Intranet Beta - Sprint Notes

Our regular blog readers may remember at the start of last year we shared our exciting plans to replace Essex County Council’s (ECC) Intranet.

We’re delighted to say we’re now advancing through our Beta Phase which will lead us ultimately to launch our new Intranet product.

A lot has happened in the last 12 months and in this blog we’re looking to bring you up to speed with what’s happened in 2022 and what’s happening next in 2023.

What’s the project – a quick reminder …

We are replacing our current Intranet with a fully open and accessible product.  This means that it will be a public digital space open to anyone, with only personal and sensitive information held privately.

Our previous alpha phase tested 'what might an open information and resource platform for ECC staff look like?' Our previous blog explains how we came to the conclusion this would better serve the needs of our employees and partners.

In summer 2022, we appointed Nomensa, as our Digital Agency partner, to work with us in developing the product using an open-source development platform - LocalGov Drupal (LGD). Nomensa’s main role has been to help us develop the product on the platform.

Who’s in the team and what’s been happening

We have been working with Nomensa as ‘One Team’ since July, working on an agile basis - iterating and incrementally delivering in regular 2 week ‘sprints’.

We needed to walk before we could run. So before we started our Development Sprints, the whole team worked to make sure we had a clear set of prioritised development requirements for our ‘Minimum Viable Product’ (MVP).   Based on Evidence gathered in previous research, we chose 3 main themes to focus on:  Findability, Taking Time Off, Maintain & Publish Content. We also knew we had to make sure the product would address access needs, meet accessibility standards, and resolve issues with trust that were discovered during earlier phases of the project.

We focused on joining up our work as far as possible across the two work streams with:

  • Nomensa’s development team managing the technical changes
  • our design team working on the look and feel of the new website and the transformation of content based on insights uncovered during user research

We have just concluded the largest phase of development work and built our initial MVP product based on these journeys, which is a significant step.

We’re now readying ourselves for our Private Beta Phase when we will begin to share the ‘Intranet Beta’ developed product with some key stakeholders and content editors. We will use this short 4 to 6 week phase to iterate and improve on the initial designs.

We are also gearing up to work on further priority user journeys, including ‘Keeping Well’ and ‘Recruitment’.

Keep an eye out for our regular Show & Tells where we share updates on progress and how the product is evolving. All are welcome to attend.



ECC Intranet Replacement Project – Sprint #13

Our focus for our latest sprint has been on completing all the required preparation work and engagement, ahead of our ‘Private Beta’ phase.  And we’re delighted to confirm private beta officially started on 6th March!

The team have also been working hard to ensure we have a planned approach to iterating and improving the design and content, co-ordinating across the various specialisms involved.

LocalGov Drupal developers

A number of identified product improvements have now been deployed with the help of our supplier Nomensa, with some further considerations to look at as part of private beta.

Mobile site – design changes

We’ve also made a number of improvements to the mobile version of our product following initial user feedback.

User research

Having had a great response to our call out for users to get involved, we’ve now shared information and plans with our willing volunteers. Various methods will be used to gather, review and iterate our designs based on user feedback and we’ll share more on this as we move through the work.

Content Design

Our Content Designers have been busy on a number of fronts including:

  • Finishing work on Time Off journeys
  • Working on new Wellbeing Content which we’re hoping to test in private beta
  • Continued iterative development of the Information Architecture to help with navigating
  • Identifying and engaging subject matter experts on various user journeys including planned future work.

Comms & Engagement

To support all of the above, and our future planned phases, we have been developing a range of comms, this includes:

  • A short narrative to explain the product vision, the journey so far and planned changes as we move forward
  • Video resources (as a mini procurement exercise) to help engage all users.

Show & Tells:

If you would like to hear more about our work, please do join us at our Show & Tells.  Our next 'Show & Tell' is on Tues 21st March. If you would like to add a colleague or if you haven’t received the invite and wish to attend please email:



ECC Intranet Replacement Project – Sprint #12

In our latest sprint we have been focused on getting ready for our Private Beta phase which is due to start on 6 March.

This is when we will share the product with a few selected users and stakeholders for their feedback before a wider release to all users (public beta).

The intention is to run private beta throughout March and then review the outcome in April before we move into public beta – either late April or early May.

Design Sprint

We also had a particular goal to complete a short (1 week) ‘Design Sprint’ to understand how users without standard ECC equipment and logins can complete journeys that depend on access to other corporate platforms.

This was a short, intense but fun(!) piece of work - which enabled us to quickly work through and iterate some ideas that might address challenges these users face.

As well as getting the team’s creative juices going, we had great support from our colleagues in Technology Services to help shape some potential ideas into ‘prototypes’.

These were then tested with several affected users and feedback from our user testing was both very positive and informative (further improvements).

So we now have some ideas that can be looked at with support from our Stakeholder SMEs, as part of potential future product development.

You can read more about this in our Service Transformation blog pages Running a multidisciplinary Design Sprint to give agency to all users by tackling a decade old problem.

Recruitment for private beta

There has been a very encouraging response to our initial comms asking employees and partners to get involved in private beta.

This will be finalised in the next sprint as well as comms with other stakeholders.

Time off journeys

The feedback on our core content for Time Off has been provided by stakeholder SMEs and this can be incorporated in content changes for private beta.

Our focus can then shift fully to other priority journeys such as Wellbeing.

LocalGov Drupal product development:

A few small development changes from our backlog have been agreed as work for our supplier Nomensa to deliver in advance of private beta.

Show & Tells:

If you would like to hear more about our work, please do join us at our Show & Tells.  Our next 'Show & Tell' is on Tues 21st Feb.  If you would like to add a colleague or if you haven’t received the invite and wish to attend please email:



ECC Intranet Replacement Project – Sprint #9, #10 & #11 

This latest update covers our sprint activity during the extended Christmas and New Year period plus our first sprint proper of the new year.   

We are now approaching our Private Beta phase where we will release an early version of the product to selected users and stakeholders.  This will allow us to test and identify any improvements needed, prior to releasing it to all users. 

During New year and Christmas (Sprints 9 & 10) our main focus was to: 

  • Finish the core development of the agreed Minimum Viable Product  
  • Have an agreed backlog of residual priority work in advance of our Private Beta Phase. 

In our first sprint proper of the new year (sprint 11) our primary goals have been to prepare for Private Beta in more detail by: 

  1. ensuring we’ve identified the stakeholders & users we need to engage with and   
  1. finding better ways to support access into the council’s secure platforms which the Intranet provides links to. 

The next sprint will look at all this work in earnest and we’re now looking at formally entering Private Beta in early March. 

Infrastructure & Technical development:  

We now have largely completed all core development work and a significant milestone has been reached in deploying the product into the environments we need for Private Beta.    We also have a prioritised backlog of development work.     

User experience on mobile devices 

The Team have gained some valuable early insights from users on the initial design for users on mobile devices to help inform improvements. 

User journeys into other platforms 

We have been preparing for a ‘Design Sprint’ to understand how users without standard ECC equipment and logins can complete journeys that depend on access to other corporate platforms.       A number of recent sessions with a range of users - including various partner organisations - has really helped the team understand the problems faced. 

Maintain & Publish content 

We have recently completed and synthesised initial research into Content Editors’ experience of the new CMS to help inform further improvements. 

Time off journeys 

All our core content for Time Off has been drafted is now going through final stakeholder (SME) approvals. 


We are working on the final deployment of the Cookie Consent solution and confirming Google Analytics 4 is in place in readiness for Private Beta. 

Comms & Engagement 

We are progressing plans to produce various communications and resources (including a short video) to help users understand the changes to the Intranet.    In addition, we are now readying plans to engage users and stakeholders involved in Private Beta. 

Show & Tells: 

If you would like to hear more about our work, please do join us at our Show & Tells.  Our next 'Show & Tell' is on Tues 14th Feb.   If you would like to add a colleague or if you haven’t received the invite and wish to attend please email:



ECC Intranet Replacement Project – Sprint #7 & #8

This update covers our last two development sprints with Nomensa.

As this phase of development work concludes, our headline goals have been:

  • To add draft Content in Local GovDrupal (LGD) and complete user acceptance testing of the product in development (based on agreed initial requirements)
  • To have a clear picture of the residual work to finish off in advance of a ‘Private Beta’ Launch in 2023 – broken down into immediate priorities for remainder of this year, and any work to tackle in early 2023.

We have an extended period of work for Sprints 9 (current) & 10 into the New Year to ensure we finish the core development of the agreed Minimum Viable Product and will be updating everyone at our next Show & Tell (see below).

Infrastructure & Technical development:

The technical development work has been focused on finalising the infrastructure and environments but also moving all planned customisation of the out of the box LGD product through for testing and deployment (test environment).   This will continue for a few more days but good progress has been made with a flurry of activity to get us over the line.

We are also investigating technical options to tackle considerations for securing content that should not be made public in an open intranet (e.g. potentially certain types of News). This work will continue into the new year.

Initial styling:

We have been working on some initial styling of the site (layout/colours etc. – in line with brand guidelines). This will be further iterated as part of the next phase of work in the new year.

User journeys - Maternity & Sickness etc.

Re-testing the maternity leave journey

We tested a second version iteration of maternity leave pages with:

  • An improved design for calculating maternity leave pay
  • Re-organised page structure to help employees know what the council offers
  • A digitised form that let’s employees notify the council when they are pregnant

We found:

  • employees couldn’t work out their maternity pay with the information and examples provided
  • participants understood most of the maternity leave offer but some still didn't know they could take 10 Keeping-in-touch days before fully returning
  • The digitised form needed many improvements however it was welcomed as a more helpful and reliable than the current paper forms.

Discovering employees’ experience of long-term sickness

We spoke with 5 employees who had recently been on long-term sickness. We heard that experiences vary widely and having a supportive and knowledgeable Line Manager is key to a good experience. And that the intranet may offer support in situations where a Line Manager is unhelpful or inexperienced.

Some employees have struggled to access wellbeing and sickness information on the intranet due to concerns about privacy or due being locked out of their laptop after 120 days. These are issues a new open intranet may resolve.

Maintain & Publish content

We have determined an approvals flow, having clarified roles/permissions for those who need to contribute, edit and approve content. User research is in progress to ensure we fully understand and can meet the needs for those involved in the process.   We are considering, for example, how we ensure we can improve trust that intranet content is accurate, up to date and definitive. This also links to work outside of the project to embed a Content Strategy across our core digital products.

Content update

The team have made considerable progress with drafting content for around 40 x ‘Time Off’ user journeys (some complex, some relatively straightforward). This includes the more complex journeys such as short and long term sickness, maternity & paternity leave + various other journeys around areas such as bereavement and compassionate leave.

The aim is to have drafted and uploaded all of this content to LGD by start of the new year (Sprint 9 & 10).  We will continue to work with stakeholders in line with approvals flow to ensure we can further iterate/improve and sign off.

Information Architecture (IA)

We are currently continuing work to iterate a site wide “IA” – effectively looking at the structuring and labelling the content in an effective and sustainable way.  This work will continue on into the next phases of work as we progress through further user journeys and related content.


Having had confirmed Google Analytics 4 has been approved by Information Governance Team, following Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA) we have discussed the approach to applying cookie consent and this is being applied to LGD.



ECC Intranet Replacement Project – Sprint #6 

Our second ‘development’ sprint work has been focused on the following goals:

  • Maternity journey creation in LocaLGov Drupal (LGD) incl. forms, user and role management etc.
  • Introduction of the prototype site for user testing until the UAT environment is set up.
  • Completion of family leave/parental leave content.  User research on Sickness/bereavement leave.

Testing an initial design: 

Alongside in-depth interviews with employees we got initial feedback on re-designed maternity leave pages. Colleagues were positive about the tone of voice – describing it as clear, informative and with just the right level of  formality. We also explored:

  • Employees’ overall understanding of the maternity leave offer
  • Page update dates and perceived trust.

We will be iterating our designs based on what we learned about each of these.

Mapping out the current maternity leave journey: 

The team synthesised data from our research sessions with internal stakeholders and colleagues who had recently been on maternity leave or were considering having a child. To begin with we have produced an as-is map of the current journey for employees going on one year maternity leave with a straightforward – uncomplicated – pregnancy.

Pain points and solutions:

Producing a map helped us identify pain points in the current journey.  We've re-designed our prototype to try and address three of these pain points.  These were:

  • Calculating and understanding maternity pay - this is a struggle for employees both before they go on leave and once they return.  It also drives service requests to Payroll.
  • Notifying payroll of their pregnancy - in order to tell Payroll they are pregnant employees must find, understand and fill in complicated and out-of-date pdf forms
  • Confirming or approving maternity leave - managers have an independent task to notify Payroll when one of their team members plans to go on maternity leave.  They don't always do this.  At its worst this can lead to an employee being over-paid.  Usually the burden falls on Payroll to request the missing form from the manager.

Content design: 

We have continued to progress drafting content – including Parent and shared parental leave, dependents leave and carers leave, career breaks.  At the same, adjustments have been made to maternity leave content following the user testing mentioned above.

Technical Development - LocalGov Drupal (LGD) Content Management System (CMS): 

Work is progressing well to create the infrastructure for the technical service behind the scenes that will be used to host the new intranet service



ECC Intranet Replacement Project – Sprint #5

In this first ‘development’ sprint our work has been focused on the following goals:

  1. Technical Development: Customise the LocalGov Drupal (LGD) Out of the Box (OOTB) experience.
  2. Other Development: Deliver a prototype for the Maternity Leave journey, map user needs for maternity leave and the existing ‘As Is’ & ‘To Be’ Maternity Journey, complete content redesign for Maternity/Paternity and complete a ‘Treetest’ of the site structure.

Technical Development – LGD

Having prioritised our development work across 4 sprints, our developers in Nomensa have been busy with initial customisation and configuration of our OOTB LGD platform, based on our agreed Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

Technical approvals

Our initial Technical Solution Design has been approved by ECCs Technology Services Design Board. We will be proceeding with further work to ensure the product meets all ECC technical standards and requirements – including areas such as accessibility testing.

User journey mapping and research summary

One of our main areas of focus for the MVP is “time off”, and we've narrowed our initial focus further to maternity leave. Whilst we recognise that not everyone goes on maternity leave - pregnancy is a protected characteristic.  Also, our research tells us that information on maternity leave is hard to find and difficult to understand.

In this sprint we've worked on understanding the as-is maternity leave service.  We also wanted to surface opportunities for a new intranet to improve the service and benefit it offers to pregnant staff and mothers.  This has involved two strands of user research:

  1. We've been speaking to colleagues within the council to understand their role and activities in the maternity leave process.
  2. We've been interviewing staff that are planning to have a child or who have been on maternity leave recently (see User Testing below).

The process should enable employees to easily find information for themselves, but we can see it regularly involves getting additional support from our Payroll Team. It also involves several word and pdf forms that are ripe for improvement.


We have created a prototype to test an improved version of the maternity leave journey.

Content design

All content related to maternity, paternity, adoption, antenatal and antenatal support leave has been drafted. We are continuing to audit documents that are currently held in storage to identify what can stay ‘as is’, what can be deleted and what needs to be reproduced in an accessible format.

User testing

We have tested an early-stage design with users:

  • to understand whether they could understand the council's maternity leave offer
  • their overall perception of the language used, its inclusivity and the tone of voice

We know users would like to report problems with the intranet. We also examined:

  • whether users could find and recognise a new feedback section
  • what is expected from a feedback section

We will use what we've learned to:

  • iterate on our design
  • map out an as-is service blueprint for maternity leave


How the beta phase works

The beta phase is where you take your best idea from alpha and start building it for real. It also involves thinking about how your service will integrate with (or start to replace) existing services, and preparing for the transition to live.

Structure your beta phase so you can roll out the service to real users - while minimising risk and maximising the potential to learn and iterate the service. Make sure:

  • the service team has the capacity to sustain that learning and iteration throughout the beta period
  • support staff are able to cope with new users who might struggle to use the service in ways you have not foreseen

You’ll start out in ‘private beta’. This involves inviting a limited number of people to use your service so you can get feedback and improve it.

Project Set Up 

We have confirmed the basis for working as ‘One Team’ with Nomensa, our ways of working for the forthcoming sprints and defined the key aspects of the work in our Project Initiation Document.

We are also aligning closely with the work going on in tandem to re-platform This is a separate piece of work, but we need to optimise shared resources especially as we are using the same Content Management System platform – Local Gov Drupal.

Local Gov Drupal (LGD) 

We are set up for our development phase and have had an initial review of the Out Of the Box (OOTB) version of LGD.

Solution Design 

A technical ‘Solution Design’ has been drafted with considerable support from our ECC Technology Services (TS) colleagues, collaborating with Nomensa’s Technical experts.

We hope to obtain TS approval to this initial design on 6th Oct and will progress this work further during the Development Phase to ensure the product meets all ECC technical standards and requirements.

Minimum Viable Product (MVP) 

One of our key aims has been to define the MVP.   This is to help us focus on doing enough to build a solid basis for ongoing iterative development of the product, but equally avoiding the trap of trying to define everything precisely up front.

We have a focus on 3 main areas for the initial MVP development sprints: “Find-ability”, “Taking Time Off”, “Maintaining & Publishing Content”.

This was a significant collaborative piece of work from the whole team to ensure we had a sound evidence-based approach and has enabled us to agree a clear set of initial requirements for the initial development work.

Other preparation work  

There is a long list here but essentially the team have been very busy looking at our plans to ensure we have a clear product vision, we have started engaging all the right people and have understood our priority work in order to deliver the MVP.

The Team includes specialists in Content Design, User Research, Interaction Design, Analytics as well as Technical Developers. You will hear more in future Sprint Notes on their activities.

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