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Help me write my job description

A few weeks ago I joined the IA Institute board of directors. At the IAI, you run to be part of the board and later the specific roles and responsibilities are defined (first electing a president, a treasurer and a secretary to satisfy our non-profit legal requirements, then assigning particular responsibilities to the other directors).

When we first started discussing roles, my main desire was to become the IAI Ombudsman. Having ran for the board on a platform of transparency, I thought the Ombudsman role would be a good way to introduce an initiative-agnostic role that remained 100% accessible to the membership and was able to directly respond to their needs.

Regardless of my desire to play the role of an open channel of communication that helps things get addressed, someone needed to take on the oversight of the Institute’s IT and Membership (which is corresponds to customer service, tech ops, and all systems). I volunteered to take these on because they seemed to be the most related to the things I wanted to do as an Ombudsman.

A problem became apparent to me right away: an Ombudsman, by definition, is supposed to be independent, neutral and impartial to do their job well. From the IAO Standards of Practice:

1.1 The Ombudsman Office and the Ombudsman are independent from other organizational entities.
1.2 The Ombudsman holds no other position within the organization which might compromise independence.

I have been trying to reconcile how I could play the Ombudsman role while being the director responsible for infrastructure oversight and the reality is that it’s just incompatible. Having spent the past few weeks learning about how the Institute runs, what the various systems are, who does what and what is currently understood as needs of the membership, it was not a big leap to figure out I needed to re-frame my role.

I thought lots about whether I should withdraw from the board so I could become the Ombudsman, but seeing where the current infrastructure is today, I think being the director of infrastructure is a better match for me and for the Institute *right now*. To address my concerns on the Institute’s transparency and foster a culture of openness, communication and accountability, we need systems and tools that support people working that way.

I know I have the right skills to lead that charge (as I design systems for a living) and I am interested in the kinds of infrastructure issues the Institute has today (more on that in a future post). There is plenty of work to do so I decided to write a job description to help me focus the time and energy I’m volunteering and so anyone knows how to use that time and energy. Please help me refine!

Director of Infrastructure

The director of infrastructure is responsible for overseeing the planning and development of systems and technologies needed to support and maintain the services and initiatives associated with the Information Architecture Institute.

Key responsibilities

  • Evaluate the short and long-term value and impact of technology decisions.
  • (When someone chooses to deploy a CMS, create a new feature or tweak existing services, I should be able to assess how this affects our overall infrastructure in terms of technology, cost and effort, and help them make the right choices).

  • Ensure infrastructure projects are properly managed and executed
  • (When we need to do something that contributes to the Institute’s infrastructure, I need to make sure projects have a clear purpose and sufficient resources to succeed, in addition to support and encourage contributors to move things along).

  • Keep the Institute and members abreast of infrastructure improvement plans
  • (During my time in this role, I need to involve institute members and keep them informed about what’s going on and set expectations about the direction things are going to ensure it’s in line with what everyone needs.)

  • Assess the infrastructure wants and needs of new initiatives
  • (When a new project comes around, I should offer advice and guidance so project champions are aware of what’s available to them and what they can build on)

  • Direct the Institute’s resources towards the highest value opportunities
  • (To get things done, I need to be mindful of the cost and benefit of utilizing our staff versus reaching out to the community for help and support)

  • Assess the organization’s ability to maintain core systems operational
  • (Evaluate, on an ongoing basis, how well the Institute can maintain it’s various services and advise the board of directors on areas of opportunity and risk)

  • Ensure a smooth role transition to the next director of infrastructure in office
  • (By the time I’m done with my term on the board of directors, I will have a transition plan for the next person who will take this role to ensure quality knowledge transfer and continuity of permanent efforts)

    My goal is that my platform of transparency, vision and empowerment is well translated in the openness, communication and accountability of this role. Any thoughts, edits and additions much appreciated.


    Crystal Kubitsky said,

    November 16, 2008 @ 8:25 pm

    I love the idea of the role and your desire to make the organization more transparent. It seems to be an interest we share and a growing need in all kinds of industries.

    Although I know you are trying to address more than technology, it still sounds as though it is largely a technology role. Perhaps it’s more the title that’s not bringing home this point as much as I would expect.

    May I also suggest this change to one of your responsibilities…

    “Assess the infrastructure wants and needs of new initiatives” to
    “Assess the infrastructure needs of new initiatives and offer guidance and advice to make the best use of available systems”

    Just a thought :)


    Livia said,

    November 16, 2008 @ 9:20 pm

    Thanks Crystal. I got some feedback on Twitter as well about the technology focus. The role is definitely the one with the technology lens. What I didn’t want it to be was just tech ops (that’s largely what our staff does) and wanted to convey that infrastructure is not just the technology choices we make but what these technologies deliver on (I guess that’s how I describe when IT and UX collide :) ). Let me know if you think the title could be something else specifically. Thanks!


    Livia said,

    November 18, 2008 @ 8:25 pm

    It’s really funny to me that I’m getting feedback on this via twitter, emails and in person, but not on the blog. All is appreciated though, thanks all :) I’ll probably post a revision next week.


    Austin Govella said,

    November 19, 2008 @ 2:12 pm

    I generally thought the description was very well done.

    I liked the focus on infrastructure (tools for processes) instead of technology, although Crystal’s right. It still sounds like technology. I’m hoping that’s just a perception that you will be able to shift.

    It feels like there’s something missing, something fuzzy in the gray are, but I can’t wrap my head around it. :-( When I read it, everything sounds spot on.

    One bit of word-smithing. In the line “Assess the organization’s ability to maintain core systems operational”, the end sounds awkward: “to maintain core systems operational”

    Maybe change to “Assess the organization’s ability to maintain core systems” or “Assess the organization’s ability to keep core systems operational.”


    Livia said,

    November 19, 2008 @ 2:31 pm

    Thanks Austin. I love that you and Crystal pointed to the more/less tech possible slant to this position because that’s precisely where I’m trying to strike the balance.

    I think long-term it should slant less towards technology and more as tools for processes because I would like the IAI operational capability (our staff) to be primarily responsible for tech ops. So, long-term I think this role should go down that path.

    Right now, I think it needs to be closer to the tech side of the spectrum because a) we are not staffed that way b) current technology used in the systems we have is somewhat funky (it’s not broken, but it’s not a well oiled platform we can build on either).

    So that’s it. Ha, I think I finally articulated what I wanted. Awesome, you guys rock. This is exactly what I was hoping to get out of posting this draft.

    More thoughts very welcome!!!!


    Jared M. Spool said,

    December 25, 2008 @ 12:58 am

    Sorry I’ve taken so long to review this. It’s been on my list for weeks but I’ve gotten tied up with other stuff.

    This looks awesome. I think you’re on the right track.

    In essence, you’re trying to create a great experience for the IAI members, primarily by focusing on the technology and infrastructure. I’m wondering if you can benefit by some of the work we’ve been doing lately. We’ve found the organizations that do best at creating great experiences do so by focusing on three areas: Vision, Feedback, and Culture.

    I think those three things can be helpful here too:

    1) Think about creating an experience vision: “What will it be like in 5 years to be a member of IAI?”

    2) Think about how you’re going to get feedback: “How will you spend time every few weeks watching people interact with your infrastructure?”

    3) Think about the culture of your part of the organization: “How will you ensure that you’re celebrating the design mistakes that will be inevitable as you take risks and experiment?”

    Just a thought…



    Livia said,

    December 25, 2008 @ 12:49 pm

    Thank you for taking the time. You rock. I was missing a framework to organize my thoughts around what needed to be done. This is will help a LOT.

    Happy holidays ((hugs))

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