What is it that we're working on?
As a consultant, I want to get to the root of my clients’ challenges. I may have been brought in to fix a digital product’s navigation system or to help envision how a new system may function. In these situations, I’m expected to answer “how?” questions: How do users move around the product? How will the system work?
While answering these questions will move things forward, their impact is limited. Most of the time, the more powerful question to ask is “what?” What is it that we’re working on? What impact(s) could it have on our company/market/customers? What do we need to do to make it happen?
“How” is tactical; “what” is strategic — and a shift in strategy is more powerful than a shift in tactics. (Strategy is lower on the pace layer diagram.)
Often, I’m hired because an organization’s strategy is shifting, and this requires changes to its digital products. Sometimes this shift has been articulated clearly, so it’s understandable to everyone in the organization; folks making tactical choices understand the new vision and know how it impacts their work. But sometimes the future vision hasn’t been clearly articulated. People at one level in the organization understand it differently from the people “in the trenches.” Clarifying the vision is essential; you want to make sure everyone is working towards the same ends.
Information architecture can help. The process of defining an IA brings together people from different parts of the organization and provides them with the means to make complex, abstract concepts more tangible. While the resulting IA will be useful in itself — informing key system elements such as navigation structures — its value transcends its stated purpose. IA can be a helpful MacGuffin for alignment discussions that must happen if the organization is to move forward coherently.
I’ve done this work several times as part of broader design projects, and recognize that its value extends well beyond making digital systems easier to navigate and understand. As a result, I’ve structured a new workshop focused on using IA tools to clarify design visions and align teams. Does this sound like something your organization could use? Please get in touch.