BehaviouralTraitsOfTopArchitects

Behavioural Traits of Top Architects

The behaviours that keep emerging as highly desirable.

I’m involved in regular efforts to recruit top talent, and I often talk to recruitment firms about innovative ways to identify and secure the very best talent, both for my own organisation, and those of my clients.

There are a few behaviours that keep emerging as highly desirable and I thought I’d share those here and get your perspectives on relevance, but also the most effective ways to train and foster such behaviours. In no particular order, here are the highlights:

1. Talk straight

This refers to the willingness and ability of architects to tell it straight – to cut through subjectivity and present objective facts as a way to drive decision making. It refers to behaviours that are not politically motivated, but rather behaviours that are trying to outline the problem, the options and the recommend solution(s).

Extending this further, it refers to behaviours that do not shy away from delivering the tough messages. This emerged as being very important for some clients who are looking for confident candidates who can prepare architectures good enough to eliminate subjectivity, so that good and bad aspects of the situation can be seen, and the architecture team is confident enough to stand behind the architecture and deliver the tough message when needed.

2. Solve the problem, not the situation

This is similar to point 1 but more focused on the nature of the effort put into the solutioning exercise. Many clients are seeking architects who are focused on solving the problem at hand, rather than managing stakeholder politics, or hedging their bets against potential organisational changes.

It is important to remember this perspective – the architect is an agent of change and is powerful enough to trigger such change – don’t dilute the value of the architecture by trying to play politics instead.

In many cases, clients are actually looking to use organisation changes and other management levers as responses to potential outcomes illuminated by architectures. They therefore feel compromised if the architects are being reactive to such items, rather than the triggers for such actions. It is important to remember this perspective – the architect is an agent of change and is powerful enough to trigger such change – don’t dilute the value of the architecture by trying to play politics instead.

3. Isolate teams and avoid group think

This is an interesting item that emerged as being very important. Basically, clients are looking for architecture teams that can operate in a reasonably compartmentalised fashion, so as to avoid group think and collective reassurance.

In many organisations, it was felt that optimal solutions were often not uncovered due to the unwillingness of design teams to fully explore all options, mostly due to undesirable behaviours around points 1 and 2 being exhibited.

This has implications for how chief architects or architecture leaders structure and deploy their teams, but it should also trigger thoughts amongst team members who should be encouraged to provide alternative views, counter-balancing views or simply drive to ensure that solutions are not magically aligned to a pre-set list of artificial characteristics.

4.  Walk away when the job is done

Much of the discussion around this point concerned one of two key themes – the first being that the desired behaviour is very much one of establishing success criteria, meeting success criteria, then formally closing the solutioning process and moving on.

Leaders expressed concern that poorly performing teams seemed to be forever iterating solutions, or revisiting solutions, or forever being in a state of “version 0.9” instead of a signed off “version 1.0”. I believe that practitioners should compartmentalise work, establish success criteria, then work to complete.

Critical thinking was identified as being the most desirable quality in identifying new hires during this particular process.

The other aspect, of this point,concerned perfectionism, at the expense of time and cost, as opposed to a more pragmatic stance that saw requirements met without the need to engineer everything to the nth degree. This has been a hallmark of architecture work for some time, but the point here is that architects should strive to identify where a solution needs to be (through requirements analysis and principle formulation) and then architect toward that point.

5. Critical think everything

Critical thinking was identified as being the most desirable quality in identifying new hires during this particular process.

The ability to identify objective pivot points around which solutions can be constructed pretty much underpins one’s ability to exhibit other behaviours mentioned here.

Practitioners should, therefore, include self-education and pursue investigations into fields in which they are less familiar, so as to better understand why certain design patterns may be employed in certain situations, and also to review case studies from other solutions to understand the impact of certain decisions.

Team leaders should consider a longer term mentoring structure where less experienced team members can get exposed to longer term decision making, get exposure to more senior folk who have more experience in making these types of decisions, as well as consider incentive metrics that require post implementation criteria to be met rather than simple up-front architecture or design criteria.

So there you have it – keen to get your thoughts as to how these fit into your current work or training plan, and your thoughts as to how these behaviours can be encouraged / taught / propagated throughout the profession.

 





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  1. Carr

    Great article Peter. I was curious about your thoughts on the architect’s responsibility to guide the requirements elicitation process, and to assist/lead in process redesign activities in order to leverage opportunities for improvement as part of the design process. My experience is that architects need those skills in order to prevent sub-optimal “solutioning” from occurring during the early stages of business engagement. Have you seen that being recognised as a gap/issue in your investigations?


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