet the site's business objectives. We recommend creating a rapid prototype, and granting access to your key stakeholders. This provides a substantive framework for further discussions and revisions of the design.

At this stage, we recommend that you involve your help desk so that they are prepared to answer questions after the site rolls out to a larger audience.

For best practices for launching an intranet site, review Creating and launching a healthy SharePoint portal.

Roll out the pilot

When the prototype has evolved to a point where you want to share it more broadly, you can roll it out to a pilot group, or even to the whole organization. User adoption is a critical part of success for a new intranet site. To drive site usage, we recommend that you use both a top down and bottom up approach:

  • Recruit executive sponsors who can ensure that the intranet project is funded, and can help message the importance of the new site to others in the organization.
  • Empower champions throughout the organization to promote the new site on a grass roots level.

Other things you can do to drive success include:

  • Have launch events and communications campaigns.
  • Provide formal training.
  • Hold regular office hours where users can ask questions.

As the site rolls out and more users engage, watch your success metrics and make adjustments as needed to drive additional engagement and user satisfaction.

When the site is on its way to success, take stock of any lessons learned in the process and proceed on to the next intranet project that you want to undertake.

SharePoint look book