The editor classes were scheduled two weeks prior to the scheduled deployment of the intranet to allow time for a learning curve, late content and Murphy's Law. Days prior to the deployment, a department-wide e-mail was created, describing the intranet, its benefits and how to access it. As with other content, the copy was proofed several times for accuracy. The copy was retained until the morning of the launch. I came in at 0630 hours and pasted the content into an e-mail and, with my fingers crossed, sent it out to all department users. Then I waited for the e-mails and phone calls to come in, with complaints of spelling or grammar errors — or, the classic complaint of the technically challenged user: "How the heck does this thing work?"
To my surprise, the only correction e-mail I received was one about a front-page edit involving a spelling change. Otherwise, the e-mails contained compliments on the content, look and feel of the intranet. I received no phone calls. The day after deployment, I viewed the statistics page and was happy to see the results: 309 visits, 3,600-plus pages viewed (more than 10 per user), average time on the site at less than 10 minutes and most viewers had their monitors configured at 1024 X 768 (a hunch I'd had in the beginning, when designing the site).What we learned
The results of this project were sometimes unusual in project management circles in that creating our intranet solution stayed within its budget and on its timetable. Because the software used was either in place or Open Source, we incurred no software cost. Even staffing was cost-neutral, as my transfer to Technical Services Division filled a vacancy. By updating the project sponsor, Lt. Elise Warren, every two days, production changes were kept in check and deadlines were met.
After the project concluded, many learning points came to light, and I offer these tidbits of wisdom:
- Get buy-in from advocates early on in the process, preferably from chain-of-command going vertical. For instance, my first advocate was a sergeant while I was a deputy.
- To create the buy-in, create a beta version, showing how the intranet will benefit the department. In this case, the survey results garnered support along with fact that the sheriff's office had forms, manuals and procedures that were difficult to access from various locations. Because an intranet works on transmission control protocol (TCP), which is a fundamental layer of most existing networks, the user with a workstation plugged into the network can see the intranet. To access the various network servers requires network username and password combinations. Simplicity of access, combined with data consolidation, proved to be selling points.
- When consolidating the forms and manuals, locate the people in the departments who have knowledge of the whereabouts of those materials and get the most current versions for posting from them. Then make sure only the editors have control of the updating.
- Unless your agency installs a word processor application on every workstation, consider creating all forms with Acrobat PDF. The reader version is free. The user can open the form, fill in the blanks, print it out, then sign and date it so that it's ready to turn in for approval.
- Find someone internally who is technology-savvy. Credibility and department knowledge go a long way.
- When designing the main menu, have your organizational chart nearby. In our case, the menu starts out from the top down: Bureau > Division > Unit. Several sections, such as a photo gallery, department openings and manuals, should have their own main menu link as they will be highly accessed.
- Try to keep the pages no more than three clicks away from the front page.
- Make the intranet project a real project. Use a project application to create a task list and a timeline chart to stay on track. At the conclusion of the project, Warren was handed a 50-page project document.
- Be careful to keep the cat in the bag. As the word gets out about the project, lieutenants, captains and commanders will desire to have their division information immediately put on their portion of the site, even while the site is still in the development phase. Any change requests should be funneled to the project sponsor, allowing the project manager to work within the scope of the project. Warren did an efficient job of constraining the last-minute changes people attempted to make to our project and instead held new ideas for the next version of the project, which is one to two years away. Stay focused and within the project scope.
- Remember to keep images small. Our editing guide suggests 150 pixels by 150 pixels, for fast loading and server space considerations.
- Keep videos to 10 MB or so, which relates to a nine- to 12-minute play time in WMV format. A video was placed on the front page, with message from Rupf.
- Spell check, times three. Encourage editors to spell check everything. Have a few different eyes proof the material. And remember to use the spell/grammar check in your word processor. I used two clerks to review content on a regular basis.
- When the time nears for the deployment, prepare the unveiling in advance. How will you announce it: e-mail, newsletter, FAX? How will users access it?