Global & Local, Governance & Process, Guidance & How To

How to define global navigation

…… Part of The Basics series. First published in August 2011 ……


More and more people in an organization are getting involved in the intranet, more people are opening sites and publishing content. Managers are downloading easy-to-use tools and installing them on their own. The enthusiasm is very positive but the result is often confusing if not chaotic.

In 3 ways to bring coherence to the digital workplace I said that the the intranet manager has 3  tools to govern all this:

  1. A start page strategy, which I wrote about here tips for the digital workplace start page
  2. A global navigation bar or banner, anchoring the eco-system (see below)
  3. And a set of minimalist rules

This post is about the second: global navigation.

A collaborative, grounded approach

Global navigation may be a top level navigation bar that appears on all pages. It may be a thin banner across the top of the page, providing links to other parts of the digital workplace. It may be a link to the overall site map. Whatever form it takes, it is an omnipresent map, available to show people a new direction or take them back where they came from.

The top-level categories should be worked out carefully through consultation with different stakeholders in the organization. The global intranet manager’s role here is to facilitate the process and make sure end-users are also represented in the decision-making. This is the only way to “ground” the navigation in the enterprise.

Agreement on user logic

The key starting point is to get agreement on this principle:  “The global navigation categories will be defined from a user logical viewpoint, not an organizational viewpoint.”  Most people agree to this easily. It sounds obvious. But it is often another game all together when you try to make this happen. Getting the agreement first gives you a means of reminding people throughout the process that “everyone agreed that…”!

The process of defining the categories is best managed by a workgroup with representatives from different parts of the organization. There should be different types of user testing early in the process and at regular intervals.  Card-sorting and other user involvement and testing will require rethinking of many common assumptions.

A connected, representative workgroup

The global intranet manager will probably be part of the workgroup, and may even be the facilitator. However, he/she will not make the final decisions: the group will. The members of the workgroup must be well connected, authoritative representatives whose opinion will carry weight “back home” in their business unit or country.

DIY – faster but weaker

The alternative to this collaborative, grounded approach is to “do it yourself” by the global team. This may be faster but you’ll end up spending more time persuading (not always successfully) the rest of the organization that your decisions were right for them. I’ve seen this happen too often.