Architecting value

A month ago, I got a new job title: Information Architect. I maintain my company’s content infrastructure, training and supporting a writing team that has, through mergers and acquisitions, tripled in size over the last 18 months. I also look to the future, defining strategic goals and figuring out how to achieve them.

In describing my new beat, I told the writing team that I have two priorities:

  • Help the team do their jobs as effectively as possible — by listening to them, by training them in both tools and concepts, and by fixing problems
  • Position our documentation products to provide value to the company and its customers

crane with architectural plansWhat does that look like in real life? Well, the first priority is pretty much what you’d expect. If I’m listening to the team, I know where they need training and guidance. And I try to be responsive when someone has a problem. (I also rely on a couple of colleagues who can also step in and troubleshoot when needed.)

The second priority, for me, is the crux of my job. But, paradoxically, it’s a lot harder to envision.

How do I know I’m providing value?

Providing value is at the heart of what we do as technical communicators. But how do we know when we’re doing it (or when we’re not)? Defining value, and defining the metrics for measuring value, is like trying to nail Jell-o to the wall — and it’s been that way as long as I can remember.

Let me offer a few thoughts, and I invite you to add yours in the comments.

Value for my company

For years, many in the technical communication profession have quietly accepted the idea that our value proposition is based on cost avoidance: better informed customers make fewer customer-support calls.

But the other aspect of value — revenue enhancement — is what really excites the C-suite. How can we show that our work leads to increased sales or repeat business, or even just to intangibles like customer goodwill?

There’s anecdotal evidence that it’s happening. But to my knowledge, no one has convincingly drawn a connection between technical docs and increased revenue. I want to be part of doing that.

Value for my customers

That brings us to the second part of my second priority: providing value to my customers. When a customer finds the information they need, when they complete a task successfully, when they don’t have to open a support ticket, I’ve provided value.

I know how businesses work. Value is defined in terms of dollars and cents. But I also believe in the intrinsic value of simply doing the right thing: helping my customer succeed.

A part of me thinks that if I can do that, if I can help that customer succeed, the dollars and cents will take care of themselves. And maybe they will.

What do you think? What’s your value proposition as a writing professional, and how do you bring that value into being?

If you work as an information architect, whether or not it’s your official job title, do you see your role in the same way I’ve described mine? If not, what’s different?

If you’re not an information architect but you work with one, what do you expect them to be doing?


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