Anyone who has been involved in web development has been on a project that, despite being a well-funded, well-staffed priority for the organization, produced a dissatisfying result or just flat-out failed to produce what was expected.

As we discussed in our earlier blog post, Agile was explicitly designed to address this issue, but it doesn’t scale well and struggles with what are sometimes known as “wicked problems,” which are increasingly part of the cross-platform digital communities we inhabit. We often get great pieces of a larger project, but understanding how it fits together and how to strategically manage the true vision of the entire effort is lacking from the process.

How do we deal with the lack of integrating strategy? Do we just assume that problems can only be solved piecemeal on the intimate scale of the scrum team and hope that strategy emerges from the sprints?

Architecting Digital Places

TUG believes that there is a better way. As information architects—or architects of digital places—we approach web development in the spirit of building architects, by focusing less on the requirements that will build the system and more on plans used to understand the system. Our goal is create a good fit between what you intend in your digital place and how people experience it.

The PASS Process

TUG‘s process for achieving this vision is the PASS (Programming, Analysis, Synthesis, Specification) methodology. PASS helps us translate your business strategy into an information strategy, then achieve your business goals through a great user experience. At the core of the process is the belief that there is a significant difference between planning for a project—the “what“—and actually implementing it—or the “how.”

The PASS Process

The PASS information architecture methodology spans four phases: Programming, Analysis, Synthesis, and Specification. These phases represent a progression from understanding what should be done, to delivering recommendations for how it will be done. Within each phase there are self-contained exercises that can be performed as stand-alone projects to provide specific insights.

Programming—Deciding Together
In the Programming phase, we focus on clearly establishing the “why” and “who” for the site. Organizational goals are articulated and prioritized; the audience is clearly identified; and the ultimate measures of success—key performance indicators (KPIs)—are agreed upon.

Analysis—Learning Together
In the Analysis phase, we examine the current state of things. We conduct a series of activities aimed at learning about the organization, its goals, and its users’ needs. During this phase, we typically key examine areas such as the navigation and findability; search analytics and performance benchmarking; and the current taxonomy and metadata.

Synthesis—Modeling Together
Taking into account what we learned through Analysis, the agreed upon program is now synthesized into models of user needs and a high-level information architecture, or the “what.” Customer research is synthesized to determine a set of personas and scenarios to represent a cross-section of the target audience.

Specifications—Blueprints for Execution
Finally we focus on the “how,” or the way in which the goals will be achieved through site structure and performance. The outputs of the Synthesis phase form the foundation for developing specifications for development.

Architectures for Digital Places

None of this replaces the traditional software development process. If your shop is an Agile shop, it will remain an Agile shop. If it is enterprise RUP (Rational Unified Process), it will remain so. In fact, TUG‘s deliverables are designed to work with any methodology, because they are plans to guide vision and strategy, not to elicit technical requirements. Software processes are great at making software; they just aren’t always great at understanding the software in a broader context or against a broad vision. TUG‘s methodology provides this glue.

So plan, and make your digital experiences awesome. If you have questions about how the PASS approach can work for your project, we’d be happy to talk with you about it.

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