Information Architecture (IA) is the way information is organised in your intranet to ensure people can find what they need easily – choosing your top navigation, home page content and so on. If you are using Office 365, it is how your SharePoint Digital Workplace and Office 365 coexist.

Poor IA often features content determined by organisation hierarchy, struggling with duplication, company jargon and multiple team sites featuring tumbleweeds and not much else. Effective IA, on the other hand, results in a clear hierarchy of information where people can easily find what they need and authors know exactly where to place their content.

One thing that is often forgotten when designing IA is the most important element – the users. If your audience is not engaged in the process of designing and architecting the site, you may miss out on critical information that will impact its success. How can you design an effective Digital Workplace without knowing which content and functionality people really need to do their jobs? Often time and budget are squeezed for these projects, and it can be tempting to skip user feedback altogether but getting even a small sample of end-user input is better than getting none at all, and that small sample may substantially change your end result.

The IA Workshop

In this workshop, your team will categorise, prioritise and assign attributes to information. It can help to forget about technology and focus on categorising information into boxes that people will understand. These sessions take some effort from everyone present, but by the end of the process, you’ll see a path taking shape that will show you a way forward for constructing the Information Architecture.

There are many ways to run an IA Workshop, but in my experience the following is a good option. It will not necessarily supply you with a finished design, but it will provide a reasonable starting structure and highlight the “known unknowns” to be addressed during the project. For a productive workshop, give participants a questionnaire prompting them to think about what is wrong with the current intranet, and what would be better. Have sticky notes, coloured pens, and a whiteboard/wall space ready.

  1. Ask people to transfer information items to the sticky notes then place them on the whiteboard eg corporate news, HR forms or CEO updates.
  2. Categorise the stickies and give the groups headings like About Us, News and Events, Social Zone. Most of the information will sit neatly in sections, but some will need to appear in two places. This is OK.
  3. OPTION: identify and categorise information further. Is it ‘knowledge’, ‘process’, ‘procedure’, ‘self-help’, ‘system’, ‘application’, ‘guide’, etc. This will assist in refining your IA structure. You can use coloured dots to identify each category and place them on the relevant stickies.
  4. Decide on the order of information within each section.
  5. Identify new content that hasn’t been written yet – hopefully the new IA does not consist largely of content yet to be written!
  6. Select home page content – everyone can choose their top five items by placing a star next to whichever items they feel are most important.

At the end of the workshop, it’s time to digitise the information, I recommend using either Planner on Office 365, or Trello OR, if you must, Excel. Work on the IA options until you have a satisfactory structure, then test it with some end users. Remember your IA won’t be set in stone – it will be refined throughout the life of your Digital Workplace.

Other considerations:

  • Make sure that you’re completely clear on permissions – who needs to access information and who will take responsibility for it.
  • How will people access systems, tools and vital links?
  • How will content be presented? Too many content pages are dull and can be difficult to navigate. Consider FAQs, blog posts, carousels, videos, infographics, social feeds and images.
  • Where does knowledge fit in the IA picture. How is knowledge currently captured and shared? Will it be wiki-based? Is social, e.g. Yammer, an option?

For every hour you spend optimising your IA, it will be paid back tenfold. One study found that he average mid-sized company could gain $5 million per year in employee productivity by improving its intranet design to the level of the study’s top 20% – a return on investment of 1,000%. Sticky notes have never been so profitable.

Information Architecture is just one of the 9 Pillars or Digital Workplace Success featured in my new book: Digital Transformation from the Inside Out

Download a free 3-chapter extract or use discount code: ‘Collab365’ for 20% off.

Review the other posts in this exclusive community series:

Pillar 9: User adoption
Pillar 8: Governance
Pillar 7: Social Technology Strategy
Pillar 6: Document Management
Pillar 5: Search
Pillar 4: Usability and Design
Pillar 3: Information Architecture (this post)
Pillar 2: The Right Team
Pillar 1: Executive Support

About the author 

Marcus Dervin