Influence Secrets of Successful Architects

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Influencing Skills

Three steps for influencing. For anyone who wants to develop better Influencing Skills

The following article was contributed by Richard J. Black who is the global trading technology strategist for BP plc

You designed a great technical solution, you even figured out how it makes financial sense for your customers... So why is nobody listening?

Preface

Technology architecture is the set of underlying designs and services that are reusable across many technology projects. Architecture examples include physical networks, middleware integration services, standardised data, standard software services and components, common system designs, standardised technology products such as office tools, operating systems and database tools.

Technology architects work alongside technology leadership and delivery teams (CIOs, day-to-day Operations and Software Development). They help to increase the value of technology investment by providing services such as:

• Technology Standards.  The EA team define architecture and technology standards for all applications and infrastructure
• Project Consultancy. The EA team may participate actively in development projects ensure architectural compliance and component reuse
• Application Integration. The EA team define integration strategies to ensure that legacy systems will coexist with newer
• Research & Development. Research emerging technologies to develop a competitive business advantage.

Introduction

If you work in a central team responsible for controlling your company's enterprise architecture, you may have wondered why some of the company's development teams refuse to use your well-thought-out architecture designs.

Why should any development team, focused on delivering systems in the best way they know how, complicate projects and risk delaying delivery, just to satisfy a grand design? Why would anyone want to put architecture before their own interests?

Teams will adopt architecture only when architects have built enough trust and influence.

Researchers working in the fields of organisational development and in communication science understand the secrets to building influence and trust. This article shows how architects can use some of these same techniques to improve the rate at which development teams adopt enterprise architecture.

Background

All employees learn the working practices (or organisational culture) favoured in their profession. As an architect, you might find yourself concentrating on technical practices, at the expense of social networking for example. 

Designing suitable technical solutions and building strong value propositions often is not enough to achieve success. Success is often based on influence, and influence is built with communication skills, increasing trust and avoiding common pitfalls.

Step 1: Improve your Communication Skills

Good communication means aligning four items

Content, media, communicators and audience. Mismatching any single item can make communication ineffective, and in turn reduce the opportunity for influence.  You may think of architectural content as enterprise architecture designs. You can deliver content with many different media, for example: one-on-one meetings, telephone conversations, group presentations, reports, slides, posters, web sites and videos. There is a wide range of possible communicators too: architects, business leads, actors, professors, lead developers and technology vendors to name a few. Audiences may at different times consist of: business end-users, business leaders, developers, technology management, technology operations or even non-technical people.

Getting this right is a rewarding experience. I have seen business sponsors describing the architecture of their projects. Of course they may not understand all the details, but their voice can be a powerful influence. Technology vendors will often be pleased to present their products and plans direct to your developers.

Getting this wrong can be disastrous. Imagine sending a context-free set of project slides to an audience consisting of a mixed group of business people, architects and developers, it is likely that no one will get want they want.

Step 2: Increasing Trust

Increase your focus on these eight principles of trust. You may find you are already using some of these in your everyday working practices. In that case, try some of the others.

Liking

Stress the value of friendships and the importance of praising positive aspects versus criticising past choices. We each have friends, and you will recognise how those relationships are resilient to the occasional 'disaster'.

Reciprocity. Seek consistent engagement and clear communications from others. This principle suggests they will provide the same in return. How many of us bemoan the quality of document from project teams, and yet provide only scant documentation of our architectures to them?

Social Proof

Use the power of social networks. Gain the trust of crucial peers - the people at the centre of social networks - to increase engagement with a broader audience. Recognise that these skills rely on an intimate knowledge of social networks, knowledge difficult to gain without lengthy experience in an organisation.

Consistency

To build commitment from others, seek written or public 'contracts'. The in-built behavioural trait to behave consistently will motivate people to carry out those contracts. It is surprising how effective it is just to have people state their objectives and timescales in a group e-mail message.

Authority

A successful, public record of accomplishment is a key part of influence. Openly display your expertise before seeking broad engagement: tell people about your past successes. You might try starting your presentations with a short background piece describing your past successes or a short career history. Audiences are more willing than you might expect to defer their own decision making to an obvious expert.

Scarcity

Carefully manage the collection and the distribution of rare information. Rare information is a core influence 'currency' that should be spent wisely. Architects often have access to information before others (this probably includes the latest technology analysts reports, advance versions of software, or just knowledge of current leaderships topics). These are all valuable coinage to be traded.

Step 3: Avoiding the Pitfalls

Inconsistent message content. Telling one group something and another group something else is a sure way to break down trust. Ensure your team communicates coherent messages. This requires more effort than you might think, especially as your team grows. Every person that offers a different opinion to yours undermines the messages you are trying to get across and your influence.

Inconsistent standards. Avoid playing favourites, preferential treatment breeds cynicism and mistrust. If you have documented architecture standards and exception policies, stick by them, and you haven't documented and shared your standards, do so.

Misplaced benevolence. Be sure to take action against others who show inept, negative or volatile behaviour. Ignoring troubling behaviours breaks down teamwork and productivity. Make it a habit of tackling your dissenters, your renegade developers and your new developers and anyone who appears angry first. Resolving these differences is a key step to achieving broader acceptance and success.

Suspicions of concealment. Bring painful situations out into the open. Hesitation to do so will lead others to decide that something is being disguised.  The added benefit of being open with challenging issues is that just occasionally someone will be able to help you resolve them.

Destructive rumours

Be forthright in communication, even if the situation's outcome is uncertain. Partial information disclosure will allow destructive rumours to surface.

Linguistic Style. A person's perceived competence is a key principle of influence. People judge competence mostly by linguistic style. A person's characteristic speaking pattern may include such features as directness or indirectness, pacing and pausing, word choice, and the use of jokes, figures of speech, stories, questions and apologies. People interpret speech in different ways, and assign different meanings to linguistic behaviours such as questioning, apologizing, and being indirect. A misjudgement in this way may wrongly lead to a listener ignoring or rejecting the speaker's ideas because the listener has prematurely decided the speaker lacks competence.

Conclusion

Using these techniques to build new communication skills and increase trust might feel unnatural at first. It might even distract from designing technical solutions and building business cases. However, it is all too common to find new technologies left on the shelf, architectures left unused and architects struggling for funding.

Don't let your architectures languish on the shelf.  Incorporate new working practices like these and see more development teams use your designs.

Next steps: Many firms run training courses in improving communications and influence skills.  Enterprise architects should even consider supplementing their teams with professional communication services.

 

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