I was asked this by a client this week… so I thought I would share the main bones of the answer I sent back to them:

Many new platforms experience what is known as the ‘J-Curve’ following launch. This is a drop-off in usage of the platform after the initial launch and publicity surrounding it. When something new is introduced there is normally a belief that things will start to improve right away after go-live. However the normal result is that things may in fact get worse first – people don’t often like change and with all the best will in the world, the solution released upon a cohort of users may not be exactly what they expected. This is because the introduction of something new normally upsets the existing system, and because we are humans, and we all interpret things differently.

Even with the most robust staged iterative user testing, you still can see a variation in what people say and do in the lab, and what they do in their day to day jobs ‘in anger’. While sprint and prelaunch tests undoubtedly help inform your development hugely, dont be surprised if some behaviour after launch surprises you, and prepare your product sponsor for this eventuality.

It is not unusual to see a 20-40% drop in usage after the initial month or two if people are finding the intranet isn’t quite the panacea they perhaps thought it was (or perhaps you told them it would be!). It can be easy to write things off at this point as a failure, but often execs find that uptake improves again once the workforce finds ‘their own way’ and take true ownership of content, features and governance of the platform. This is a good thing, user ownership drives platform adoption, encourage it wherever you can… even if some results are unexpected and appear chaotic at times.

In our experience, you need to have a launch and engagement communications plan in place well before launch in order to notify the target users prior to and following go-live about what the site is for, the kind of functionality and content that it will contain, and how users may benefit from engaging with the site. The plan should consider both on and offline channels. The purpose of the engagement plan is to make sure that when the new intranet is launched, the investments made in the intranet are received within the business positively and the business are empowered by the new technology… and above all, that this is sustainable.

There are many reasons behind the J-Curve, but they tend to be a combination of the following broad areas – with some suggestions how to mitigate them:

  1. Insufficient on-going programme of communications after the initial launch to maintain interest. Driving and sustaining adoption is achieved through delivering an experience of ‘discovery’ for users. People can’t take all the features in in one go, and will forget a lot of what they are told unless the messages are relevant and spread across time. 6-12 months would be a reasonable starting point for duration of a campaign to drive, sustain and measure the use and uptake of a global intranet – bit by functional bit. It is also important to have a set of staged targets against which to measure adoption across these first few months.
  2. Feeling that the platform isn’t relevant to them. ‘Nice intranet, don’t know how it will make my job easier’ is a common complaint. Its important to ensure that internal comms messages are targeted and segmented to appropriate audience groups with specific guidance on use for the recipient’s context – be it by function (finance, creative, marketing) – or by region (US, EMEA), – or by level of engagement (heavy user, advocate, light user, skeptic)
  3. Expectations not met. Another issue can be that the experience of using the platform doesn’t live up to the hype… Many platforms at work are launched with a fanfare that sometimes the platform cannot deliver. This can be an issue with the platform itself (issues with usability, downtime, access) or perhaps the messaging promised too much ‘your new intranet will be a revolution to all who work for ABC Co’… It’s true what they say of the virtue of under-promising and over-delivering...
  4. Lack of support, advocacy and training. Often using a new platform will take a bit of extra effort over the old systems departments may have set up for themselves in silos, or have built as work-arounds despite being less than optimal. Think of the old shoes analogy – they are comfortable and often carry some legacy emotional investment, ego and departmental culture. In order to ensure this doesn’t become too much of an issue its important to be sure to:
  • Ensure everyone feels they have been consulted and listened to in the requirements gathering and development process. If you havent engaged people up until the day you launch the new ABCCo ‘Wonder-Net’, how can you expect them to be anywhere near where you want them to be in terms of preparation to migrate from whatever processes they might have in place (however wasteful and barmy they might appear to everyone else across the business)
  • Have a thorough yet light touch set of governance guidelines in place – developed from both the point of view of effective management, but also from the users perspective of ease of use and consensual rules and regulations for proper use (as they say in the US Declaration of Independence: the best government is by consent of the people). Similarly with training – along with the launch communications, it is also important to ensure that people are shown how best to use the new platform – what the benefits are, and be provided with training and support materials to ensure they get the most from it
  • Grass roots and front line staff need to see senior people using the intranet. Senior managers need to distribute messages, be visible and take part in the transition to the new platform – in short become ‘advocates’. If staff see their managers using it, the ‘we are all in this together’ feeling is effectively reinforced, and the workforce will work through any early teething and familiarity issues.

Managing expectations and expecting the J-Curve – more on launch planning

Typically, a successful intranet launch involves activity across a number of phases and utilises digital and traditional channels available. Some of these phases can run synchronously and each should end with a short evaluation activity to measure success. These phases can be summarised as:

Buzz: this phase aims to ignite an internal conversation about the intranet in advance of and during the launch period. Visibility of the development of the project and support from senior high profile stakeholders drives interest and will create a fertile environment for introducing technical change.

Proposition: this stage concentrates on outlining the benefits of the intranet platform for departments and lines of business in a more targeted manner. Often working with individual LoB internal comms teams, separate targeted messages are developed building understanding of the benefits of the platform for each group.

Deepen: This phase builds on from the previous one, with a focus on engaging the audience into action. With targeted activities aimed at different audience groups, the aim is to begin to achieve on the critical success factors outlined in the strategic overview. These might include targets such as 70% of users have created an online profile, or 90% of users have logged in and found colleagues through the People Directory. Often ‘gamification’ and competitions are utilised to drive this behaviour.

Inspire: This final phase is aimed at both creating a deeper sustainable relationship with users and the intranet team through regular email newsletters, internal collaboration and on-going feedback and dialogue. This is often built on a strategy of encouraging local departments into taking responsibility for content development and team collaboration and networking features.

The outcome of the launch plan is to give the intranet managers an actionable plan with success metrics against which they can meet their objectives. The plan will incorporate direct communications, senior advocacy and local teamwork strategies.


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