15 October 2009

For Sale – Bijou Architecture in Attractive Location

I have often heard architects complaining about the amount of talking they have to do. They seem to be stuck in an endless round of communication that takes place to sell the concept of architecture to detractors, to describe content of the architecture, and to explain how it should be used.

And for those that are successful in this exercise there is the challenge “Okay! I get it now – so why haven’t you done it yet?”

Architects then hold their hands up and bemoan the obvious catch-22 situation, but are they right to complain?

Put simply, no.

It’s that Pesky 80/20 Rule Again
I firmly believe that architecture is 20% creation and 80% communication. The primary role of architecture is to clearly and unambiguously articulate future strategy, and so the one thing it absolutely must do is communicate! A badly communicated architecture is a failed architecture (no matter how good the concepts within it may be).

So how does that 80% stack up? You might think it sounds like an awful lot of talking, but let us not forget that not all communication is verbal. What is more, not all communication is focussed on selling the architecture; the content has to be communicated as well, and it is in this latter dialogue that the other forms of communication can play an important role.

The Picture on the Box
As far as possible, a good architecture should be self-explanatory, thus freeing up the architect to focus on the act of selling. Communication of content should be visual supported by descriptive text, with verbal backup where necessary to break people in gently.

Clear visual communication requires a solid unambiguous notation. It is not good enough to simply use boxes and lines of your own choosing with no consistency, as you will then fail to perform one of the key tasks of architecture – to remove ambiguity. An off-the-shelf notation is perfectly good enough for most purposes and has the advantage that you then have one less problem to solve yourself.

My preference here is ArchiMate as it is simple, effective, and specifically oriented towards architecture. I feel it also has a reasonable chance of being more widely accepted, given its adoption by the Open Group. If and when a genuine standard emerges, I would recommend its use over all other options, as a widely recognised notation is of enormous value. However, in the absence of such a standard, the actual choice does not matter, as long as the notation is easy to follow, and each symbol means one thing and one thing only.

It’s not an Exam
One of my chief hatesis when reasoning and justification are included within the architecture itself. I dislike having to trawl through reams of text that states why something is the way it is, to finally get to the actual decision.

Remember, you are not trying to pass an exam. It is the answer that should leap out at the reader, not your thought processes. If your selling activities have been successful, then the reader of your architecture should already be receptive to the content. If they are not receptive, then no amount of cajoling at this stage will win them over.

For example, if you have decided that you are going to have one central information store fronted by a set of business focused services then just say that in a simple diagram. An architecture is not a crime novel – you can tell the reader who the killer is on page one without spoiling the surprise.

Selling the Architecture
And so we come to the other element of communication. Selling. Architects generally ask three simple questions at this point:
  1. The business has hired me to do this. Why should I have to sell it to anyone?
  2. I can’t possibly talk to everyone. Who should I sell it to?
  3. I’m pushed for time. How do I get buy in quickly?
The answers are equally as straight forward:

Why? Self Interest
It is essential to remember that if people don’t use your architecture, and people don’t contribute to it, it will fail and so will you.

On a more positive note, most of the people you talk to will remember you. Not many people are offered such a genuine opportunity to network with the movers and shakers within an organisation, so make the most of it.

Who? Leaders and Doers
(This is the bit where I upset various layers of middle management).

The first group of people you need to sell to is at the top of the food chain – the true leaders. If you are lucky enough to have the ear of the CEO or CIO then you have a much smaller (but potentially more challenging) task. In most cases this will not be the case, but I would strongly recommend that you need to target those with real influence. In most large organisations this is at the Director and/or Programme Manager level.

Win over this audience, and they will tell their middle managers to follow suit.

The other group you need to sell to are those who will use your architecture in anger. These are the people who will suffer the pain of a bad architecture (and this is their fear), or more importantly these are the people whose lives a good architecture can improve. Talking to these people will really test whether what you are doing with your architecture really does deliver the benefit you are claiming, so listen to what they have to say, and show that you are reacting to their feedback. The wisdom of crowds is powerful, especially when it is your wisdom.

Win over this audience, and they will carry the torch for you, selling the use of the architecture to their middle management, and engaging with you during their day-to-day activities.

In other words, catch your middle management in an architecture sandwich.

How? It’s all About Me!
There are so many ways you could sell your architecture, and the most common is the one I call “Architecture will save the world”. In this approach architects unveil impressive lists of benefits to the organisation, the customer (and now the environment), bombarding the audience with the undeniable world shattering importance of architecture...

...and get nowhere.

These architects are failing to understand one of the most fundamental elements of human nature and motivation (one I have alluded to earlier in this post) - Self Interest. Even the most generous amongst us will instinctively resist anything that will cause us pain (apart of course for the masochists who are often already architects).

If you tell your audience only one thing, tell them this: what it does for them. Understand their pain points and their motivations, and look for ways in which you can make their lives just a little less painful. Point out how much time your architecture will save them, show them how it will help them to get buy in for their work, point out where the answers to their problems are, and don’t forget to explain how their contribution to it will gain them recognition.

Point out that the decisions in your architecture have already been agreed with senior management, and by using the architecture they will not have to justify every tiny little thing they do. Use actual examples from the architecture to illustrate your points, and better still (if you are far enough down the line), bring along a willing champion who has already used your architecture.

What do you mean when you say, “my architecture doesn’t those things”?

Maybe I forgot to mention the first step in selling...

...make sure you have something that people want to buy.

The Enterprising Architect

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