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Oct 14, 2003: What Would MachIAvelli Do?

I really enjoyed Jeff Lash's latest column in Digital Web, "Soft Skills for Information Architecture". As usual, Jeff hits the nail on the head:

While much of one’s success or failure depends on the skills specific to information architecture—like diagramming, documenting, organizing--an even greater indicator is soft skills: dealing with conflict, negotiating, and communicating.

One particularly critical piece of advice from Jeff is to let other people do the work for you. I wish he'd have devoted a bit more to this topic, because it's deliciously Machiavellian. Many of us are defensive and anxious in our interactions with our colleagues, but if IA is truly strategic to our companies' success, we're a bit more powerful than we realize. Why not abuse that power a little, as long as the ends that justify the means are positive and no one puts out an eye in the process?

Lately I've been counseling my clients to be a bit more devious in their dealings with colleagues around their companies. Negotiation, as Jeff points out, is good, but horse-trading is much better.

For example, you know that you're going to lose plenty of battles, like the one with the irksome VP whose irrelevant department absolutely must be featured in the site-wide navigation system. You know it doesn't belong there. But you also know that if he gets his way, it'll be only a minor annoyance, and probably won't have a significant impact on the user's experience (especially when so many users forego site-wide navigation altogether in favor of the "back" button). You also know that the VP could also help you--perhaps he has influence on an important management committee, or he could donate a few hours of his benched IT folks' time to one of your IA projects.

So go into the discussion with a combination of bluster, knowledge that it's both probable and acceptable to lose this battle, and, most importantly, what you're going to receive in return for acceding. Trust me, you'll find that you walk out of those meetings with something, and something's better than nothing.

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Comment: Kyle Pero (Oct 15, 2003)

Unfortunately, in our field politics is a necessary evil. It can help us and it can hurt us. Knowing how to play the political game is every bit as important as knowing how to build a usable architecture.

I'm sure none of us like politics, but if you are not equipped to play the game than you are definitly hurting your chances of being able to make most of the changes you want.

I personally hate sales(and the idea of being a sales person), but in order to get some changes made you have to SELL clients on your ideas. It's VERY hard for me to let the little things go (to me they are not so little), but I am slowly learning that by doing so it may benefit the client relationship and in the end make it easier to make other changes later.

This topic is also being discussed in another user experience group: http://usability-network.ryze.com (The thread is called "winning the small battles"). I invite anyone interested to join us and share your thoughts.

Kyle Pero
http://www.usableinterface.com

Comment: Livia Labate (Oct 16, 2003)

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