Last week I was at the Gartner EA Summit in Orlando (a really nice event with a really good group of delegates, but that’s another post). My last pitch was entitled “Enterprise Architects Beware: The Skills That Got You Here Won’t Take You Forward”. The premise of the pitch is that the most important skills for an architect have nothing to do with knowledge of technology, but are rather the communications, facilitation and interpersonal skills that allow architects to bring together diverse groups of stakeholders with diverse perspectives and persuade them to move forward in a common direction.
I feel quite strongly about this, as I have known many architects who were great technologists, but fell short in the communication department. And they were less successful (or not at all successful) as a result.
Anyhow, as I was leaving the session room, my iPhone (yes, I finally broke down and got one – and that, too, is another post) blipped. It was an email from a colleague of mine in the UK. Evidently, one of the people in my session knows my colleague, and he so vehemently disagreed with what I said that he was moved to write my colleague immediately.
This gentleman’s contention is that all of the soft skills that we advocate so strongly are “alchemy” and while they are seductive to the business (spinning dross into gold is always attractive), the day will ultimately be won by hard science.
Now I’m really sorry that this guy didn’t come up to the podium and engage me directly, because I’m not sure I understand why these two things are in opposition. Of course you need to be able to make architecturally sound decisions, but you need two other things – you need to be able to express why the decisions you are making are the right decisions to move the business strategy forward, and you need to be able to persuade people to your point of view.
In any environment where there are human beings (and enterprises are full of those, sadly) there is self interest. And anywhere there is self interest, it’s not enough just to be right. You also have to be persuasive – and that’s where the soft skills come in.
Another point, of course, is that it is impossible for you to be the absolute best technologist in every arena, so you’re going to have to rely on the expertise of others in order to make the right decisions. Interpersonal skills, again, are what help you to leverage the knowledge of other individuals, experts in their specific fields, in the pursuit of the right architecture for the enterprise.
I think that one of the reasons that we stress the soft skills as much as we do is that technologists tend not to recognize how important they are. I have seen many failing EA programs and so have my colleagues. I cannot think of a single instance (either in my own experience or that of any body else on the Gartner team) where an EA program failed because it was filled with people who had excellent soft skills, but were not good technologists. We have all seen many programs failed because they were staffed by good technologists without good interpersonal skills.
Anyhow, I’ve invited the guy who so disagreed with my session to have a conversation. I hope he takes me up on it. And of course, anyone else who wants to discuss this is welcome to reach out to me too.
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