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Referencing previous article: Are multiple entry points good or bad?

Our Intranet design has IA and global navigation that is currently based on locating targets along three axes. Content is sparsely populated within these axes. The three axes used are company division, company office, and department. The idea was initially that any sites created within this intranet would have values at all three axes, and that anything too ambiguous to fit cleanly within these axes would go under root-level "Global *" pages, for example, "Global Legal", and that those global pages would override the intermediate landing pages for any of the department selections. Essentially, almost every departmental site would be two clicks away from the homepage.

The problem is that this has been a huge bear when trying to slot new content. There's no content that is office-specific and in my view we're unlikely to have any, so designing around an axis that's not really relevant to filtering the content isn't going to do anything other than make content access less direct, and introduce artificial barriers between people that work on the same content within the same division but different offices. There's content that is slotted divisionally and then by office only by virtue of the fact that people in that office made it, but it's frequently information that would be relevant or useful to people outside that division and office and doesn't have any principle of "ownership".

The IA decisions which were made before my arrival also introduced technical problems that I'm now working on solving, and as part of this solution, I'm taking the time to try to convince highers-up that the approach taken is (in my view) a suboptimal one. The company is not very large (<300 employees) and this IA seems grossly overengineered for the task. The analytics bear this out - the only people that use the office axis are those that operate in small remote locations (five or fewer people). I don't want to disenfranchise those people, but in my view, the enforcement of inclusion of physical location in the data is forcing us to make other bad decisions. Then there's also the (in my view) arbitrary decision to determine what is and is not a valid department. For this design, we have grouped all the finance and accounting material into a single node which then branches off into separate subnodes, despite each of them having plenty of unique content on their own. The parent node itself has no function other than forcing the user to make one more click to get to the content they were looking for.

My plan is to leave the current navigation system intact but reorganize all the content so that content is shared between divisions within the same site unless it makes sense to segregate it, so the organization of content is flattened down rather than almost always being three levels deep. Suborganizations of the content would not have to adhere to any static sorting (IE - URLs wouldn't have to always be /department/division/office/home.aspx). This would allow the departments themselves to determine a particular sub-organization system, if one is needed at all. This would also allow for subdivisions such as the aforementioned Finance and Accounting groups to be handled more cleanly.

Am I making the better approach here? I'm all for keeping things simple for the users, but it seems to me that we're diluting the experience in the interests of making it overly accessible.

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Hello Drew Lanclos, could you add some kind of diagram or schematic view of the parts of the intranet that are relevant to this question? It might help a lot. – Gildas Frémont May 6 '13 at 18:36
What type of content does the intranet displays ? – Gildas Frémont May 6 '13 at 18:52
I'll update the question with an illustration and tree diagram. – Drew Lanclos May 7 '13 at 14:00

As I understand it: company division, company office, and department have hierarchy between them in the architecture of the intranet but in real life they do not. Furthermore your stakeholders don't want to shake their mental model of the organisation.

To get started, you do NOT want to discuss someone mental model: that is not your role, it might even be the opposite of your role as a designer (personal opinion), in fact when discussing this mental model with highers-up you take a big risk since you are discussing their job and decisions for the company, not just for the intranet.

What you can do is helping the content to be shared among offices since that is the objective: if you are trying to make the intranet more coherent or more aesthetically organized then you are wrong. All this is not about you and your sense of grace, it is about the users and the management.

Keep the same main navigation and the same organisation for the content but add a way for the users to have access to the content that is relevant to them. You know a content is relevant thanks to the labels and semantics. Semantics is hard, so you want to use labels. If the content is not well labeled, find a way to automatized, if it is not possible, help the user to label it well so it can be spread among those who might be interested.

Also you can allow other users to interact with the content (comments, upvotes, shared counter, number of readers... up to you) so employees from an office will see that other folks in another office are interested in what they say.

If the system works people are going to start using it differently: as you imagined.

By the way: three dimensions content access is not to many, it just make your job a little bit harder.

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