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Worst Practices for Intranet Applications. Elton Billings Web Architect cluebox.com. Why Discuss Worst Practices?. Mistakes are a great way to learn. Learning from the mistakes of others is often less painful than making those mistakes on your own.

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worst practices for intranet applications

Worst Practices for Intranet Applications

Elton Billings

Web Architect


why discuss worst practices
Why Discuss Worst Practices?
  • Mistakes are a great way to learn.
  • Learning from the mistakes of others is often less painful than making those mistakes on your own.
  • Conference attendees could probably use a break from viewing nothing but brilliant successes.
what you will see today
What You Will See Today
  • Practices which have had a negative effect on the outcomes of intranet applications.
  • Screen shots and explanations.
  • All examples are applications that I have either built, selected, or helped to implement – these mistakes are mine.
to be fair my excuses
To Be Fair (My Excuses)
  • Some otherwise wonderful applications have flaws in a single area.
  • Some of the examples were intended as prototypes, but ended up being used as production applications.
  • Internal politics, costs, immediate needs and other factors sometimes override our best judgment.
example a sharing tool
Example: A Sharing Tool
  • A need was identified for a tool to allow workgroups (such as project teams) to work together.
  • The tool was built as part of the implementation of a content management system.
  • Access to each workgroup area was limited to members of that workgroup.
  • Users immediately complained about the inability to list more file details.
  • Users had no tool for communication with other group members.
  • Few workgroup areas were created, and even fewer were utilized in a serious way.
worst practice
Worst Practice

Failure to adequately define desired outcomes and user needs can lead to applications that are missing key functionality.

example meeting reservations
Example: Meeting Reservations
  • A packaged application for scheduling conference rooms for meetings.
  • Required authentication using NT domain login.
  • Many users had logins in more than one domain.
  • Some users in some domains were not enabled for use of this tool.
  • The login page gave no clues about which login to use.
  • The login page didn’t list any contact information for getting help.
  • New users could not use this application.
worst practice12
Worst Practice

Because users may have multiple login names and accounts to remember, login screens without hints and help links will cause user problems.

example a payroll application
Example: A Payroll Application
  • An ASP model application for payroll.
  • Employees can view pay information.
  • Also shows vacation accrual and balances.
  • Links were put in place from the internal web to the application.
  • Users had to go through many screens for what should have been a very simple process.
  • Users actually had to select the Vacation Balance function twice to get to the desired result.
  • The navigation did not match user expectations.
worst practice20
Worst Practice

Applications that do not allow deep linking to specific areas or records will cause navigation that is cumbersome and unintuitive.

example performance reviews
Example: Performance Reviews
  • An ASP model system for writing, editing, and approving performance reviews for employees.
  • Links from internal web led users to the application.
  • “Process Guide” button was to a generic help manual.
  • The application did not allow for placing of links to outside documents, such as review policies, step-by-step procedure overviews, or other resources.
  • Users had many questions in correct use of the application and in review purpose and philosophy.
worst practice24
Worst Practice

Applications that do not allow for placement of outbound links on screens offer no opportunity to give users essential information.

example knowledge base
Example: Knowledge Base
  • A product that allowed information to be stored in a way to be easily searchable.
  • Company used their own application for information from their HR department.
  • All HR content contained within the application.
  • Management liked department “home pages” that featured a department message.
  • No one was ever looking for those.
  • Management like using the product internally.
  • Use of the product meant that the intranet search engine could not find any HR content.
worst practice28
Worst Practice

Designing or implementing something just to please management can lead to something that is not useful.

example suggestion box
Example: Suggestion Box
  • Application allowed employees to submit questions, ideas and suggestions.
  • All entries routed to responsible department head.
  • Department heads could route further if necessary.
  • List of answers on one simple page.
issues predicted routing
Issues – Predicted Routing


Employee submits suggestion, which is routed to head of correct department.


Department head delegates task of answering.


Other manager provides answer.


Department head provides answer.


Employee reads response on results list.

issues typical routing
Issues – Typical Routing

Employee submits suggestion, which is routed to head of correct department.

Department head delegates task of answering.




Other manager decides that someone in another department can best answer.

Department head of new department must ask head of first department about the suggestion.


Manager in new department decides that only his department head can answer.



Employee sends e-mail to HR or web group to check status.

HR person forwards e-mail to random department head.




more about issues
More About Issues
  • Because responsibilities were unclear, some suggestions were routed in circles.
  • Since there were no deadlines for response, some suggestions were never answered.
  • Because anonymity was allowed, employees could only read response on the list of responses.
worst practice34
Worst Practice

Failure to completely define a business process for the details of an application can lead to confusion and incomplete results.

example company bulletin board
Example: Company Bulletin Board
  • A single place to post items wanted and items for sale.
  • Provided as a service to employees.
  • Mostly intended to help avoid overuse of broadcast e-mails for personal matters.
  • Employees had become used to learning about such items through e-mail.
  • No one remembered to check the bulletin board.
  • Everyone soon forgot it existed.
  • A periodic summary e-mail of new items listed would probably have solved the problem.
worst practice38
Worst Practice

Failure to integrate with other technologies and methods to anticipate user habits can result in unused applications.

example hr change form
Example: HR Change Form
  • An application was built for the proposal and approval of various personnel actions.
  • These included raises, promotions, transfers, bonuses, and other actions.
  • A paper form had been used for these.
  • Designers told to simply emulate the paper form.
  • Managers didn’t even understand the paper form, but could carry it around and ask for help.
  • A single form for too many separate functions.
  • Routing logic was a combination of business process, guesswork and some subjective judgment.
worst practice44
Worst Practice

Designing a web application to be exactly like a paper form can lead to usability issues, because the web is not paper, and employees will use it differently.

example content management
Example: Content Management
  • A new content management system was put in place for the intranet.
  • All content would be delivered in a standard window predetermined top and side navigation areas.
  • All content to be migrated to the new system as quickly as possible.
  • All pages had at least 6 different areas for global navigation.
  • Content search and employee search boxes frequently confused.
  • Few understood “Neighborhoods” or “Workgroups” concept or usage.
  • Redundant links not understood.
worst practice49
Worst Practice

Delaying usability testing until the final stages of the project can result in deploying an application with known problems.

  • Learn from my mistakes!
  • Don’t be afraid to discuss your own mistakes.
  • Building or deploying really effective intranet applications is not an easy task.