Forget Features … Start With People

Have you been is this meeting? You know – the one that launches a new project? Invariably the folks in the room end up talking about platforms, launch dates, screens, flows, widgets, content, features, project plans, mobile, responsive web design, and everything else they should NOT be talking about.

Start with people.

Wait, did someone just say “NO! Start with the business!”?

Well, businesses are made of people too.

Here’s my thing … until you understand the people in the project’s ecosystem, you will not be able to act in a way that meets their needs or solves their problems. Yes, we information architects must be the voice of the end user because they are not present, and much of our efforts will focus on their needs. However, the business (our client) is also a “user”. Their experience is participation in the project.

This approach has practical implications. We need to be sure to conduct each encounter with the client (in person, on the phone, over email, etc.) as a part of an exercise in participant observation. Build a file of notes from observations, then identify cultural behaviors, norms, and expectations. And when there is verbal communication, work in some ethnographic interview questions to help understand their native client language. Heck, you can even conduct a mini-grounded theory exercise to pull it all together.

When you have done the research, write up a two or three paragraph ethnography of that client – an organizational persona of sorts. I would bet the biz dev folks in your organization would love to hear your insights. But the real value will be for the project team. If you gain insights that help you to understand the cultural context of the business, then you can craft an approach to serve their particular needs.

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