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Strategic IA Careers: Skills and Knowledge for Success
Page 1Strategic IA Careers: Skills and Knowledge for SuccessInformation architecture:Designinghigh-value contentdelivered in aneffective information experiencethat enables client successHigh-value content:• Speaks directly to client/buyer/user business goals• Includes only the tasks necessary to achieve those goals• Aids the client in making decisions or applying concepts in their own situations• Is technically rich in the sense that it includes validated real-world samples, examples, best practices,and lessons learnedHigh-value content does not:• Focus on manipulating elements of a user interface (those things that everyone knowsby now, such as "Type your name in the name field")• Describe tasks that cant be mapped to a meaningful goal or objective• Describe what to do without explaining how to do it• Describe how to do it without explaining why to do itInformation experience:Professional Development Progression Andrea Ames—STC Summit 2013
Page 2Tactical vs. Strategic IATactical information architecture:ConcreteTypical tasks include:• Update a navigation tree according to designguidelines and standards• Apply models and guidelines to developinformation architecture for a product releaseor self-contained information deliverable• Solve architectural issues with guidance froma strategic information architect (IA) orinformation strategistStrategic information architecture:AbstractTypical tasks include:• Architect a product’s total informationexperience (not just technical docs)• Develop a cross-product or portfolioinformation experience• Prioritize requirements• Apply models in new and novel ways to getvalidated improvements in the end-to-endinformation experience• Provide input for model or guidelineimprovement• Create and validate new models andguidelinesStrategic IAs are:• Focused on client perceptions• Of the total information experience• Of the value of content for achieving their goals• Focused on business priorities• For the total information experience• For the value of content to business strategy• Focused on the total information experience• Multiple information deliverables• Multiple authors• Formal and informal content• Official and collaborative or social contentStrategic IAs are not:• Focused on one kind of information deliverable• Focused on information products from one kind of information development team (such as just thetechnical product documentation team)• Focused primarily on things like topic modeling, navigation hierarchies, and labeling schemes
Page 3Scope: Tactical and strategic IAs in the organization:Strategic IAs:• Across the entire company, a group, a division, a portfolio, or a single product• Across Tech docs, Support, Marketing, Engineering, etc.Strategic information architecture skillsSkills with humans:User research• Conduct user and task analysis• Develop personas• Develop scenarios, use cases, and user storiesUser advocacy• Develop a deep understanding of users, their tasks,goals, and requirements• Become their champion without becoming one of them;maintain objectivity• Negotiate for user wants and needs during planning and development processesHuman factors• Understand and design in support of human cognitive processes in information interactions• Validate models and designs with intended users usinga variety of methods
Page 4Skill with modeling:• Ability to analyze and express complex information relationships through modeling• Ability to model the user task flow• Ability to model information topics• Fluency with information architecture models and their application, such as:• Use models (for product- and information-use scenarios)• Content models (for the building blocksof consistent content)• Access models (for navigation patterns,wayfinding, and progressively disclosing information)Skill with information and design:Disciplined creativity• Ability to synthesize competing requirements to create innovative solutions• Ability to create in an ideal world, then collaborate and negotiate back to reality (that is, takeincremental steps toward the ideal, given resource, time, and other constraints)Organizing information• Make the complex clear• Understand, expose, and deliver information relationshipsthrough navigation, linking, and other retrieval methodsInformation experience design• Information design skills such as minimalism, progressive disclosure, chunking, informationpresentation, and delivery• Interaction design• Commitment to consistency and rigorous attention to detail• Ability to simplify and reduce words while maintaining essential meaningAnalytic skills:• Systems thinking (see backup)• Synthesize competing requirements to create innovative solutions• Analyze complex relationshipsand strategic ideas• Find the patterns inherent in data• Critical thinking• Problem solving• Root cause analysis• Take an abstract, complex or ambiguous challenge and come up with a concrete, real-worldsolution proposalBusiness skills:• Communication and presentation skills• Negotiation and diplomacy• Political savvy and ability to network• Skill in understanding and making decisions based on business strategy• Able to build a business case and justify architecture, designs, and approaches with customer andbusiness impact statements
Page 5Leadership skills:Vision• Passion• Strategic and systems thinking• Enthusiasm for and evangelism of the strategy• Ability to influence and drive direction of a large team• Willing to make a decision (and be held accountable, if necessary)Commitment to delivery• Able to commit and deliver• Delegating, and delivering through others when appropriateInvestment in others and the health of the team• Able to take input from the team easily• Able to build team capacity (for example, commitment to mentoring, intentional efforts towardfilling the pipeline and growing IAs, educating the team, and so on)• Consistent but not rigid; able to consistently reinforce a message to help the team growOther soft skills:• Self-motivation (diagnosing a problem and then relentlessly pursuing a meaningful resolution thatmakes a difference)• Emotional intelligence and professional maturity• Intelligent fearlessness (being willing to step forward but smart about when and how)• Integrity• Respect (for example, for othersideas and time)• Good listening skills• Ability to give credit to others and share the spotlight• Flexible, able to change, and able to accept what cannot be changed• Comfort working with abstract or ambiguous projects or ideasDerailment factors: Characteristics that limit strategic IA effectiveness• Views IA as a promotion strategy (forexample, “I just want to get to SeniorWriter”) as opposed to a career path with aspecific skill set and aptitudes• Power mongers• Dictatorial for own political agenda• Passive; waits for assignments from others• Timid; fears speaking up, taking risks, orgracefully challenging an idea• Driven by “don’t fix it if it’s not broken”• Tends toward excessive autonomy orisolation• Lacks willingness to connect, collaborate• Lacks tact• Unable to tolerate ambiguity• Views role in a silo; can’t envision theirwork relative to other content creatorsaround the company, or to the work ofothers on the extended team• Unable or uncomfortable thinking in theabstract (that is, concrete thinkers)• Needs rules, a recipe, a cookbook, or “theright answer”• Too attached to guidelines; unable toquestion or advocate for legitimate change• Never follows guidelines or considersconstraints• Tends to get lost in the details (all trees,wrong forest)• Can’t see beyond the boundaries of theirown “book” (all trees, no forest)