I recently co-delivered the first Soft Skills for Enterprise Architects (SSFEA) course in North America for a private client, and I am happy to report that the course went extremely well with a great bunch of delegates who participated fully in all of the discussions and exercises. So much benefit is derived from full engagement on both sides of the classroom and this occasion had been no exception.
I have however, noticed a reoccurring view that the majority of our clients share ever since we first took SSFEA to the market earlier this year and that is:
An often misunderstood view is that Architecture sits squarely within the realms of IT and although this may sometimes be true – it clearly doesn’t necessarily apply in all cases. Moreover, if Architecture is part of the IT business unit, it does not necessarily equate that its value ends there; indeed, worse still if key stakeholders have a dim view of the IT business unit.
Many Architects find themselves having little influence at the preliminary or vision phases of projects and are often brought into the development at a later stage; usually by the PMO. Unsurprisingly, the point of influence is weakened by this time as many of the key decisions have already been made and the Architect is left to play catch-up and may sometimes be viewed as a barrier by the Project Manager whose prime concern is timely delivery.
So how does the Architect Community raise its profile within the business to a point whereby it can influence projects at the initial stages?
Comparisons can be drawn from the world of Human Resources. For years, HR was viewed as merely an administrative function by many organisations. Often outsourced; some Business Executives would consider HR as a mere service provider with little or no input at a strategic level. To some extent this view has now changed. Sections of the HR Community redefined itself as Business Partners and many organisations now regard the HR Business Partner as a strategist who adds value. Clearly, this change in cultural thinking takes time and is only achieved by the ‘partner’ continually proving their worth.
Without doubt, skills in effective communication, value propositioning and stakeholder management are key to engagement and influence. There needs to be strong leadership throughout all of the Architect Communities with everyone preaching similar value messages. But saying ‘Because, Architecture is good for you’ is obviously not enough. Communities must be able to explain the value of Architecture to business leaders in business terms and, this means that the Architect Communities must develop skills in empathy when it comes to the strategic direction of the organisation. Confusing non-technologists with ‘techno-speak’ will only add to the problem and is likely to result in avoidance and misunderstanding. Most business leaders are concerned with only a small number of factors; usually: Risk, cost, time and return on investment, not necessarily in that order – are usually at the top concerns. Understanding this and building value propositions in ‘business-speak’ around the concerns of key stakeholders will demonstrate strategic awareness and help elevate the profile to some extent. The rest is down to developing other soft skills in influencing and creating quick-win situations which prove value through the design and deployment of good architecture.
For the AtE Team