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Choose an Overseer to Conduct Your Intranet Orchestra

By Paul Chin

Originally published in Intranet Journal's Chin Music (22-Apr-2009)

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If an intranet team is an orchestra, then the intranet overseer is its conductor.

Despite the abilities and talents of individual musicians from each section—brass, woodwinds, strings, and percussion—an orchestra is guided and directed by the conductor. Similarly, large-scale intranets require the cooperation of distributed, multidisciplinary, and self-governing groups of developers and designers, content managers, and business analysts. With so many people involved, it's easy for things to get out of hand and for team members to bump into each other—either intentionally or unintentionally.

Every department or team will naturally be looking after the best interests of its own intranet section. Unfortunately, this sometimes happens at the expense of other departments or teams. This is why I've always advocated for a multi-tired intranet governance model with an independent top-level intranet overseer to act as a liaison and coordinate the efforts of all the various intranet teams in an objective and unbiased manner. In certain cases, the overseer also acts as a mediator when groups don't agree on some aspect of the system.

Some intraneters I've spoken with downplay the importance of an overseer and have questioned whether the position is even necessary. If an intranet and its teams are relatively small, I would tend to agree that an overseer is somewhat optional. The team or teams might be small enough to coordinate all its efforts without an overseer. But in large enterprise intranets with multi-tiered development and management teams, an overseer is essential.

An intranet overseer ensures the integrity of the system, its content, and its teams as a whole and prevents any one particular group from hijacking the system for their own special interests and undermining the objectives of other groups. But how do you choose the right intranet overseer?

Firstly, you need to find someone who actually wants the job. Potential candidates can be identified through an open call or through nominations by peers. An intranet overseer must never be drafted into the position against his or her will. This breeds resentment and apathy.

Secondly, an intranet overseer should have the following qualities:

An overseer must be a recognized authority that's respected by the various intranet teams, so it's vital that all intranet section leaders agree on the choice of an overseer. This prevents any one department or group from putting a figurehead or puppet in the position. The role of an intranet overseer isn't to micromanage or rule the system with an iron fist. In a multi-tiered intranet governance model, every intranet section is fairly self-regulating. But, like an orchestra conductor, an overseer is required to ensure everyone performs in unison, otherwise Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture might end up sounding like Yakety Sax.

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