AT#29: Soft Factors of Architecture – Part 1: Trust

AT#29: Soft Factors of Architecture – Part 1: Trust

AT#29: Soft Factors of Architecture – Part 1: Trust

The stake of Business- and Enteprise Architecture is to ensure that the overall IT landscape and its solutions stay maintainable instead of increasing complexity with each project. Architects, usually without formal authority over other persons working in the projects, have to find soft ways to drive their stake,  and this is always the hardest part of the job. 

“In Enterprise Architecture roles, emotional intelligence (EQ) accounts for more than 90% of a person’s performance and success.”
[Gartner Group]

I have been working in the field of Enterprise Architecture (EA) for almost 12 years now. Over these years I have seen many unsuccessful EA initiatives. Half of the large IT transformation projects I worked in failed to a large degree due to insufficient influence of the architecture team. EAs often simply did not have the “right”social/soft skills.

Motivated by this observation I want to start a series of posts that deal with the “soft factors” of architecture, which are IMHO way more relevant than the analytical/technical bias prevalent in the field of EA. Today’s part 1 explains why building trust should be prio 1 for EAs.

Building Trust

“All cultures are networks of trust; hierarchy is merely the scaffolding on which it hangs” (Anthropologist Karen Stephenson)

Trust is the hard currency of all IT initiatives. It is the key to successful communication with stakeholders. Lack of trust leads to inefficient communication structures and is one of the biggest cost factors in today’s IT projects. It fosters hidden agendas, interpersonal conflicts, and rivalry between departments, it decelerates management decisions. Tremendous blockers on your way to successful architectural work. You simply need honest information to build your architecture. You need trustful social connections with mayor stakeholders to enforce your architectural decisions. 

If you are unable to build a trustworthy social structure of stakeholders you gonna fail as an EA.

As an EA you need trust because your interest in building architecturally sustainable solutions always collides with the interests of all the people around you:

  • business people need to get IT solutions quick and cheap
  • project managers must achieve the milestones dictated by the managers
  • developers want to implement software in time to make their team happy

What you should do:

During IT-projects stakeholders tend to be unconfident and often even anxious, particularly in high-pressure, high-budget, high-risk change projects. For that reason they often look unconsciously for humans that are able to provide certainty in uncertain times. They look for people that are experts in their field. For people that emanate to know where the project should go. They look for you – the trustworthy EA. However, no EA starts as a trustworthy consultant. The problem with trust is that it is hard to gain but easy to lose, and it is not for free. To gain trust you must understand the pain of the business people, their interests and their hidden goals. You have to create social situations where they open their minds and tell stories they wouldn’t tell persons they don’t trust. Listen carefully, show honest interest. That’s it. Simple in theory but obviously hard in practice for technical-only skilled EAs.

Three steps to gain trust:

  • Your stakeholders have to know that they can rely on you 100 percent. That you are an expert in your field. That you hold your promises or communicate necessary deviations as soon as possible. That you handle business information with care and confidence.
  • Develop excellent listening skills. Many IT people I have worked with tend to value speaking over listening. As we have a technical education we are all engineers in our heart. This means that we are fast with coming up with solutions before really understanding the problem.
  • It is essential to find out stakeholders needs. This can be hard work because most of those needs are either unconscious or kept secret because of political reasons . If you collaborate with the business people with an open mind and open communication style chances are much better to get a deeper insight in their needs.

Previous Posts:

AT#30: Soft Factors of Architecture – Part 2: Unveiling

AT#13: Companies are Elephants!

AT#9: Three Values that make your Enterprise Architecture Management successful

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