“How big should my intranet team be?” is generally a question considered only by larger organisations and then usually during or after an implementation project. For most companies a more common question is “Do I need a full time intranet manager?”.
The default position for most intranets is to under resource the central person or team responsible, particularly once in business-as-usual mode. I can’t think of any intranet teams who complain about not having enough to do.
Part of the problem is that is very difficult to obtain any reliable data which establishes what the optimal level of resourcing for an intranet is. Up to now there has been no happy “industry best practice” which you can safely tell your senior budget holders.
However the latest Nielsen Normal Group intranet design annual publishes a little analysis on intranet team size and has come up with a formula for an intranet support ratio which “can help you determine the best intranet team size”. This comes from an analysis of 7 years worth of winners with comparisons of team size and overall number of employees at each organisation.
This is the formula:
Intranet support ratio = 9.4596 * employee_number-0.976
Interestingly NN Group’s testing shows that the ration can explain 88% of the variability in intranet support ratios.
Is there really a magic formula?
Well it’s great that Nielsen Norman Group has done some research (and I can also highly recommend the Intranet Design Annual), I’m unsure about how robust and useful that formula really is.
It’s not so much it being a small sample or that I’m unsure if the criteria for “team” has been articulated clearly enough over the years to drive consistency in answers. It’s more that this is actually a highly complex question.
There are many variables. This means that any general “rule of thumb” about team size has to have caveats. Indeed the optimum size is likely to be unique to each organisation, and needs to be figured out within their own frame of reference.
Here are a few of the variables which need to be considered:
Scope of intranet, digital workplace or whatever you call it
First of all how do we define what is in scope in working out an intranet support model? Do we cover publishing, collaboration and communities? Enterprise search? Apps? HR portal? What an intranet is or isn’t can vary significantly from organisation to organisation. The scope of what is included will massively influence the level of the support team needed.
Definition of support team
Secondly what do we mean by the support or the team? Usually there is a central team or individual who have some sort of oversight, but in reality there is an extended team covering development, metrics, content, search, training, community management and a lot more besides. ClearBox in partnership with Warwick Business School has done some interesting research which clearly shows the extended team model.
On premises or cloud or off-the-shelf
With Office 365 and the growth more convincing off-the-shelf products, whether you are on premises or cloud, or using a more ready-made solution, will clearly influence the level of technical support you need. Intranet solution-provider Interact picked up on this point more directly in their own slightly-catty version of the Intranet Design Annual.
CEO Nigel Danson remarked in the accompanying press release (which seems to me directly referring to the NN Group)
“..we wanted to address the common misconception that to have an award winning intranet you need a large team in place to run it….of our 554 customers only five of them have a full time Intranet Manager, let alone a team.”
Stage of maturity
Theoretically intranets should continuously improve and move forwards, and therefore should require much the same level of support throughout their lifecycle at least once in the business-as-usual phase. Of course that never happens, and there will inevitably be more support needed after a new intranet goes live (phase 2, rolling launches, change management efforts etc,) and less at the end of life when all eyes are focused on the new iteration.
The NN Group sample refers to teams who have just implemented a new intranet, so their larger team sizes clearly refer to an earlier stage of maturity.
The balance between global and local is an interesting dynamic of organisational life, particularly for global organisations. The dynamic is often reflected in the provision of intranets and digital workplaces. Do you have one central intranet or several? How does that reflect the size of your team?
This is a bit chicken and egg because the size of your intranet team is part of the governance model, which in my view is inseparable from the Total Operating Model. But your governance model is going to be influenced by issues like regulation, digital capabilities, company culture, stakeholder agendas and even the capabilities of your CMS. What should be controlled centrally and what shouldn’t be? The ClearBox research clearly shows that the governance model is related to team size.
What are you trying to achieve with your intranet? Some objectives require more central control. For example content to support customer-facing staff needs a little more attention, and therefore resourcing.
It’s a complex one
Optimal levels of intranet resourcing are intertwined with intranet strategy and governance. NN Group’s magic formula may have value and be worthy of more research but it certainly needs more clarification. The boring truth is that “how big should my intranet team be” is a complicated question without an easy answer.