How long does it take to implement an intranet project?

Jed Cawthorne

When I was an internal technology strategy consultant for a very big bank, we used to joke about this kind of question a lot; the “but how long does it take to <insert your project here>” type question will always solicit the same answer from a consultant – “hmm, well, it depends”! What might seem like a very simple question, is often not when we dig into the details, as one of my fellow Brits would say, how long does it take to implement an intranet is like asking how long is a piece of string?

So, when we say “it depends,” what does it depend on?

Factors to consider

There are many factors to consider when trying to estimate the duration of an intranet project, so let’s start at the very beginning — what kind of intranet project? What exactly are you thinking of or planning on doing?

  • Technology refresh/update: This entails changing the back-end platform(s) that your intranet is built on while not really addressing user experience or design elements. A refresh of existing technologies or components will be different from a wholesale change of the software you use, and the latter may require a lot of content migration effort, too.
  • User experience-focused update: Making changes to the intranet based on feedback from users, changes in user expectations, or changes in business objectives can all drive projects to enhance what your people can find or do on your intranet.
  • Content-focused update: Do you want to find a different way to create, add, or change your content? Or are you looking to increase the frequency of posting or make it easier for many authors to add departmental content?
  • Design-focused update: Your technology platform is fine, but you decide to get rid of the late 90s animated gifs and bring in your team’s equivalent of Picasso!

Each of these types of projects will have further nuance based on your organizational culture, who owns the intranet, where the budget sits, how the governance is organized, what internal or external resources you need to do the work and other considerations.

OK, by now, you should be able to understand the “well, it depends” answer when asking how long it should take to implement an intranet project because there are many flavors of intranet projects. If you are really lucky (or unlucky?) you might actually be undertaking all of the above at the same time. Perhaps you need to replace your technology platform or software, and you are taking the opportunity to do a full redesign and implement new features; or probably more rarely, you are starting from scratch and implementing a brand new intranet on a “greenfield site.”

Based on the above, you can estimate the duration of your intranet project through your organization’s standard project management methodology once you are clear about what your objectives are and have a clear understanding of the work required to meet those goals.

Possible delays during an intranet project

There are several common intranet project delaying factors, though. My 20-plus years of working on intranets, both as a consultant and as the “owner” of corporate intranets, suggest these are factors that often get overlooked:

  • Content migration: Project leads often underestimate the complexity of content migration and do not provide enough time to do this work, especially if a migration between a very different legacy and replacement is taking place. This would require the transformation of content formats, mapping of metadata, and other factors.
  • Design: Have you scheduled enough time for multiple iterations of design concepts so that all involved stakeholders can review and provide their feedback and input? This process regularly takes longer than people think.
  • Scope creep: Just like any project, technology-centric or not, if you don’t have strong project management and governance in place, then you are vulnerable to well-meaning individuals who just want to add one more cool feature.
  • Lack of governance: Related to scope creep; if your senior executives, intranet owner, project sponsor, steering committee, and other stakeholders are not all aligned on the objectives, then any issues can suddenly become compounded, leading to delays.

Final thoughts

To answer your question, “How long does it take to implement an intranet project?” the bottom line is that there are lots of project management and change management methodologies out there, and most organizations have their standard methodologies and approaches.

As you use your organization’s set approach, make sure to involve internal and/or external subject matter expertise in planning. These are people who understand the potential pitfalls, and with their help, you will be able to figure out with pretty good accuracy how long your intranet project will take.

All that being said, I will leave you with a mnemonic we used a lot in the British military – the 5P’s – Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance! Don’t cut corners on your planning if you want an accurate estimate of the duration of your intranet project and to set your team up for intranet success.

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