Serving CROW

The why-can’t-we-get-a-seat-at-the-table question has a long history with IA and Taxonomy practitioners. It is frustrating when something so essential is too often an afterthought. Bemoaning this doesn’t do anyone any good. There are many tables out there. Learning to align our language (and value) with the goals of different groups is an essential skill of any IA project. Sarah Barrett’s presentation at the IA Conference this year showed how to align with with the work developers and IT teams focus on. The big takeaway for me was that the key to sitting at any table is being able to articulate the value/scope/alignment of the work you are doing in a language that resonates.

Developing this language has been a long term project for me. This article by Cheryl Platz provided a number of insights into how to tell this language. She incorporated key ideas from Improv (or storytelling in general) to UX and showed how to use the storytelling tool CROW (Character, Relationship, Objective, and Where) to strengthen user experiences. Her article is great and weaves together a deep understanding of Improv, storytelling, and UX.

I was familiar with CROW from improv and had been trying to use it to aid my storytelling, but reading the article provided the clarity to adopt this notion of CROW to tell the story around the value of the Information Architecture and Taxonomy work.

CROW provides a framework for the essential internal communication work enterprise scale IA and taxonomy projects require: building internal alignment, and communicating the larger value. With a few small alterations we get the following:

  • Concepts
    The key information necessary to support the business (customer models, product, sales, marketing, etc)
  • Relationships
    How the concepts are related to each other and, most importantly, how they are related to top line business goals or priorities
  • Objective
    The role these objects and relationships will play
  • Why
    The reason these objects and relationships are necessary

These serve as a frame for the story that we need to tell. The story that gets buy-in and support for the work writ large and which helps us avoid approaching it as a series of individual projects.

I ran through this process in a workshop I gave at the IA Conference and was heartened by how well it worked for the participants, but it was also eye-opening to discover how difficult it can be to craft 2-4 sentences. Sentences that will resonate with everyone from executives to managers to the individual contributors doing the work.

The goal here is not to create a business plan for the organization, but rather to take the business plan or goals and then tease out the role of information. Take the example: Fictitious Cooking Supply Store (FCSS) with a stated goal of “Increasing revenue by increasing average order value for on-line customers. FCSS plans to provide additional services, content, and experiences that highlight their product categories and how the products work together.”  Using CROW we see the following:

  • Concepts (primary)
    Products, Customers, Services, Experiences, Content
  • Relationship
    Customers will interact with the services, experiences, and content. The services, experiences, and content will focus on the use of products.
  • Objective
    Introduce customers to a wide range of products, product collections, and how the products work together
  • Why
    Connecting customers to the products in the context of experiences (classes, tutorials, etc.), services (expert staff and information), and content (how-to articles, recipes, product reviews, travelogs) will encourage customers to purchase collections of products rather than individual products.

Using this information we can create a CROW statement that ties these together. Creation of the CROW statement does two things. First it identifies areas where we may need more information; what types of experiences will be offered? And, second, it allows us to tie the information work to the overall business direction. From this we may gather that one way to increase average order value is to provide related collections of products (amongst other things). These collections may be used in classes, recipes, and how to articles. And, in order to do that consistently and efficiently the product information needs to be well ordered and easily managed.

Our CROW statement may look like this:

FCCS is going to better support customers by providing appropriate collections of products in the different customer experiences (articles, classes, recipes, etc). This will allow customers to see and purchase all the products necessary for their particular needs.

The CROW statement sets the stage for the necessary IA work. From the above CROW statement we can say, “to create and manage collections of products that encourage customers to increase their order value, the products, experiences, customer information recipes, etc., need to align their information (taxonomies, metadata, models, etc) across the different systems and touchpoint where the information lives and where customer interact with it”. Identifying the individual taxonomies and metadata will come later.

This statement here directly addresses the need for IA, its integration across systems and digital experiences, and users. If done well, people should be asking to sit at the IA table.

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