Being an Architect

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crossroads

It has been some time since I felt inspired enough to put fingers to keyboard and create a new post. That changed when a friend of mine, recently released his Architects Manifesto in which he summarises his 10 points for delivering good Architecture.

Architect Manifesto:

  1. Provide true value-add to clients. Just adding value is no longer enough
  2. Commit yourself to being an architect and technologist, rather than acting like a ‘techie’
  3. Solve client business challenges instead of simply fixing technical problems
  4. Architect compelling and cost effective solutions that close business
  5. .Ensure client satisfaction instead of focusing on increasing customer satisfaction scores
  6. Don’t just build solutions with cool technologies; focus on building profitable solutions
  7. Maintain leverage and objectivity when working with vendors and partners.
  8. Create intellectual property and sustainable competitive differentiation. Do it!
  9. Know the competition; understand their value proposition, and solution to win.
  10. Deliver real innovation to clients. Simply being innovative doesn’t cut it anymore.

Whilst I pretty much agree with this call to action as it stands, I thought I’d delve into the points myself and add my own perspective, as there is a little repetition in there. Each one of these I could probably write enough material to fill a book, a wildly disjointed book that is. Instead I’ve put together my high level view on each point.

1 Provide true value-add to clients. Just adding value is no longer enough

We live in a day and age where marketing hype is designed to make us believe that because a product or service exists, we need it.

Value, as we all know, is a relative statement. In order to provide something of actual value you need to know your audience. As cliched as it sounds, what keeps them up at night, goes a long way to understanding what they care about. If you can address those cares you can show true value.

2 Commit yourself to being an architect and technologist, rather than acting like a ‘techie’

An Architect is someone that “works with stakeholders, both leadership and subject matter experts, to build a holistic view of the organization’s strategy, processes, information, and information technology assets.”  and a Technologist is someone that uses technology to solve practical problems. Being an Architect and a Technologist is taking that holistic view and applying technology, and services, to solve business challenges.

Contrast these to a “techie” who is looking at the shiny and the cool features and functions that exist, doing stuff with them because you can, not because you need to.

3 Solve client business challenges instead of simply fixing technical problems

As covered in the last point, in our role as Architects our job is to look at how to fix business challenges (or problems) with technology. But to fix the problem we need to know what the problem is. this too goes back to the first point, know your audience.

This is vastly different than looking at technical issues and working out how to make it better. It doesn’t require you to know much about your audience at all. This is also why this is the easy way out for most.

Most of the time what comes to us is a technical problem, or an abstracted view of what the real issue is. The trick is to ferret out the underlying business challenge that needs to be addressed.

4 Architect compelling and cost effective solutions that close business

Before you cry out “what has closing business got to do with it?” think about what happens when there are no more projects. Very soon there will be a whole lot of people without a job, including you!

If you are pulling together solutions that solve actual business challenges with technology or services that are of actual value, chances are you are 90% of the way there. When you look at delivering the solution in the most cost effective manner you are home and hosed.

Cost effective can me a lot of things, but put simply, how can you resolve the challenge in front of you in the cheapest way. Can the solution be only 85% of what people want? Can you deliver it a different way? Is there a smarter way to cut the financials to make it more viable? You won’t know until you look.

5 Ensure client satisfaction instead of focusing on increasing customer satisfaction scores

When you take in the full picture of what it is you are trying to address, looking at all the stakeholders for the specific business concern, the more you work an understanding your audience, or customer, the more focused and tailored your solutions will be. This in turn will ensure satisfaction.

6 Don’t just build solutions with cool technologies; focus on building profitable solutions

This goes back to point number 2. Often as ex-techies we Architects love us some cool tech. If you have been keeping the previous rules 1 through 5 you should be in good standing. For me where this comes into play is if, when building your solution, you don’t reach back into the standard kit-bag you possess as a business to deliver what is needed.

If you reach for that latest and greatest bit of tech BEFORE you have a look at what you already have access to that is good enough you are potentially going to have something that is more expensive to build and run. That said, sometimes the new thing is cheaper and does a better job.

I look at this with my outsourcing Enterprise Architect hat on and how I know that for the most part customers are looking for cost effective solutions. When you bring in the new and unknown, you introduce risk. Risk equates to money and whilst you can  estimate what this might be, there will be a lot you don’t know. At best you bake in a risk contingency to your cost, worst case you end up getting caught out doing a large amount or remediation work at your own expense. This kills profitability and the financial viability of the solution as a whole.

7 Maintain leverage and objectivity when working with vendors and partners.

The one thing to remember when working with vendors and partners is that they want to maximise their

components of the solution you are pulling together. If you are looking after rules 1 through 6, when you get here you won’t have much in the way of issue as you will have a clear view on what the business concern you are addressing is, what specific bits of technology you need to address it and the value of your solution to the business.

Remember, you are only bringing in a partner or a vendor because there is something specific you need.

8 Create intellectual property and sustainable competitive differentiation. Do it!

This is a hard one. Many times we as Architects reach into the kit and and find that there isn’t the tool or appropriate building block available, so we create something new to fill the gap.

My thoughts on this is that if you work on the other 9 points, and do it well, this will fall out the bottom quite nicely, however, the trick here is to understand what it is you have done. Rarely will you be immediately aware of this yourself and this is where I find having a team to support you comes into play.

Whilst your head is down developing solutions that meet points 1 – 7 and 9 – 10, you won’t necessarily know what gold you have produced. In the peer (critical) review of your work, this will come to light. It will be honed and the nugget you have at the end needs to be understood and passed on. So many times I see Architects re-inventing the wheel where there was work that could have, should have, been  built on top of.

9 Know the competition; understand their value proposition, and solution to win.

You spend months pulling together that perfect solution and writing up the value proposition, only to find you’ve been pipped at the post by someone else.

Now there is nothing wrong with having a component of a solution that is a “me too”  offering, but you need to understand why yours a) has value and b) has unique value to that of the competition.

If you don’t take time out to understand what else is out there, what is in their bag of tricks (solution building blocks) and how they position their unique value, you will be doomed to failure, because I can guarantee you that they are making sure that they know yours.

10 Deliver real innovation to clients. Simply being innovative doesn’t cut it anymore.

To me this is calling something “innovation” when it is not. Building something that is looking for a problem is not really innovation, neither is an incremental improvement on what went before.
Innovation is the development of new values through solutions that meet new needs, inarticulate needs, or old customer and market needs in value adding new ways. Nuff said!

Summary

So my summarised, or condensed version of this would be:
  1. Focus on the underlying business concern that is driving your engagement.
  2. Understand your stakeholders concerns in order to deliver value
  3. Build a cost effective solution that addresses their concern
You do these things, you are going to see some success.