Module 2: Communicating and Relationships in Architecture
Lessons Covered In This Module
Lesson 1: Listening and Communication
Lesson 2: Making Effective Presentations
Lesson 3: Leadership
Lesson 4: Building Project Momentum
Lesson 5: Managing Relationships
As a solutions architect, you need to gain the cooperation and support of three audiences:
- Business Stakeholders - the people who commission the work -- business leaders who control the strategy and budgets of the organization. It will be important for you to understand their goals, expectations, needs, and motivations. This will help you to influence their decisions about schedules, budgets, and system requirements.
- Architects, Project Managers, Developers - the technical people who accomplish the work -- programmers, analysts, and hardware support staff that have a variety of competencies and ideas about how to make the best possible solution. It will be important for you to gain their cooperation, make sure their ideas are valued, evaluated and implemented, and help them to contribute to the outcome of your projects.
- End Users - of the system -- people performing business functions, who need the information to do their work effectively. As you design the system, it will be important for you to capture the information about their workflow so that you make sure that their process is enhanced, not hampered by the system. As you roll out the system, it will be important for you to train the end users so that they understand what the system can do, and how they can use it most effectively.
Without the cooperation and support of these audiences, your system will not be funded, will not be implemented, and will not be used to its full capacity.
In the end, your role is to help the organization achieve its goals, guard its intellectual property, and create a prosperous future. If your systems are designed and implemented accordingly, they will enhance people’s productivity in the right areas. If you build your skills in the competencies (communication, leadership, and organizational dynamics) described in this module, you will ensure that your systems are supported, well designed, implemented and valued throughout the organization.
Lesson 1: Listening and Communication
- Effective Listening and Observation
- Communicating Persuasively to Different Audiences
Lesson 2: Making Effective Presentations
Lesson 3: Leadership
- Providing Thought Leadership
Lesson 4: Building Project Momentum
- Building Project Momentum, Overcoming Barriers
- Team Building and Management
- Effectively Facilitating Meetings
Lesson 5: Managing Relationships
- Understanding Organizational Structures and Dynamics
- Building Organizational Partnerships and Networks
- Managing Conflict and Negotiation
Lesson 1 introduces listening and communication practices to effectively place context around the soft skills competency of leadership by observing work processes, assisting others to listen to one another, and asking the kinds of questions that engage others. This lesson identifies the importance of the communication competency with regard to listening to others, accurately reading the audience, and organizing your ideas to effectively communicate with others. It relates communication skills to relationships in the organizational dynamics competency by earning the right to speak, and changing presentation style and tone to meet the audience’s needs.
Topic 1: Effective Listening and Observation
Each Audience will have their own traits with regard to communication. Stakeholders may insist their situations and processes are unique to the world. Technical staff and resources may insist they are the best caretakers of the organization’s technology and that nobody understands how complicated it all is. End users may insist nobody in management or technology truly understands how things are done.
What’s important is that you remain open to surprise: Recognize that other people have information or opinions that will be different than your own, but will enhance the value of your outcomes.
Communication begins with developing good listening and observation skills. Listening is like a muscle that grows stronger with sustained effort over time. You can develop strategies that will make you a more effective listener:
- Self Awareness: Recognize your own style or type and how it can affect your listening style, assumptions, and ability to achieve empathy. In his Harvard Business Review article “Managing Oneself”, Peter Drucker told a story about how even the leader of a nation must understand how he or she best acquires information.
- "When [former United States President] Dwight Eisenhower was Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe, he was the darling of the press. His press conferences were famous for their style--General Eisenhower showed total command of whatever question he was asked, and he was able to describe a situation and explain a policy in two or three beautifully polished and elegant sentences. Ten years later, the same journalists who had been his admirers held President Eisenhower in open contempt. He never addressed their questions, they complained, but rambled on endlessly about something else."
- Drucker observed that Eisenhower was most receptive as a reader and not a listener. Eisenhower was able to be effective in the press conferences, because his questions were written down in advance which suited his listening style. He later discovered that he was more challenged with oral questions. Because Eisenhower did not understand this about himself, his later presentations to oral questions from the press were not as effective.
- A solutions architect that learns better by reading than listening may benefit by repeating or re-stating questions, writing down questions on the whiteboard, or by taking notes. Likewise, a solutions architect that learns better by listening may engage their audience in verbal discussion after they receive a written communication.
- Be Aware of Others: Each person has a different personality. This leads to differences in how each of us best understands and communicates. Some teams and organizations use behavioral profiling tools to help team members to be able to better understand and describe one another. Commercially available behavioral profiling tools including the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, DiSC, and Kolbe are popular in industry, and can be useful within your team. At the same time, you can train yourself in both observation and the identification of your audience’s learning styles.
- Ask Open-Ended Questions: Questions like: "Tell me about...?" "What do you do when…?” and "What do you think about...?" get people talking. Instead of asking a close-ended question like “Do you like using this architectural motif here?”, promote discussion by asking open-ended questions like “What do you think about using this architectural motif here?”
- The question, “Why…?” as in “Why do you feel this is so important?” is great for not only your own understanding of an idea, but for the audience to verbally access their stance and passion behind that idea.
- Be cautious when asking a technologist “How…?” While they may become excited and seem receptive, they may go so deep you lose the main track of your conversation and risk wasting their valuable time.
- Make Connections: Coordinate efforts with work partners to get their help in understanding.
- Develop a habit of repeating in your own words what your audience has said and get their clarification.
- Suspend judgment until the audience affirms that you understand their perspective. This is usually the hardest part of the listening process.
- Make Time to Listen: Make certain that your conversations are dialogues, not monologues (which is especially difficult for an architect coming from a technology background). Some architects will deliver their ideas as a series of questions to make sure that they are being interactive. This has the positive effect of allowing the audience to take ownership in the architect’s idea as they will logically come to their own conclusion through their own understanding.
- Set the pace: In meetings, encourage team members to "check in" by repeating in their own words, summarize, and clarify.
- Close the Loop: Follow up your meetings with written notes to the audience to ensure you captured information and knowledge correctly. Without this step, there is no closed loop which can lead one astray.
Exercise for Understanding
- At the end of a meeting with a key work partner, ask if they believe you heard and understood their perspective.
To Learn More
- Pink, Daniel, A Whole New Mind, Chapter 7, Empathy.
- Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman (for the full background), the EQ Difference by Adele B. Lynn (for a lighter, more accessible version).
- for work on Microgestures
- Drucker, Peter (1999), “Managing Oneself,” Harvard Business Review.
- Alessandra, Tony (1998), The Platinum Rule, Warner Books. There is a personality profile available online at http://www.platinumrule.com/
- Learn more about the leading behavioral analysis tools at http://www.myersbriggs.org/, http://www.kolbe.com/, and http://www.discprofile.com/. Myers Briggs is the most popular.
Topic 2: Communicating Persuasively to Different Audiences
Decision-makers want to achieve their goals:
- To make more money
- to grow the organization
- to meet other strategic goals
They want to know if a proposed project will help to achieve those goals, or if the delay of a project will cause their goals to be delayed.
There are always competing demands on the organization’s time, talent, money, physical assets, and other resources. It is the decision makers’ responsibility to sort between these competing demands so that they can ensure that get the essential things done.
Decision-makers need to know how the information systems will help people do their work, how the information will be protected and used, and how much it will cost to do the job.
Information Systems projects are notorious for having unplanned costs, schedule and scope creep, and are seldom the solution that they were touted to be. Any Information Systems professional will encounter skepticism from senior managers/decision-makers when promoting a project or solution.
Few decision-makers are without a reporting relationship. Most have shareholders, boards of directors, or bankers holding them accountable for the outcomes of their decisions. Every solutions architect who takes this into account, every practice leader who can assist the decision-maker to be better at achieving his or her goals will have a great deal of support from the decision-maker. Learn how your projects will affect the decision-maker and make proposals and reports accordingly.
Determine if your project is strategic, operational, or regulatory
Does the project help the organization achieve its strategic goals? Is it required for day to day operations? Is in mandated by regulatory requirements? Regardless, the final goal of any project must be to deliver what it valued by its customers.
Develop a plan for your project and communicate realistic benchmarks
Decision-makers need to know if a project is on track, and if not, what the impact will be and what the contingency plans are. Report the impact of the delays in both financial and schedule format.
Be prepared for alternatives to “no”. Some executives expect leaders to have a plan “B” ready if there is insufficient support for their first proposal.
Learn how the organization evaluates proposals
- Some organizations require the calculation of a return on investment (ROI)
- Some organizations prepare a budget
- Some organizations require benchmarking studies
- Strategic planning is another method for evaluating activities
- Many organizations only invest in fixing what's broken
It is useful to put proposals into the standard format when seeking approval for initiatives that involve significant expenditures.
If the organization’s preferred method is not working, and another method could have an impact, it makes sense to try an alternative method. The key is understanding why the method of evaluating to proposed project makes sense to use.
Test for Understanding
- Keep score How many of your proposals are approved at this time? Keep track of improved performance, and note what you did that was more effective.
To Learn More
- by George T. Friedlob and Franklin J., Jr. Plewa
- by Peter Ferdinand Drucker, John Hammond, Ralph Keeney, and Howard Raiffa
Lesson Wrap Up
A solutions architect invests the time to listen and observe. He or she organizes presentations based on the needs and learning styles of the audience members. Listening and communication are skills that are developed with use. This lesson has described some tools and strategies that can help you to improve these skills more quickly.
Lesson 2 relates to communication skills in the organizational dynamics competency. We’ll look at how to prepare and deliver an effective presentation to small to large groups.
Topic 1: Making Effective Presentations
Many technical presentations are painful “data dumps” where the presenter’s goal seems to be to present as much information as possible in the allotted time. In this age of information, there is usually too much information and too many ideas. An effective communicator understands what information is most important, and makes certain to communicate this information effectively to their audience.
To be an effective communicator as solutions architect, you should:
- Have a thorough understanding of your material, knowledge of your audience and the purpose of their gathering, and knowledge of the setting where the presentation will take place.
- Customize your presentation to the interests of the group. If it is a non-technical audience, translate technical terms into business-specific (or everyday) language. Even with a technical audience, avoid jargon and arcane technical terms because not everyone has the same level of understanding of industry terms.
- Practice your presentation in front of a mirror ahead of time. Record your presentation to listen for lengthy pauses, repetitive words and phrases, uhs and ums. Avoid reading your presentation.
- Arrive early. If possible, personally greet the members of your audience so that you have a chance to hear what they are interested in learning about your project. Make sure that you address those points in your speech.
- Practice using any microphones and audiovisual equipment before your presentation. An effective presenter is proactive, making certain that the logistics are in place. Presentations can go off track early because there are no dry erase markers or erasers, or the speaker needs a microphone.
When writing your presentation, create a compelling one-sentence introduction. Tell your audience the content of your speech in no more than three points. Go through each point and explain its link to your audience. Illustrate your points with personal stories (experiences that you have had or experiences that members of the audience have had or might have had). For some audiences (e.g., stakeholders), it is more important to emphasize the solution’s benefits than to describe how you will get the project done. Connect the benefits and results to things that will help members of the audience in their work. Add emotional connections wherever you can. Close by reminding your audience of your main three points and summarizing.
Consider the following guidelines when preparing and presenting your materials and ideas:
- Take note of your audience: Senior management and decision-makers often expect a different level of detail, a different set of data, and a different presentation style than technical team members and end users. Technical team members will want more detail and will tolerate more jargon. Senior managers may have little sophistication regarding your profession, but they understand Return on Investment, work schedules, and the strategic plan of the organization. Tap into these expectations. Plan accordingly.
- Determine which communication materials and style to use: Does your presentation have an appropriate mix of text, charts, and pictures for your audience’s learning styles?
· PowerPoints and video presentations – formal, one-way communications to present information that is already researched and decided or to provoke thoughts but do not generally result in good brain-storming sessions.
· Projection of websites in the room or demonstrations of software have their place. If you are using this for training, be aware that the more interactive you can make these presentations, the more your audience will retain of the information.
· Flip charts and white boards – get you standing and in charge of the meeting, are highly interactive, and allow for collaboration.
· Printed materials – allow for sit-down, interaction, and note-taking. While old-fashioned, these can be highly effective. Many presenters only make printed materials available after the presentation, to keep the audience more focused.
· Webmeetings, conference calls, and other e-meetings – useful when time and travel are prohibitive. The missing element is the ability to see your audience. Some presenters find it much more helpful to have the body-language as a rapid feed-back loop to determine if the audience is connecting with the message.
· Body Language Matters. Don’t stand in front of the projected image or what you’re writing on a white board or flip chart. A remote mouse can make a presentation flow more smoothly.
· Tell Stories – effective story telling can improve your audience’s comprehension of the material. If you’re presenting an architectural best practice, share with your audience how you used the best practice to the benefit of a project, or failed to follow the best practice, to the project’s detriment. Relevant case studies are good, but personal experiences are the most powerful.
- Think about what you want your audience to take away from the presentation: Clear and focused thinking about what you want them to understand will translate into a clear and focused presentation.
- “What’s In It For Me?” Before you make your presentation, take the time to understand what benefits the audience members want from attending. If you cannot figure this out on your own, consider asking in advance.
- Provide an executive summary and bullet points: Provide information in executive summary and bullet format. Do this in presentations, in written documentation, and in verbal encounters. More focused and brief communications will be well received—you may do well to assume that only the first sentence of your e-mail will be read, so put the most important information there! Be prepared to show more detail if requested.
- Determine the Outcome you want: Presentations are usually designed either to inform (or persuade) an audience, or to build (versus accumulate) skills in a specific area. Understand the purpose of your presentation.
· Informing Senior Managers – usually involves providing the information needed to help them make the best decisions about resource allocation. Here, you might report the team’s challenges and successes. A solutions architect may inspire the leadership team to think differently the solution alignment with the organization.
· Informing Technical Team Members – update them on the purpose, schedules, desired outcomes, methods, coordinate their efforts, change directions, update on progress... etc.
· Informing Users – engage at the appropriate level of detail and take care to introduce them to new jargon. Make sure they have a chance to get into the driver's seat as quickly as possible when training.
- Make your presentation as interactive as possible: Especially with smaller audiences, a great presentation can be driven by asking a series of questions. For many adult learners, the opportunity to explain is a powerful way to learn. If the audience members don’t know each other and the format (number of people, time) allows, consider starting by asking the audience members to introduce themselves and say what they hope to get out of the presentation. But you also need to not allow audience members to derail your presentation, especially in front of larger groups. You should take tangential questions off line and address them during a break or at the end of your presentation.
- You Don’t Need to Know Everything! Don’t be afraid of admitting what you don’t know. But commit to finding out the answer, and responding to the person in a timely manner after the presentation.
- Have fun -- based on the culture: High energy, positive, focused presentations get people’s attention. If you are having fun with the topic, you will engage people most effectively. Be passionate: If you don’t care about your subject matter, your audience probably won’t either.
- Ask for immediate feedback: To make your presentations better over time, understand what is working well, and what areas you need to improve. If there are evaluations completed at the end of the presentation, ask to see them! Take the time to read through them or ask a trusted person in the audience what worked and what didn’t.
Exercise for Understanding
- When did you hear a speech that really moved you? What do you recall about the speaker, the subject, and the setting? How can you relate your speech to that speech.
- Have others been able to persuade your target audience? Note the methods they use and try some of those methods for yourself.
To Learn More
- How to win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie. Consider taking the Dale Carnegie course in Human Relations or Sales.
- McKee, Robert (2003), “Storytelling that Moves People,” Harvard Business Review. June 2003.
- Join Toastmasters to learn persuasive speech techniques. http://www.toastmasters.org/
- 10 Days to More Confident Public
by the Princeton Language Institute, author Lenny Laskowski.
- Public Speaking for Success by Dale Carnegie
- Read Edward Tufte’s work on effectively displaying quantitative information. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, 2nd edition, Stephen Few built on Tufte’s work to provide concrete suggestions on how best to provide charts and tables in Show Me the Numbers: Designing Tables and Graphs to Enlighten.
Lesson 3 focuses on effective communication skills with regard to leadership. This lesson describe how a leader makes those being lead more successful, achieve the appropriate balance between encouragement and constructive feedback, You need to also develop a relationship that encourages those you lead to take responsibility for their process and outcomes, and to prioritize learning opportunities. It also touches on the competency of strategy by defining "thought leadership" - how it applies to your development work and how to seek out thought leaders in any subject area to gain leading edge information; and organizational dynamics by differentiating between managing and leading.
Topic 1: Leadership
Modern leaders of knowledge workers have moved away from “command and control” leadership approaches to more autonomous models, where the decisions are made closest to the work. A solutions architect should make it his or her job to help team members succeed in implementing the project architecture. At the same time, the solutions architect needs to hold team members accountable for their decisions.
Consider the following guidance in leadership vs. management practices:
- Leaders and Managers: Leadership is managing yourself and leading others. Managers do and leaders guide, even when they don't have power. Leadership is about getting all parties moving in the same direction; management is about using each person’s skills most effectively. For this reason, leadership is sometimes compared to a game of checkers, and management to a game of chess.
- Leadership Models: Consider the following leadership models:
- Situational Leadership – advocates adaptive leadership based on the situation at hand. At different times, a leader may need to focus on directing, coaching, delegating, or supporting. This will depend in part on the development level (competence and the commitment) of the follower (person being lead). The follower could be (1) low competence, high commitment; (2) some competence, low commitment; (3) high competence, variable commitment, or (4) high competence, high commitment. Situational leadership is about effectively matching the leadership style to the development level.
- Servant Leadership – This leadership approach is one of stewardship. The leader’s job is to support and make successful his or her subordinates. A leader’s job is to remove obstacles that get in the way of those they lead. Leaders lead by setting the example of continuous learning and demonstrating how their success is defined by the success of other people. For example, under the Toyota Production System, line managers at automotive plants regard it as their first job to help their reports to learn how to perform their work better. The leader still holds people accountable for achieving results.
- Thought Leadership – this leadership approach is one of education. The leader may be educating stakeholders on the viability of a technological solution, or they may be introducing developers to a new technological pattern for the solution. Either way, thought leadership must reflect communicating at the appropriate audience level, never talking “above” or “below” the audience.
- The Importance of the Mission Must Prevail: A solutions architect must not advocate or tolerate “Technology for technology’s sake.” Technical leadership means getting all team members to align their actions with the needs of the project.
Test for Understanding
- What is the difference between management and leadership? Do you think it is possible to be a good leader without being a good manager? Can you be a good manager without being a good leader?
- Who do you consider great leaders? Consider reading biographies of people that you consider great leaders (such as Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and Mahatma Gandhi).
- Review your most recent project or meeting. Did people commit to doing the job, did they follow through, did they understand what to do and how to do it? What did you do to help or hinder them in that process?
To Learn More
- Execution, Larry Bossidy
- Wooden, John, Wooden on Leadership
- Collins, James, Good to Great. See also Collin’s January 2001 article in Harvard Business Review, “Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve” for his story of former Kimberly-Clark CEO Darwin E. Smith’s leadership style.
- Daniels, Aubrey, Bringing out the best in people
- Buckingham, Marcus, "," Harvard Business Review, March 2005.
- Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge, Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus.
- Leading Change, John P. Kotter
- Lincoln on Leadership by Donald T. Phillips
- Management of Organization Behavior by Hersey, Blanchard and Johnson
- Social Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
Topic 2: Providing Thought leadership
- Identify Thought Leaders in Your Field of Expertise: Review leading thinking and integrate that thinking into your project for leading-edge results. Read across architectural disciplines--consider the work of thought leaders not only within your technology stack but across other technology stacks as well. Windows NT’s design benefited greatly from David Cutler’s previous design work on Digital Equipment Corp.’s VMS operating system.
- Identify Thought Leaders in Other Fields: By reading the work of thought leaders in areas like innovation and operational excellence, you may learn ideas that help you to deliver solutions in new ways.
- Incorporating Ideas: Incorporate statements from thought leaders in your field into your communications and show how your work connects to those leading thinkers. This provides both perspective and credibility for your work.
- Why Share Your Ideas? With hard work and experience, a solutions architect gains deep smarts in his or her field. Consider sharing out what you’ve learned, both within your organization, and across organizational boundaries. Sharing ideas can benefit both you and your organization—the body of knowledge on Open Innovation indicates that people and organizations that share information across organizational boundaries learn how to get better faster, to their competitive advantage. When sharing ideas with others, it is important to understand and respect the confidentiality and intellectual property of your organization.
- Sharing Ideas Face to Face: A solutions architect can provide thought leadership both within his or her organization or across organizational boundaries. This can be as informal as a “lunch and learn session,” or delivering a presentation at a user group or industry gathering. A senior solutions architect identifies and actively participates with his or her peers in the most relevant communities of practice.
- Virtually Sharing Ideas: With current web technology such as blogs, wikis, and forums, it is easier than ever to share ideas. Often, the most effective way to share information is by finding the right combination of face-to-face and virtual collaboration.
Test for Understanding
- Who are the thought leaders in your company? In your field of work? How is their thinking influencing your work today?
To Learn More
- Hagel, John, and Brown, John Seely (2006), Creation Nets: Getting the Most from Open Innovation, McKinsey Quarterly. There is also a freely downloadable interview with John Seely Brown at http://www.itconversations.com/shows/detail610.html.
- Chesbrough, Henry (2003), Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology, Harvard Business School Press.
- The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell
- Handy, Charles (1998), The Age of Unreason, Harvard Business School Press.
Topic 3: Mentoring
Leaders of every type gain the most influence and do the most good for their organization if they help individuals to develop their skills and grow their careers. This involves developing both technical and social/organization skills. Ultimately, the pace and outcomes are most affected by the motivation of the mentee (the person being mentored). But the commitment and the support of the mentor can make a big difference.
- Earn Trust and Respect: The mentee must believe that the mentor will work to his or her benefit, and keep appropriate information confidential. The mentee also believes that the mentor has the relevant technical expertise to help the mentee to achieve his or her goals.
- Build a learning plan: Work with the mentee to identify the skills required for the successful completion of the current or next project. The mentor can also provide guidance on helping the mentee to achieve career goals. Then do a gap analysis between the mentee’s current skill set, and the skill set needed (for project completion or career success). Work together to prepare a plan for filling the gap.
- Check in: Negotiate an accountability schedule. Be specific in both positive and negative feedback. The most effective feedback is positive, immediate, and certain. Praise the mentee’s progress toward goals, effort, and effective learning strategies.
- Bring New Ideas: Bring new reading material, learning experiences, and opportunities for the mentee to explore.
- Learn from your mentee. Most mentoring relationships are one-way, from teacher to student. However, the dynamic and more fulfilling relationship for both mentor and mentee involves two-way learning. If you are open to this possibility, your mentee will grow more rapidly and enjoy the relationship.
- Learn from Other Mentors: Identify the best mentor in your region. Ask this person to share stories with you about their most challenging and most satisfying mentoring relationships. Solutions architects can learn about effective mentoring by studying the work of sports coaches and music teachers.
Solutions architecture is a “craft,” with aspects of a guild. Architecture has mentoring as a cornerstone. For a practicing architect, mentoring is essential to receive and provide. Once cannot practice what one cannot give.
To Learn More
- Trautman, Steve (2007), Teach what you know: a practical leader’s guide to knowledge transfer using peer mentoring, Prentice Hall.
- Loer, Jim, and Schwartz, Tony (2003), The Power of Full Engagement, Free Press.
- Walter C. Wright and Max DePree (2005), Mentoring: The Promise of Relational Leadership, Authentic Media.
- Goleman, Daniel (1996), Emotional Intelligence, Bloomsbury Publishing PLC.
- Whitworth, Laura, Kimsey-House, Karen, and Sandahl, Phillip (2007), Co-Active Coaching, 2nd Edition: New Skills for Coaching People Toward Success in Work and, Life, Davies-Black Publishing.
- Dweck, Carol (2006), Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Random House. Listen to the freely downloadable interview with Dr. Dweck at http://www.itconversations.com/shows/detail1011.html.
- Daniels, Aubrey (2000), Bringing Out the Best in People: How to Apply the Astonishing Power of Positive Reinforcement, McGraw Hill. The author applies B.F. Skinner’s work in behavioral analysis to develop a PIC/NIC model, where most effective feedback is positive, immediate, and certain (versus negative, future, and uncertain).
Lesson Wrap Up
Leaders are committed to making the people around them more successful. A solutions architect that is committed to the success of team members will help attract and retain the best possible people as team members. A solutions architect is also committed to providing thought leadership, both to his or her team, and to the larger software development community. These practices will in turn make the Solutions Architect’s job both more enjoyable and more successful.
Lesson 4 focuses on the best practices to effectively master skills in the competency of process and tactics by keeping projects on time and on budget as projects move toward completion. The communications competency is effected by momentum through effectively meeting facilitation. The leadership competency is influenced by momentum by fostering effective teamwork and keeping team members motivated and on track. Finally, the organizational dynamics competency is effected by communicating with different personality/learning types and overcoming barriers.
Topic 1: Building Project Momentum, Overcoming Barriers
Identify potential barriers
Inertia and surprises are the bane of any business project. The most likely bottlenecks and barriers are identified in advance, then a plan for overcoming them can become part of the original project plan.
As the project or program is being developed, include discussion or thought of all of the things that could interfere with the smooth completion or implementation of the project. Identify every decision-point and anticipate that there will be a refusal to proceed.
Rank the likelihood of the events that could derail or delay the project. For the most likely and/or most serious events that might occur, include a plan for overcoming these barriers. Identify milestones for the project. Include completion of the barrier-crashing portions of the project in the milestone planning. Microsoft Solutions Framework and other project management methodologies provide templates to help a Solutions Architect rank risks.
Solutions architects are often more adept at identifying technical risks than cultural risks. Some barriers involve inertia of resistant groups. When documenting such barriers, describe them in positive terms to avoid creating animosity with the already reluctant groups or individuals.
One too-common barrier is lack of exploration and research. This entails shooting-from–the-hip, which often happens when the architect loses focus and gets too involved in short-term thinking and showing instant results. Real solutions need real resolutions, which require that items are thought through. When this does not happen, project momentum halts.
Structure Project Deliverables to Build Momentum
Most organizations lack the political will to wait years or even months to see project results. Consider how you might structure your project deliverables to be able to deliver a series of achievable, visible, quick wins. For example, a project with more deliverables (iterations) may be able to deliver value earlier. Also, consider how to front load those features that visibly demonstrate value.
Learn and Educate
Foster a learning culture. Reinforce the need for appropriate levels of research and development.
Measure and celebrate
Once there is a clear set of goals and schedules, it makes sense to set achievable milestones. Keep the team members who are involved in the project informed about the progress of the project. Work with them when they encounter unanticipated barriers.
Celebrate achievements. Most people respond well to celebration in small increments as well as they do large celebrations. Sometimes simple recognition can be as motivating as a monetary reward.
The book Getting to Yes provides some specific advice on how to negotiate win-win solutions. Ideally, you share the same organizational goals, but have differing views on the best way to achieve those goals.
In some cases, opposition can be overcome by providing the other person with the ability to have a say in the matter under discussion. Some specific techniques for negotiating a way forward include:
- Focus on the merits of proceeding.
- Practice “Negotiation Jiujitsu.” Don’t defend – invite criticism. Don’t attack their position. Do look behind their position and act as if every position is a legitimate one. Assume that they share the goal of improving the benefits to the organization. Use questions instead of statements to explore their positions.
Test for Understanding
- Think about successful projects that you have worked on in the past. What made them successful? What did the leader do to keep the project on track? What might have stopped progress but didn't?
- Identify the pitfalls in projects that have struggled. What might have been done differently to make the project more successful?
To Learn More
- Fisher, Roger, Patton, Bruce, and Ury, William (1992), Getting to Yes, Hougton Mifflin. Getting to Yes is summarized at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Getting_to_YES.
- Goldratt, Eliyahu M. (1999), Theory of Constraints, North River Press.
- Barbara Streibel, Barbara; Joiner, Brian; and Scholtes, Peter (2003), The TEAM Handbook, Joiner/Oriel, Inc.
- Robert K. Greenleaf, Vaill, Peter B, and Spears, Larry C. (1998), The Power of Servant Leadership, Berrett-Koehler.
Topic 2: Team Building and Management
Teamwork takes focus. As a leader, a solutions architect guides a team into new thoughts and ideas, however, this must be done at a peer level to foster an environment of mutual understanding, participation, and respect.
In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni states that successful teams must:
Trust requires a common understanding of what any one team member can expect from the others. The team leader should help the members identify and agree to a code of conduct, roles and responsibilities, and handoff patterns.
Trust usually involves assumptions about how other people should behave. Such assumptions are almost always different from one individual to another. Leaders can help their team members articulate assumptions when things go wrong and to negotiate resolution to the misunderstandings.
Lencioni observes that “teams that trust one another are not afraid to engage in passionate, unfiltered debate around issues and decisions that are key to the organization’s success.” Productive conflict makes teams more effective.
The team leader must either inspire or negotiate the commitment of the team members to subordinate their individual goals to the goals of the team – if only for the duration of the project at hand.
High performing teams are not those lacking stress. In fact, people are motivated by a certain amount of stress. An effective team leader will provide enough stimulation to keep people engaged without going “over the top” and stressing to the point of freezing.
Accountability that is enthusiastic and relevant to the project goals is generally the most productive.
Different individuals and groups have different capacities for stress. The leader must gauge this capacity in the given group and act accordingly. Experimentation and ‘reading” the response is the only way to measure any group. Too much stimulation will cause people to tire and even freeze. Too little produces a lethargic response.
Peer accountability among team members is a powerful motivator that leads to improved results.
See also Module 2, Lesson 1, Topic 1: “Effective Listening and Communication.”
Focus on Results
The team that a Solutions Architect leads usually involves some independent and technically qualified members. They expect a certain amount of clarity and require opportunities to do a certain amount of creative problem-solving. The team leader must focus on the results that this team will achieve. Measuring and celebrating milestones that are realistic but challenging is an important way to keep the results in focus.
Great teams focus on results, embrace continuous improvement, and create closed-loop systems that help them to achieve excellence.
To Learn More
- Lencioni, Patrick, "Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable".
- Fish! A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results by Stephen C. Lundin, Harry Paul, and John Christensen
- The TEAM Handbook, Peter R Scholten
- Sacred Hoops by Phil Jackson
- Networking Smart, Wayne Baker
Topic 3: Effectively facilitating meetings
A solutions architect knows that effective meetings are critical to successful implementations. Meetings are too important to be boring or irrelevant.
Establish daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual meeting rhythms and create the specific agendas that make them effective.
Meeting Types and Rhythm
In his book Death by Meeting, Patrick Lencioni recommends four types of meetings: Daily Check-in, Weekly Tactical, Monthly Strategic, Quarterly Off-site review. In Extreme Programming, each day might start with a five minute stand-up meeting where participants focus on the obstacles to their day’s work.
In Mastering The Rockefeller Habits, Verne Harnish stresses the importance of maintaining a meeting rhythm. It is important that meetings are both regular and relevant.
- Plan in advance the goals for the meeting. Is the purpose of the meeting to inform or persuade? What should the participants learn? What should the participants bring to the meeting? What decisions should be made and how should they be made? Will there be a voting process (if the group is large, how will they vote?) Will there be open discussion? What assignments will be delegated?
- Publish an agenda. This gives introverts an opportunity to think about the topics in advance. This is critical for people who need to work out their thoughts before speaking in front of others. Allow participants to give input before the meeting.
Meeting Wrap-Up and Follow-up
- Wrap up every meeting with a list of Next Actions. For each action, assign a champion and due date. Next Actions are key to a functioning team. Best practices for creating Next Actions are described in David Allen’s Getting Things Done.
- Publish Meeting Minutes. Minutes are required for some formal meetings. Boards of directors, legally required meetings of some types are important to publish minutes afterwards. Follow-up notes are useful when there are follow-up requirements and next action assignments.
Consider involving a meeting facilitator. A facilitator maintains communication and balances the input of all players. An effective facilitator focuses on making certain that the best ideas are heard—the over-talkers are kept under control and the non-talkers are drawn into participation. Facilitators often have particularly strong empathy skills. Here are some helpful facilitation techniques:
- When brainstorming, tell the group to suspend all expressions of judgment while the ideas or questions are going up on the board.
- Controlled brainstorming -- Allow participants to spend some time writing their ideas or questions on slips of paper. Ten minutes is appropriate for groups with highly introverted members. Then either allow them to take turns reading from their own papers, or pass them around to read from others’ papers. The facilitator or a scribe writes the ideas or questions on the board.
- Nominal voting technique. Take the brainstorming results and give each participant at least ten stickers. Allow them to place their stickers as (votes) at the places where they think there is the most importance. Let them place multiple stickers at any one item. When the votes are tallied, there can be discussion around the importance and impact of the high vote-getting ideas.
- As a best practice, the facilitator should resist pushing his or her own agenda or ideas during the meeting. Ideally, the facilitator is trusted by all parties.
- Another best practice is that an unbiased note-taker captures the meeting content. This allows the architect to focus on content and audience.
Technology as a Meeting Enabler and Accelerator
Use collaborative software such as Microsoft SharePoint to make your meetings more effective. Meeting agendas can be developed in advance using a conceptual collaboration tool such as a wiki. Meeting minutes, presentations, and support material can be published to a document share. Progress against follow-up items can be tracked on-line. Forum software can enable discussions to continue between physical meetings. A Solutions Architect that demonstrates how to use collaboration software as an enabling technology for running effective technical meetings may influence how all of the organization’s meetings are run going forward.
Test for Understanding
- Give one example each of an effective and an ineffective team meeting that you have participated in? What were the key characteristics of each meeting?
- How would you apply the meeting management techniques discussed here in your next architectural walkthrough?
To Learn More
- Lencioni, Patrick (2004), Death by Meeting, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
- Harnish, Verne (2002), Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, Select Books.
- Allen, David (2001), Getting Things Done, Penguin Books.
- Beck, Kent and Andres, Cynthia (2004), Extreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change (2nd Edition), Addison-Wesley Professional.
Lesson Wrap Up
A Solutions Architect that understands how to build project momentum, identify and overcome obstacles, build teams, and hold effective meetings will be able to help deliver solutions that are more likely to be adopted by the organization. Using the tools and techniques described in this lesson, and investing the necessary time in meetings and the addressing of cultural issues, the Solutions Architect is also likely to discover that he or she is in a better position to deliver solutions more quickly, at lower cost, and with higher organizational value.
Lesson 5 focuses on the skills related to the competency of organizational dynamics by accurately identifying the structure, partnerships, and the dynamics of the organization working with these dynamics to improve overall information structure and build useful alliances, addressing social influences to build greater team productivity, and providing business Stakeholders with appropriate information to make informed decisions. It also focuses on the competency of communications by using different modes of conflict resolution as appropriate to resolve and gain support for an issue to benefit the project or program instead of shutting it down and skills to depersonalize and sort out issues.
Topic 1: Understanding Organizational Structure and Dynamics
- Learn from the Organization Chart to identify the formal reporting relationships, and how the formal decisions work.
- Organizational Dynamics Learn the differences between the formal power structure and the people who have influence without formal power. Organizational dynamics are about where the energy is, who gets what they want, and determine how things will get done (or not get done). Effective Solutions Architects determine what those dynamics are, and work to get the buy-in and bandwidth from the people who can best contribute to the success of their solutions.
A Functional Organization Chart
A Divisional Organization Chart
What does the Organization Chart mean?
An organization designed to work from a functional perspective will usually have centralized decision-making procedures and shared resources. Divisional structures may be decentralized in decision-making and its approach to resources. Some decentralized divisionally based organizations function as independent business units with freestanding systems (including their IT/IS systems). Others share some resources such as IT/IS and Human Resources, taking advantage of buying power and knowledge leadership of these specialized professions.
The structure of the organization will affect the Solutions Architect in the following ways:
- Resource allocation is affected by the organizational system
- Functionally aligned organizations prioritize according to the overall goals and throughputs of the organization. Such organizations will prioritize projects that get their product or service through the system most effectively – and systems that allow the organization to generate income effectively.
- Divisional organizations tend to favor the most valued division. In many organizations, being regarded as more profitable and/or more aligned with long term strategic goals leads to increased funding and attention.
- In many organizations, the organizational chart does not seem to fit a simple divisional or functional structure. There may be functions or divisions that are dissimilar to the rest of the organization in a part of the chart that does not follow simple relationships. This is an indicator that there may be decision-making or resource-allocations which are not strictly linear through the chart.
- Formal Communications and decisions are affected by the organizational structure.
- The formal structure must be used when information, support, the involvement of cross-functional personnel is needed for the progress of a project or program.
- The structure will help to identify where to go for project team information.
- There is always an informal power structure in every organization. A founder’s child or an executive assistant may wield greater influence that their place on the organization chart would indicate.
The structure of the organization, the availability and prominence of the organizational chart, may tell you important information about the values of that group. Many groups value hierarchy and require that formal requisitions and proposals are submitted. Others are far more casual or decentralized. It is important to learn this about the organization before a change is initiated. This is key to developing a successful implementation.
As a leader enters the organization, he or she can gain important information about what will get cooperation and support. Look for indicators of the organizational values and customs in the following areas:
- Missing or unusual structures in the organizational chart
- Structures of procedures and approvals – obvious or not – formal and structured or non-existent
- Workplace that is highly ordered or chaotic
- Frequency and structure of meetings – regular or not – agenda driven or ad hoc
- Note who gets invited to the meetings
- How partners, vendors, and outsourcers are treated
Informal Organization Structure
In every organization, there are informal power structures. Some groups or individuals have more influence, get more resources, more opportunities, and more forgiveness than would be indicated by their place in the organization. This phenomenon is a function of human institutions, and it is helpful to know that this is the case. Recognizing who these groups or individuals might be is an important aspect of the success of any implementation.
Mentally mapping the informal organization chart can help to identify what groups or individuals might be helpful or disruptive in making progress with the implementation and support of the IS systems.
One way to help understand an organization’s informal structure is to consider three separate, simultaneous organization charts:
- formal (official HR) depicting leadership
- informal (who spends time with whom outside of working hours etc.) depicting influence; and
- reciprocal (who get things done, service focused and compensates for the system) depicting expedition and flow.
Powerful people/groups are the ones who get what they want. The organizational values will determine who will have power, how they will get it or lose it, and how much they will have relative to others.
As the professional learns what the informal structure of the organization is, they will observe information conduits and power structures throughout the group.
There are several options for tapping into the informal and formal power systems
- Try to gain power
- Try to change the power system
- Tap into the existing power system
The third option is least likely to create opposition and takes the least amount of energy. It merely means that the professional wins the support and cooperation of those with influence and information to help get things done. This means first identifying who the influential people are, then earning their respect and trust.
Business Models and Organizational Dynamics
Most organizations focus on one of the following three business models: (1) customer intimacy, (2) operational excellence, or (3) product leadership. This in turn drives how departments, positions, and individuals are valued by the organization. For example, an organization based on product leadership will typically place greater value on the engineering function than on marketing or sales. A Solutions Architect that understands the organization’s business model and resulting organizational dynamics is able to make design decisions that align better with the organization’s goals.
Test for Understanding
- Benchmark Find a colleague in a non-competitor organization with a similar size and process. Compare organization charts -- note similarities and differences. How do those differences affect the IS system design and project implementation? How do those differences affect decision-making?
- Get a coach Find a person with obvious success at working the dynamics of an organization and get their guidance.
To Learn More
- Galbraith, Jay R. (2001), Designing Organizations: An Executive Guide to Strategy, Structure, and Process Revised, Jossey-Bass.
- Mark A. Huselid, Richard W. Beatty, Brian E. Becker (2005), "A Players" or A Positions? The Strategic Logic of Workforce Management”, Harvard Business Review, December 2005.
Topic 2: Building Organizational Contacts and Networks
A Solutions Architect that actively participates in network of other people, and actively invests time in making other people in this network more successful, will often find that the benefits accrued justify the time invested.
In his book Never Eat Lunch Alone, Keith Ferrazzi argues that social capital not like a pie, where it is consumed, but like a muscle, that grows larger with use.
Social Capital is the affinity gained between people or groups. It motivates people to support, understand, and benefit the interests of others. It is best accumulated by sincere and mutually agreeable contacts. In other words, a person seeking social capital, rather than making contact out of sincere appreciation of others, will fail to achieve the desired results. The insincere person trying to build social capital will be seen as a manipulator.
Positive connections and supportive efforts build social compatibility throughout the organization. It "greases the wheels" for getting things done in every organization. Have fun with people. Welcome their presence. Do and say things that recognize their efforts, that respect their ideas, and that show that they are valued and validated. This is not an easy thing for people drawn to technical fields who typically prefer to work with things and ideas. But this skill can be advanced with practice and intention. Learn to listen, read facial expressions, and relax. Appreciate others who are different than you.
- Within Your Organization. Some potential partnerships fit into the structure of the organization. Maintenance usually fits well with Operations in a Manufacturing organization. Information Technology areas may connect logically in an organization with Operations or Accounting. Other potential partnerships make logical sense because there are common interests or similarities in the skill set of the people in those groups. Take note of the areas where there is no organization chart line, but there are affinities. Some potential partnerships take work to create, but could benefit a career or project. Identify one or two potential partners with whom there is no natural affinity. Find out what they do and how they do it. Find ways to learn from them. These people have a different understanding of the organization, and can be of great help. The relationship will precede the supportive activity, and as a result, this effort will be speculative at first.
- Across Your Supply Chain. Look to your customers and suppliers. Microsoft, Motorola, and Toyota are examples of organizations that invest in the success of their suppliers.
- Across your competitors. Many different industries from automotive to community colleges share aggregated data about performance, quality, revenue, and other metrics. In many industries, competitors that share selected information have found that this enabled to get better faster, to the benefit of all parties.
Test for Understanding
- Map the existing partnerships that have been supportive. Identify others that could be useful and begin to foster relationships within those groups. Get and act on the feedback on your existing partners.
To Learn More
- Senge, Peter, The Fifth Discipline.
- Ferrazzi, Keith (2005), Never Eat Alone, Doubleday.
- Chesbrough, Henry W, “The Era of Open Innovation,” MIT Sloan Management Review 44, no. 3 (Spring 2003): 35-41.
Topic 3: Managing Conflict and Negotiation
Conflict is only a bad thing when it is badly done.
According to “Getting to Yes” by Fisher and Ury, it is possible to negotiate a satisfactory outcome to most conflicts even when some of the parties are unwilling to “play fair”.
Conflicts that include personality issues, entrenched positions, create “either/or” stances instead of nuanced options, or fail to use objective criteria are generally unsatisfactory in their outcomes. Such conflicts create barriers to success of the organization. They cause projects to be mired in controversy, and generally create wasted time, wasted resources, and stalled careers.
Treat a conflict as an opportunity to gain information
There are two types of conflict: the personal conflict (or group-to-group), and the conflict of positions. Either way, a professional who observes the conflict as an opportunity to gain information can achieve far more than the person who avoids conflicts.
Take a position of “Help me understand” to all sides of the conflict. The parties will explain their positions or concerns most freely when they believe that they will be heard.
Use a structure to sort out the issues
List of Advantages
List of Advantages
List of Disadvantages
List of Disadvantages
In “Polarity Management” by Barry Johnson, the process of sorting out a conflict is described. This process of describing each issue, sorting out the advantages and the disadvantages of the issues, and then having an open discussion can depersonalize the conflict and help people create a mutually agreeable solution.
When facilitating a Polarity conversation, suggest that the people who advocate for Position A help to build the “Advantages” list for the Position B part of the chart, and vice versa. The goal is to help both sides understand the issues of the other side.
It is best to remain neutral when taking the facilitator’s role.
Several things may happen in a Polarity conversation.
- One side or the other may decline to participate or may subvert the process. This is a good sign that there is something personal involved in the conflict. In this case, get agreement to put that aside for future resolution.
- Both sides may take on a new understanding of the other position.
- New solutions may be designed and consensus built.
- Agreement may be achieved that both sides are correct, and there should be some way to accommodate both – this is a true Polarity.
In a true Polarity, both sides must exist in harmony for ultimate effectiveness. An example is a typical family conflict – do we save our extra money, or do we have some fun with it? The save money side is correct, but so is the have some fun with it side. A harmonious family solution is to do some of both. Barry Johnson talks about breathing as the ultimate Polarity. When we breathe in, our bodies get the oxygen that we need to function. But if we never breathe out, we can’t get rid of the carbon dioxide that will poison us. In the end, we function best if we balance the breathing in and breathing out.
The goal of using the Polarity Grid is to determine if there is a solution that satisfies all of the sides, or some way to create a balance and move on.
Some conflicts are not worth much effort
In any conflict, there are a number of options
This grid represents the amount of energy that could be invested in a given conflict.
The x axis represents the amount of control given to an opponent. The y axis represents the amount of energy one should invest in one’s own position.
Note that the highest amount of energy invested by both parties is in collaborating. Many people believe that collaboration should be used at all times. But this would exhaust the resources of any organization. Experience tells us that collaboration should be reserved for special circumstances. When the group understands and agrees that this will be the strategy for dealing with conflict, more energy will be invested in the work itself.
Each strategy is appropriate in different circumstances.
- Avoid when
- there are low stakes
- there are personal issues that may get sticky
- the issues may resolve themselves (revisit from time to time)
- Collaborate when
- there is time, energy, and willingness from many parties
- “buy in” is important
- breakthrough solutions are possible and valuable
- Accommodate when
- the outcome is more important to the other party
- there is little time
- Compete when
- the stakes are high
- you are confident of your position
- voluntary support from others is not needed or there is high confidence that others will adjust and comply
- Compromise when
- the stakes are moderately high
- but there is insufficient time or energy for full level collaboration
[Source: Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument]
Not every conflict is about the issue!
Test for Understanding
- Build a Conflict SWAT team. Together, review the concepts in Johnson's book on Polarity Management. Bring them together from time to time to map a disagreement. Note how this helps or not in creating a map for moving the conflict to a new level.
- Consider conflict that you may have encountered in a recent design meeting. Examples might include Platform A versus Platform B, Buy versus Build, Insource versus Outsource, Who is Our Customer, etc. Which of the five conflict resolution styles (accommodating, avoiding, compromising, collaborating, competing) occurred in the meeting? Which conflict resolution style do you feel would have been the most successful strategy?
To Learn More (list of books, articles, webcasts, URL links, etc.)
- Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI), http://www.cpp.com/products/tki/index.asp
- Fisher, Roger, and Ury, William (1994), Getting to Yes, Bruce Patton
- Polarity Management: Identifying and Managing Unsolvable Problems by Barry Johnson
- by Charles Taylor
Lesson Wrap Up
A solutions architect should invest the time to understand organizational dynamics. Getting the right people on board is a critical success factor to successful implementation of a solution. Leveraging alliance partners and your organization’s supply chain can also help you in performing your work. Conflict management and negotiation are important skills for effectively working with others.