AT#31: Soft Factors of Architecture – Part 3: Communication
Enterprise Architecture (EA) often focuses primarily on the analytical modeling aspects and this is, of course, an important part of the work. However, practice shows that EA is much more about communication. You simply need to elicit the wisdom of business people to create your architecture maps. Enterprise Architects, and IT-people in general, however, are often not educated in communication skills like asking the right questions and listening intently. Educated at technical universities most of them have been trained to engineer highly sophisticated technical solutions but not so much in the soft skills.
The following communication skills are mandatory for any successful Enterprise Architect:
Asking the Right Questions
Business / IT alignment always starts with IT people asking the right questions. If your impetus for being an EA is based on true curiosity about the often fascinating things the business does it will be easier to elicit the business information you need to create your architecture maps. Asking the right questions helps business people to understand their own problems better. The field of systemic coaching defines six categories of helpful questions:
- Circular questioning: e.g. “What would department Y do if we’d implement solution Y?”
- Scale questions: e.g. “On a scale of 1 to 10…how happy are you with the efficiency of process X?”
- Hypothetical questions: e.g. “If re-engineering the IT-applications were successful – what’s better for you?”
- Miracle question: e.g. “If we could magically replace our host-based legacy with microservices tomorrow – what benefits would this have for you?”
- Paradox questions: e.g. “What could you do to increase IT cost by 100%?”
- Solution-focused questions: e.g. “What needs to happen to make your task in process X significantly easier?”
A more detailed, highly recommended list of examples can be found -> here
If you are in a long-time relationship you have probably experienced communication issues with your partner. Communication between man and woman can be even more challenging than between business- and IT people. Successful communication between husband and wife means that both need to get respectful listeners. The same is true for communication in business. It is in the DNA of engineers to provide sound technical solutions. This approach works in disciplines like building rockets, where the problem is often simple and can be described in one sentence “build me a vessel that brings two people to Mars” but the solution is overly complex. In IT it is the other way around – you have to build a solution as simple as possible for overly complex problems not even understood by the business people. This means that Enterprise Architects must develop excellent listening skills to get the information they need by applying
- Make a vow to yourself to be a better listener.
- Listen for the content, meaning, and feeling in what the other person is saying.
- Stop interrupting!
- Listen to understand and help not to comment or find fault.
- Pay attention to what the other person is not saying.
- Refrain from letting your desire to offer an (IT-)solution for the problem get in the way of hearing the entire message.
- Ask for clarification when necessary.
AT#9: Three Values that make your Enterprise Architecture Management successful
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