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the “why” Part I June 19, 2007

Posted by andrea in the IA/BA world.
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they are not order-takers, like a waiter…”oh, okay, so some Flash app, and social networking, but on the side”

From the IIBA: “A business analyst works as a liaison among stakeholders in order to elicit, analyze, communicate and validate requirements for changes to business processes, policies and information systems. The business analyst understands business problems and opportunities in the context of the requirements and recommends solutions that enable the organization to achieve its goals.”

Funny, nothing about implementing technology in there.

I heard earlier this week “we don’t need you as a process guru, we need you as a leader”. Huh. Leader of what? If I’m outside the process, the only leadership I can provide is non-contextual, and there’s (I feel) little use in that – it’s called cheerleading. If I’m inside the process, then naturally my leadership comes from knowing the context, and the problems, and suggestions how to (hopefully) help improve the process, or what we can do to fix the issue at hand.

Analysts think too much…that’s what we’re good at. Mulling stuff over, this and that, why not try this…oops no go; that type of thing. To be handed a list of directions (that sometimes do not make actual business sense) is the shudder… Why? is the reason we’re around, and always the pain-in-the-ass person at the meeting.

I will keep being a pain in the ass – I’ve done it all my life, why stop now?

What I’m more conscious of, and try to keep in mind is when to let go. When to realize that for all your good intentions, and trying to make a business prosper, sometimes there are obstacles that are not worthing “falling on your sword” for. That is my biggest recommendation to the “newbies”.

I, back in the day, fought everything…more out of not being separated from my work. If they dissed my work, they dissed me! Now, I hope and try to maintain the idea of actual collaboration – give and take. It’s not about me – it’s the cumulative minds on the project that make it see the light of day.

I still ask “why?” a lot, and am probably very impolitic when I do so, but I just want to know what’s going on, ’cause then just maybe, when it’s brought to light, me and many others, can help fix it.

Standing on the outside, with no insight, doesn’t help anyone. Which, I think, is why BAs are at a crucial point in their development, as a discipline. I went to a great workshop in March, where the leader encouraged us to keep focusing our minds and skills towards the business, and to resist being “just the order taker”.

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Chicks in tech May 31, 2007

Posted by andrea in thinky thinky.
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Disclaimer: events, descriptions and ideas referred to herein are not meant to be a diatribe against the great men I work with…mostly. 😉 It’s not about you, it’s about our work-culture. Oh, and don’t dismiss it as over-sensitivity (or the ever-unspoken female cycle) either. That really gets me.

1999, dot-com boom. I joined a project team, and went into the meeting room for the first time. The client (young guy, mid-20’s) gasps and says “this is the first time we’ve had a lady on the team!”. Me: utterly gob-smacked, blush, don’t know what to say. No one says anything. I start my presentation, pitching my voice as low as possible.

2002, KPWGMED, major project in Boston. Technical architect (early 30’s, male) and I have been having discussions about an aspect of our project, quite technical in nature. I offer a suggestion on what we could maybe do, and he turns on me, yelling and pointing his finger “you will not ever talk to me like that! I make the rules! Shut up!” (literally seared into my memory). Again, I have no idea what to say.

Two of many examples where I personally feel really dumb for even trying to bang on the door of the boys’ treehouse club. I know I’m not alone. Every woman I talk to in this, or a related, field has their own “oh wait you gotta hear this!” story. Times being referred to as ‘the girl’, stuff like that.

It’s enough to drive you to a margarita and a manicure. 😉

There’s enough of us out there, now. I’m encouraged by things like Toronto Girl Geek Dinners, and by all the awesome women I know, all who are bringing something to the table.

The proverbial glass ceiling. We’re supposed to believe it doesn’t exist still, but it does. And I don’t put any blame on “who” is responsible for it – it’s just the way it’s always been.

Money: hard to ask for it, or even to believe we expect it, or a raise, or a promotion. It’s like being the tall-poppy…”who do you think you are?”. When I was much more used to “please sir, can I have some more?” My fear was always that if I asked for a raise, then not only would I not get it, but they’d take away what they were already paying me. Crazy.

Pride and Confidence (no, not Jane Austen 2.0): which for me, has been so closely related to bragging. And no one likes a braggart. But tons of braggarts fill the corner offices all over Toronto.

An interesting discussion from dinner with friends last night, where we talked about the “good guy” phenomenon. How you can work your ass off, and produce really really good work; while the slack guy (you know, the one at the pub) gets promoted ’cause he’s, well, a “good guy”. In this case, it’s not so much squeaky wheel gets the grease, it’s greasy wheel makes the machine go faster, I guess.

I apologize (no I don’t) – this post has no real point, no beginning, end, or major arguments to make. Just meandering thoughts…kind of like today, when I wondered how club DJs get gigs. Do they do resumes, reels, bring in sales figures (door take, number of patrons, for example), rely on a network? A lot of DJs are guys, too. What does a female DJ do, if success is based on a network, and not results?

hurt May 17, 2007

Posted by andrea in ephemera.
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A friend passed away yesterday, someone I worked with at my last contract. I got the news through an email, and was shaken. I talked to another friend at the company, and he told me that people had gathered at a local bar. I wondered whether it was “appropriate” to show up, not wanting to intrude. But as my friend said “this isn’t a company thing, this is a Rich thing, so go”.

And I went – cried, laughed, hugged, ordered more drinks, and we kept on not wanting to be alone, not tonight. I had to leave, because I kept dissolving into tears, and not being any help. I thank the people I got to know at Critical Mass, for all their support, and strength and humour, and just general goodness. I love you all.

I didn’t know Rich for very long, but as people like him do, he made an immediate impact. I couldn’t help but fall in love with him, in that work-crush way. bless, sweetie.

I can’t even believe he’s not in the world anymore.

Work life don’t mean shit compared to real life.

the reverse-side of work travel May 9, 2007

Posted by andrea in ephemera.
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Okay, so this time, I’m the one left at home…with the doggies, all mine. Every walk, every poop, every meal. No trade-offs.

Harald left today for Vienna, in order to attend his sister’s funeral. Probably the WORST reason to travel, but I urged him to do it, booked the flight, found a hotel today, and text-messaged him the deets, so he’ll get them when he lands. It’s family, there’s no choice, right?

But, for the first time, I’m the one who kissed him goodbye and sent out “safe flight” vibes, as he left. It was always me leaving before, for work. And I always pooh-poohed his “please be safe, good flight, be a good girl, I love you” admonitions when I left, like “dude, I’m just going to work…on a plane”. Like I was soooo cool.

So, it’s me and the dogs tonight, and for a few days. And our home is missing one of its integral parts. And the dogs keep running to the door with every sound, thinking “oh boy, my favourite part! when DAD comes home!”

And it’s me now that’s worried, not WORRIED, but in a very low-key “hmm, I hope he’s okay” way. And I’ll probably wake up at 4am, when his plane is supposed to land, and wait for him to call.

When I travelled, I got very good at the calling. I would text him, as soon as the wheels touched the tarmac. “I’m back! See you soon!” And everyone in my same situation was doing the same thing, that little touchpoint to their friends or family, or whoever.

Last summer, I was in FLA (flaaaaaah, as I call it) when the big “no water, no liquids, nothing” thing happened. I was routed through Charlotte, onto Toronto. The flight attendant was magnificent…a large, beautiful Southern woman sauntering up and down the aisles calling out “any liquids? I personally prefer the finer fragrances…y’all can just drop them in my bag here…and I’ll do my very best to make sure they get back to you.” Chortle, nudge wink. I loved her.

It was the typical Thursday shuttle, for commuters…back home to T.O. Tons of people like me, laptop-jockeys. White, Black, Indian, Asian – just wanting to get home. And, for the first time EVER (aside from charter flights to the Caribbean), when that same flight attendant announced as we touched down “Welcome to Canada”, the plane erupted in clapping. Happy to be home, happy to be out of the U.S.? Who can say? But there was a tiny recognition amongst us, a certain care that we understood for each other. Home.

Be well, my goofy husband…and come back safe. Nina and Trudy (the dogs) will be wagging to beat the band.

title, schmitle May 5, 2007

Posted by andrea in thinky thinky.
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Back in tha’ day, I was very in awe of this dude that I worked with..totally smart, and well-read, and cynical. And liked to yap, over beer, which is when I became even more cowed…until I had had enough beer, and then I’d yap on, too. Like when you’re drunk, and know a few words of a foreign language, and try to converse in it, like you’re a native speaker? Like that.

Anyway, it’s taken me a few years, but I think I caught up to his ideas…ones that he had years ago. Gah.

To wit:
job titles are stupid.

Why? Because so many people want a better title – and what does it mean? Account Manager/Supervisor/Director. What’s the difference – besides salary, which is the hugest secret EVER, in companies.

When you go to a new company, though, you want the better title. True, true. It brings a better salary, definitely. My sister-in-law is grappling with this issue right now.

A title is a way of asserting dominance, through acquisition. Like taking over a company, sort of. My title is “such and such” so automatically we all assume the level appropriate to that title.

I was asked by a really great, smart woman who I sat down for coffee with, and we just blurted out the truth to each other: (her) “I can’t offer you a title, but I’d like you onboard” (me): “I don’t give a shit about a title…I got the best one possible…owner/president/CEO (um, of me)…I just want to do some great work, and you guys are all about that.”

Which is why I really loved the KWPFDT, whatever company consulting firm. All our biz cards just stated our name and contact info. Which is the most important thing…how to reach us. I understand the ceremony of business cards, and taking them with two hands, as a sign of respect. That’s nice, that immediate assumption of respect – you have trust, and it’s up to you to keep that up.

However, titles don’t mean shit to me. Not anymore at least. Mine now is “that girl who does requirements, and information architecture, and is really concerned with the ‘right way to engage people’, and she’s kind of a hard-ass, and doesn’t suffer fools”.

I used to be about titles…back in the same day. Becoming a SENIOR information architect meant so much to me. I had started off at this company as a PM, and oh boy I was shitty at it. Seriously. I spent way too much time thinking about the site, and its organization, and how people would approach it. And couldn’t make heads or tails of a Gantt sheet. So I mentioned to my then DIRECTOR (why was he director? he was older, and came from the military) that this was what I wanted to do, nay, meant for. I finally got a business card that said “information architect” (after having to fight the entire company on what the name should be). But that “title” doesn’t confer role, function, or purpose.

time went on, and the company grew (dot.com boom circa 1999) and more people were brought in, to do what I did. I didn’t get to meet them…’cause I didn’t have the title to see whether they’d be good in the little practice I was hoping to build. They hired three: one of them became a friend who I respect dearly. But because of the nature of the growth, they hired some other people. And, as it eventually does, with one of them, his salary came to light. More than any of us were making. so they made me a “senior” information architect (throw a title as a bone)…and split the company into “pods”. I told my dad about it, and his first question was “is there a military guy there?” Um, yes. His response: “they’re turning you into platoons, to be outsourced.” Then came the IBM guys, the ones who thrive on titles, and the ones who have very little actual knowledge.

dot-com crash: we did nothing for a long while…played Bejeweled, and had long lunches. And the atmosphere was poisonous, and divisive. And created a lot of us-vs-them, between the “pods”.

It made me cry, a lot. Because I was caught up in it…the title search. And I didn’t have the maturity, or distance, to take to heart what my friend was all about. So I went to Morocco, for three weeks. Got my human-ness back, came back, and quit.

And encontered another “title search”…solely based (well, kind of) on performance. And I got the title, but it didn’t fit…because it wasn’t me. And I left again, to go to “client side” which turned out to be worse. They timed my bathroom breaks. Enough said.

So, this is where I am. And I get asked a lot, when I contract, whether I would “drink the Kool-Aid” and go full-time. It’s tempting, but I know me, finally, and I’m best as a “gun for hire”, like Clint Eastwood, I guess. I do the work, I strive for the best possible, wherever I am, but I just can’t buy in, like a really good full-time employee would. When I think about full-time, I get the jitters…like a commitment-phobe towards marriage (That I’m not. I met my now-husband, and got engaged, in two days…and yes, it’s awesome, after 4 years). A buddy of mine said “you’re a rolling stone, baby”, so that’s what I am. It’s not all of me, but where I want to go.

I like it. I boot around, and I never welsh on a deal, or (knowingly) fuck someone over. My name, and ability to get hired again, is the only performance review I have, which is good.

Who knew a little suburban bad-ass teenage girl, hating the world, and authority, could find a place? Wow.

remote teams April 30, 2007

Posted by andrea in working life.
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Remote teams have a lot good things about them. Communicating non-verbal gestures ain’t one of them. However, having a sense of humour about the limitations goes a long way towards overcoming the drawbacks.

A: “Okay, so we’ll add two icons, and have three rows of two”
B: “Can we put them in two columns?”
C: “Won’t that make it too wide?”
B: “Columns go up and down”
A: “I don’t have enough room”
C: “Vertically?”
B: “Okay, I’m lost”
A: “I’m going to add xxx icon underneath, and the second one beside it”
B+C: “Ohhhh. got it.”
A: “I say tomato…”
[laughter ensues]

For the record: columns go up and down, descending is newest to oldest, and stalactites hang from the ceiling. I’m still not sure whether cannelloni is the meat-filled pasta, or the cheese-filled one, though.

first-ever official logo… April 29, 2007

Posted by andrea in ephemera.
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I think I might have a logo. Well, a designer friend of mine sent me the concepts today. I was so excited, anticipating what he had come up with. He has a way with a typeface/icon that I really like.

I was not disappointed. Now, though, I have to pick one – I do have my faves, probably 3 or 4. Stay tuned.

First a logo, then a website, where will wonders cease?

who adapts best to contractors? April 19, 2007

Posted by andrea in working life.
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About companies – some of them are well-experienced in the whole realm of contractors. They understand what they themselves need (a service), and can provide the necessary tools for the contractor. Contractors, on the other hand, should also understand that they are not necessarily “drinking the Kool-Aid” of a company, but providing the necessary service – which doesn’t give you the right to bitch about benefits or perks that full-timers get. And don’t get disappointed when bonus time eludes you…you chose the itinerant life, remember? 🙂

There are some places that get it, and some that don’t. All in different ways, which is interesting. Some dangle a full-time job, like a carrot, thinking that’s what you want. Some don’t understand that while we all know everyone hires “out”; a company email address is pretty necessary, particularly in client relations. Some make you jump through security hoops, and buy very expensive internet access, and then don’t allow you the privilege to see documents with that other (non-contract) team members work on. I won’t go any further to say that hasn’t happened to me in Toronto.

It’s a sliding scale, and we as contractors adapt. But we also remember the experience, and how easy (or not) it was to “on-board”.

The worst: I showed up, and no one: a) knew I was coming; b) had any idea what I did; and c) were quite put out that I couldn’t pinch-hit as a graphic designer. It took me 3 weeks to get an email address, during which time I was on a client site, and had to use my gmail account. The client there set me up better – own office, log-in, introduced around, etc. … the day I went there. The “solutions provider/systems integrator/agency” (take your pick) fell down on that front.

The best: I think this is a small thing, but HUGE: A little pile of supplies – paper notebook, some stickies, pen, pencil, a highlighter. Awww. That’s really nice. A desk, internet hook-up. email access immediately, links to the shared drive to get what I need to start my learnin’. (A huge bonus…when I bring my own laptop in, and can get online with that – kudos!)

A bonus: when there’s a team that you’re joining, and they turn out to inspire you, challenge you, and push you to do your best. Ahhh, that’s nirvana, in my world.

But, at the end of the day, as Led Zeppelin said (did I just really write that?) babe, i’m gonna leave you. With good memories of great work together, and trying times struggling to meet deadlines, it’s all part of the package.

Okay, quiz time: which example above regularly off-shores all its work?

What’s the best? Probably the place where I showed up, totally sick, but knowing that calling in would not be cool…and my lead (love her) sent me home, for very good reasons. They had a laptop ready, a regular email, shared access, even a name tag at my “desk”. Same goes for my latest contract – and then let me bring my own laptop, hooked me up with shared access, printers, email, etc. Both even gave me a little pile of post-its, pens, and such. That’s way cool.

Other places? Well, I worked one project, in a city far far away, where I was not to be trusted. Reasons?: a) from Toronto; b) non-IBM; c) didn’t have a full-time job OR children. Highly suspect, I was (I suppose speaking like Yoda didn’t help either).

Actually, I have to say that most of the places I’ve contracted, which are largely in the web ghetto of Toronto, have been excellent. I’ve met and worked with the most amazing people, again and again; had the privilege to learn a ton of stuff; and generally had a fantastic time. But I don’t want a full-time gig. I get offered that, quite a bit. Why don’t I want that?

I guess this generation is different, a bit. I started out in publishing (crappy restaurant guides), then advertising, then the web-graphic thing, then projects, then severe enterprise app stuff – up and down, all over the place. My mum couldn’t understand it – why do I keep switching jobs? Now she’s one of my biggest supporters, and can talk me through the people stuff.

Okay, not a generation – just me. If I kept switching jobs anyway, I might as well just contract out. I find if I get too sucked into a company, then I start caring about “position” and the hierarchy, and the “career path”. Which makes my work suffer

Another project it took me 3 weeks (out of a 4 week contract) to get an email address.

You know how companies make us sign contracts? Well, maybe there should be a contractor contract: a) provided with access to shared materials (I signed the NDA, you hired me); b) an email; c) introduction to the team that goes beyond “this is Andrea” – uh, maybe what I’m here for? Might be helpful.

info-ADDict April 11, 2007

Posted by andrea in ephemera, thinky thinky.
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I just read an article that really made sense to me…that information gives us a lot of things, but also takes our concentration away. That our brains aren’t that plastic to deal with all the stuff coming in. Again, I reference Bobby who said to me “could you work in a space with other people? Since you have to think so much?” If I would, NOT could – I “could” shut off everything, and work, but I haven’t yet – then yes. And I did today.

1993: Small story (and this is before *my* Internet, and Flickr, and Facebook, and Gmail): I was on a cargo ship to Africa, with my then-best friend. Every night, while trying to sleep, I couldn’t. Too much information in my head, but none of it linked – just random bits, all over the place – visual, word images, thoughts, reading I hadn’t done. I remember saying to her (and writing in my so-called “journal”) that I was overloaded, and tired – there was too much to know, to learn. And my brain held photo colour-correction formulas, and shot-analyses of what I was seeing in real life. Jesus.

Ahhh, Africa time. Where your goal for the day can be: buy a train ticket, OR get money out of the bank. Not both. Freedom. Simple goals: shelter, water, then food. Then maybe hanging out with people, or going out, or reading. Possibly, even, a shower! I remember hitting Nairobi after months and shaving my legs…absolute heaven.

1995: I had worked all night, producing a major print campaign for some mutual fund company. I came home, sat down on the couch, and the president called me back to fix something. Went into my room, undid my ponytail, brushed my hair, and re-did it. It looked terrible (as did I). So I said (honestly) out loud, “apple-Z” the command for undo. No go.

1997: I could tell anyone, even being woken out of a deep sleep on threat of losing my job (true, sadly), the entire SKU list of the tires for sale in the NFLD version of the Canadian Tire flyer, and their prices. Of course, I drank a lot to combat that affliction. 🙂

1998-2006: I won’t even go there. I hold a stupid amount of esoteric information in my head that has no business being there. I could be so much more interesting if I didn’t know the exact process an insurance policy document goes through, or the various permutations of how an airline ticket is priced.

Now: Facebook, blogs, multiple email addresses to keep checking, the latest whatever…and that’s only online stuff. The real world? Groceries, bills to pay, dogs to take care of, relationships to care for…

It’s no wonder that I have a hard time concentrating – it’s not the renovations, it’s me. How ironic I’m blogging about it. My concentration needs caring for, too, it seems.

Today I visited a friend, and I was supposed to call her before I showed up, but I forgot my ‘berry (leash, chain, etc.). So I just showed up. Saw another friend who was on her way out, and then I went in. My friend totally apologized for not being ready, but I was supposed to call, so honestly, it was my fault. I explained about my lack of connectivity, and her colleague smiled and said “ahhh, freedom”. And I liked just sitting waiting. I thought I should probably pull out my laptop and ask for a wireless connection, but then I thought “wtf?” and continued to just sit. And have this lovely soft random moment…of nothing. It was fantastic.

I definitely should do more of that. And visit with friends in real life more often, as opposed to typing to them. Maybe try an entire conversation – like my friend and I had tonight. It’s a start. I am hopeful.

documentation…conjunction junction, what’s YOUR function? April 6, 2007

Posted by andrea in the IA/BA world.
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I’m often asked what I do, like everyone I suppose, who lives in T.O. It’s easy when it’s someone in “the industry”, not so much when it’s my parents’ friends, or my friends’ parents. Or other people, like my husband, when we first met. Now, of course, I’m the beep-whirr-beep girl, as far as he’s concerned (even though his business is the “go to” metaphor when talking about this stuff…he renovates homes).

me: I, uh, work in the web industry, making websites and online applications
pf/fp: oh, so you build websites? Our nephew does that.
me: no, I don’t actually “build” them
pf/fp: oh, so you design them? you’re a designer!
me: um, no, I don’t know how to make anything beautiful, sadly.
pf/fp: ???
me: I….create a lot of paper, and documentation, that helps the people who CAN do those things do them. Like, blueprints, after the zoning commission is through with them.
pf/fp: ?? Websites need architects??
me: (quietly) um, yes. Now, I think I have to turn my chair THIS way. Or go refresh my drink.

This is from an email that I sent to a lovely project manager I worked with, and who got it, but needed the arguments to sell BA stuff to the client:
IA is tangible, design is tangible, code is tangible. BA stuff isn’t, really. You know the metaphor of IA being the house’s blueprints? BAs are the zoning commission, the soil engineers, the forestry supply and demand, and the House & Home magazine that the customer dreams about, and wants to make happen, even though their 600 sq.ft. loft doesn’t resemble an English manor. Kind of.

Yep, one sort of BA grew out of a need to understand the rules and policies of a business. They’re usually geeks who understand a particular industry really really well. Like property and casualty insurance. They know the ins and out of policy administration and can tell you why and how the “rules” of whether or not you get jack squat when your house burns down are driven. Sometimes, they really understand software development, too. Sometimes. Some business analysts, conversely, come from software development – where their thing is what systems do, and what certain types of systems do – workflow, benefit administration, document management, etc. Sometimes those people are a nice, balanced combination of industry and development.

But..they’re missing a piece: users. Oh yeah, those people who will or will not adopt a new system, or make the whole business process faster or slower? Yeah, them.

Traditional systems development (enterprise or app specific) still has a long way to go to understand users. Why should they? The users they build for are usually a captive audience, who have to use the new software if they want to keep their job. Who cares about them? Which is why you get training that sucks, and employees who have a flurry of post-its around their monitors, so they remember what they can and can’t do when they’re trying to process a bill payment over the phone.

I’m working on a project right now, where I asked my main admin user to walk me through how she sets up an online community. She laughed, and said she couldn’t really, because she has 30 pages of notes that she has to have in front of her when she does that. Egads. I just want to give her a hug.

Web development is probably harder, but ultimately more innovative than regular system development. Like Morag said (and as soon as I find her wonderful explanation of “whither the BA?” I will post it – it’s beautiful), Web sites aren’t just pages anymore, or very few of them, and a lot are actually useful in peoples’ lives – online banking, online shopping, online dating – anything where you can do something virtually. I renewed my driver’s licence online – huzzah! Web sites are applications in and of themselves, AND we have the opportunity NOT to make the same mistakes that traditional systems development did.

The Web is way out in front in that respect. Web users don’t have to come back to a terrible site, they’ll abandon it. So we have IAs who understand and watch and note what’s working and what doesn’t in the screen for real people. And keep them in mind when crafting a user experience that makes sense, to the users. But all the arcane rules and reasons why you can only make 4 payments a month exist. And if the IAs have that kind of knowledge communicated to them up front, it makes their design job more comprehensive in the beginning. Harder, but I’ve yet to meet an IA worth their salt who doesn’t relish the challenge.

The rarest BA is one who understands that there’s a dance between system development, business drivers, and last but not least that there’s a real person at the end of the screen – there, you’ve got something really cookin’ now. Wow – user goals and needs.

There’s a really good diagram of how much it costs to fix the “oops, we didn’t tell you before” stuff during design and development. For every change made in a project: it costs $1 to fix it in requirements, $10 in design (IA, technical, or creative), $100 in development, and $1000 in QA.

I know I’m basically preaching to the converted here, but it’s something that comes up again, and again. Thousands of Dilbert comic strips back me up.