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Information Architect Position Analysis

At Cartoon Network Online's request, I evaluated their existing work process flow in an attempt to discover where best to insert an Information Architect into their existing process flow. Using existing Cartoon Network Online documentation, as well as interviews with Cartoon Network staffers, two process flow documents were developed. The first depicts the existing work process. The second depicts the work process with the addition of an Information Architect. The assigned task in developing these work process representations was to highlight where in the existing development process an Information Architect could be inserted; the task was specifically not intended to develop a new work process methodology. The two documents employ quite different metaphors for representing the work process and what follows is a description and explanation of the intent of each depiction.

Current Development Process Flow

Thumbnail image of current process flow documentThe existing work process flow—as represented by the pre-existing documentation provided by Cartoon Network Online and described by the staffers during the interview—is centered on the individuals who participate in each step of the development process. The current process diagram emphasizes this focus on individual roles during the development cycle. On the y-axis, the diagram depicts the various stages of the development process, beginning with the generation of the idea and ending with the launch of the completed project. Along the way, a number of identified actions take place, with each action having a specified output. It was understood by all involved in the interview process that not all defined actions and outputs actually take place in the life of every project; but the assumption for purposes of both this diagram and the revised process diagram is that the defined actions and outputs do occur in most cases.

The relative seniority of the participants in the process runs from general to specific responsibility along the x-axis of the diagram, with the Senior Executive represented at the top of the scale and Web Production represented at the bottom of the scale. This representation is necessarily imperfect as no discipline can be shown to be at the same level as another (e.g. Creative and Web Production may be at the same level of relative responsibility).

At each stage of the process, individuals identified by a role description are involved and a particular output results. These individuals are represented by the color associated with their role. Output from each stage is identified at the bottom of each vertical color set. The diagram was intentionally structured to emphasize the importance that Cartoon Network staffers placed upon the idea that it was particular individuals who were taking the actions and producing the output at each stage of the development process. When viewed as a series of actions taken by individual participants, it becomes difficult to find a place to insert a new individual into the work process as the entire process appears as a zero-sum equation. Adding an Information Architect into the mix necessarily reduces or dilutes the importance and/or responsibility of another participant in the process.

For this reason, a different approach was taken with the second diagram, which incorporates the Information Architect as a participant in the development process.

Development Process Flow with Information Architecture Component

Thumbnail image of modified process flow documentIn this diagram, the focus is placed not upon the individual participants in each action, but rather the output from each action. By placing the emphasis on the process tasks rather than on the individuals performing them, the situation is more easily viewed as a cooperative system rather than a zero-sum game and it becomes easier to locate places in the process that are appropriate for the participation of an Information Architect. The Information Architect simply becomes another aid in support of finishing particular tasks.

As with the previous diagram, the y-axis represents the development spectrum from initial concept through to launch and subsequent maintenance of the implemented idea. Similarly, the x-axis still depicts the degree of responsibility involved with the task; however, it is no longer defined in terms of the individual but rather the task. Thus, "Idea Creation/Brainstorming" is a high-level design task whereas "Publication Cycle & Launch" is a low-level task, at least in terms of relative degrees of corporate responsibility. At varying points in the process, tasks can be ones of more general or more specific responsibility.

An example of the inter-relationship between all of these elements is seen with reference to the tasks "Draft Creative Deliverables" and it's associated "Feedback." Along the y-axis, the drafting of creative deliverables falls mainly within realm of "Implementation," although there are still elements of "Specification" in completion of the task. In other words, drafting the creative deliverables helps set the graphic design specification at the same time that it results in the graphic designs that will be implemented by Creative Production. Along the x-axis, drafting the creative deliverables crosses levels of responsibility, resting primarily in the realm of "Detailed Design" but also crossing over into the realm of "Production." "Feedback" on the draft deliverables, while taking place on the y-axis in the "Implementation" phase of development is nonetheless a higher-level task in terms of general project responsibility and falls completely within the realm of "Detailed Design."

A more stark example of this relationship is seen in the relationship between the tasks of "Production Prototype," "Quality Assurance," and "Approval." All of these tasks take place towards the end of the "Implementation" phase of development, but each occurs at a different level of general responsibility. The "Production Prototype" is created pursuant to the plan developed during the previous stages and there is little or no autonomy with regard to defining the end product. "Quality Assurance" looks at the prototype to ensure that it complies with the requirements of the detailed design. "Approval" inspects the prototype with an eye to ensuring that it complies with the overall high-level requirements for the project. Only after the "Production Prototype" has been approved at all levels of responsibility will it be published.