Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Intranet change evolution or big bang

When planning improvements to an intranet, two main approaches can be taken: the 'big bang' and evolutionary approaches. The big bang approach involves making a single, site-wide change to the design and structure of the intranet as the old site is replaced by a new one. In contrast, the 'evolutionary' approach makes gradual changes over time, evolving the capabilities and design of the current intranet.

This article discusses the differences between the big bang and evolutionary approaches to intranet development. Guidelines are provided on when to use each approach, along with a range of practical tips and suggestions.

Is it time for a change?

Intranets are most successful when they align closely with both business and user needs. The earlier article, Five minute intranet self-evaluation, provides a range of criteria to assess the state of your current intranet. This can help determine the areas where your intranet could be improved.

Taking a big bang approach

The big bang approach involves replacing the current intranet with a new one. It is called the big bang because it seems to users that the change happens all at once.

The process for creating a new intranet will be familiar to many intranet managers. It usually starts with the creation (and approval) of a business case, which is followed by more detailed documentation of the requirements. Then a new intranet is designed to meet those requirements, and a suitable content management system (CMS) is selected. The new intranet is then built, and possibly integrated with other business systems. Finally, it is tested and ideally refined, before being launchd across the organisation. This process is accompanied by internal publicity efforts to inform staff of the launch and new features, and training to ensure they know how to use the new site.

Strengths of a big bang approach

The strengths of this approach include:

  • Widespread changes to the intranet can be implemented, such as a redesigned site structure.
  • Changes are highly visible, which can be used to generate renewed interest in the intranet.
  • Consistent look-and-feel can be applied across the whole site.
  • Underlying technical infrastructure can be upgraded, such as deploying a new CMS.
Weaknesses of a big bang approach

The weaknesses include:

  • Considerable development time leaves the business waiting for features they may need immediately.
  • Good features may be lost when the intranet is replaced.
  • Doubled workload, as the intranet team often maintains the old intranet while the new one is being built.

Taking an evolutionary approach

The evolutionary approach involves changing the intranet one step at a time, rather than replacing it. The intranet changes as the organisation does, so it can be said to evolve.

In practice, this involves tackling single business needs, one at a time. For example, if the staff directory is ineffective, the first improvement could be listing staff who are currently missing, followed by checking all phone numbers and email addresses to ensure they are up-to- date. Then, a form could be created so IT can update phone numbers when staff move desks.

An evolutionary approach involves improving the intranet, one change at a time.

Each of these changes would be made as simply as possible, with a focus on meeting the immediate need. For example, updating the staff directory when people join or leave could be handled in two ways. Ideally, a script would be created to automatically update the staff directory when the HR system changes. Alternatively, someone in HR could email the intranet team to have the update made. If your organisation cannot implement the former solution quickly, the latter solution meets the immediate need.

Strengths of an evolutionary approach

The strengths of this approach include:

  • Changes can happen very quickly, so immediate business needs can be met.
  • Good features are retained and enhanced.
  • Regular improvements mean the intranet is less likely to become out-dated.
  • Ambiguous requirements can be tackled, as the feedback on each change provides more information about the requirement.

Weaknesses of an evolutionary approach

The weaknesses include:

  • Overall changes are hard to make.
  • Intranet team needs authority to manage changes, which they may not have.

Choosing your approach

As indicated above, each approach is suitable in different situations, which is further explored in the following sections.

When is a big bang best?

A big bang approach is best if any site-wide changes are required. For example:

  • implementing a new CMS
  • overhauling information architecture
  • updating most of the intranet content
  • creating a new 'look and feel'
  • merging multiple intranets

In each case, every page in the site changes so a big bang is the least disruptive approach. However, evolutionary change can be very useful after a big bang for keeping the intranet aligned to the business' needs.

When is evolution best?

An evolutionary approach is best for specific rather than overall change. For example:

  • adding new functionality
  • fine-tuning existing functionality
  • improving labels in the navigation
  • adding or removing a site section
  • re-organisation within site sections
  • overhauling a section's content
  • staying relevant throughout a merger, restructure or take-over

In these cases the useful and usable features the intranet has, can be maintained or enhanced while improving other parts.

Taking the first steps

Big bang and evolutionary approaches require different first steps. In a big bang, planning the redevelopment well is paramount. In evolution, kick-starting change and making it a regular occurence are the goals.


There are two main approaches to intranet redevelopment: a big bang approach whichinvolves replacing the intranet, and an evolutionary approach that involves ongoing change to create a better intranet.

A big bang approach is best for site-wide changes; whereas an evolutionary approach is better for changing discrete areas.

A big bang starts by planning the redevelopment; evolution begins with a single change.