Shaun Mccran

My digital playground

05
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2016

What do you need to know to become an Architect?

Approaching this topic as an Architect, I've taken the view of splitting this into two parts, the first is an overview of the MetaModel that describes a professional role, the second is more extensive and applies that MetaModel onto the Architect role.

MetaModel for a professional role

Any professional role comes with a common set of terminology, activity description (processes) and method that allows for a common language within its industry. Architecture is no different from this, for example, if you are a practicing Architect within company '1' and you move to company '2' there should be a consistent set of architectural language across both companies, within some variances, based on company practices.

Similarly because the activities, the 'what', of being an Architect are based on the structures they follow, such as Governance, Design and Assurance they tend to be common in nature, whatever the industry or the subject. Conceding that the detail in the activity is different, such as whether the design or business subject is Telco, Financial or Marketing, but detailed knowledge of that subject makes someone a subject matter expert, not an Architect.

Lastly we have the Method, or the instruction set, the 'how' to perform architectural processes. This is the bread and butter of being an Architect, this is the way you think about framing an argument across a variety of stakeholders, or the way you research and collate a set of options on a decision paper.

Applying the above model to being an Architect

So applying the above model to the role of an Architect we can list out several key items that would populate this MetaModel. Note that this isn't exhaustive, but rather an initial set of data, the common things you should really know. This should be treated as a starting guide, a set of terms or topics to make sure that you are at least aware of and ideally able to describe in good detail. I stress this as I've held quite a few interviews for Architects and been surprised how many candidates are not familiar enough with some of these terms to be able to describe them in sufficient detail.

On top of this I've added a section on who would engage in the topics raised here, after all there are several types of Architect, and knowing what they are and what they do is vital to being a functioning architect. Note that these roles are largely taken from the TOGAF model.

Roles

  • 1. Enterprise Architects
  • 2. Solution Architects
  • 3. Service Architects
  • 4. Application Architects
  • 5. Data Architects

Terminology

  • 1. Architecture Review Board
  • 2. Governance
  • 3. Assurance
  • 4. Solution Design
  • 5. Architectural views, such as Conceptual, Logical and Physical
  • 6. Building Blocks
  • 7. SOA - Service Oriented Design

Activities

  • 1. Stakeholder Management
  • 2. Review and approvals cycles
  • 3. Decision papers & impact assessment, including things like Change control
  • 4. Stakeholder specific formatting of designs, tailored to their specific viewpoints
  • 5. Architectural levelling, such as 10,000ft view, 50,000 view etc. Used commonly to describe the level of detail a solution is at.

Processes

  • 1. Modelling processes, i.e. How do model solutions
  • 2. Discovery processes, such as how a process, system or application works
  • 3. Documentation processes, such as common MS office based work
  • 4. Options papers, where several options are presented, they are compared and a recommendation is put forward to form a complete argument
  • 5. Alignment to Principles and Patterns - Showing Architectural thinking and alignment to Strategy

I would consider all of the bullet points above as key things to be aware of if you are looking at Architects, or developing a career in Architecture.

28
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2016

The standard approach to becoming an Architect

Is there a standard approach to becoming an Architect? I'd consider that there is a standard pattern to becoming an Architect, but the individual steps on each individuals journey is likely to vary quite a bit based on drive, opportunity and situations that arise allowing an individual to move forward.

A foundation element in this approach, whatever the specific path, is that the individual works through the existing discipline, rises to the top in recognition and moves up or sideways to gain more experience or responsibility. In this way the individual is building both breadth and depth of experience in a variety of fields. A repercussion of this is that eventually the individual ends out with a broad range of experience across several disciplines. This makes them an ideal candidate to step into Architecture, whether that was their intended goal or not. You can test this out, do a straw poll in your office, how many people intentionally 'become an Architect' instead of 'naturally fell into it after a career in many other disciplines'?

We can model this as:

Architecture Career tree

Breaking down the above image we can see that a common career trajectory into Architecture is via several disciplines. Once a person hits a certain level of maturity in the discipline they currently in, they expand their skillset by moving around, or up. As the person gains skills and moves upward each movement becomes harder and harder as the roles gain in seniority, and availability. From bottom to top is a shrinking model of available roles, with each position above typically having a significantly smaller number of positions available at each level. This arrives at an end point with the chief Architect role, which is typically a single role within an organisation.

As above in my intro, this model encourages individuals to gather both breadth and depth of skill in each field. This depth of background experience is one of the key components that allow an Architect to successfully complete normal architectural tasks, such as decision papers and end to end solution assurance.

One element of this that is especially true is an Architects ability to understand all the different aspects of a solution, and being able to play that solution back in a format suitable for a variety of stakeholders, at their level of view. This interpretation of a solution, played into the Business stakeholders is a key skill for Architects as it allows them to convey often complex, difficult solutions to key business representative in a consumable format for them. This Assurance role gives clarity to the business on the fact that defined solutions are aligning to their strategy, and that the project spend is delivering what they want, and what they think it is delivering.

Think of it as, Assurance requires credibility, and credibility only comes from established, evidenced experience.

26
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2016

The journey to becoming an Architect

A common issue that I see in many organisations is one of resourcing and quality of resource. There would appear to be significantly more demand in the UK market for Architects of good quality, than there are actual Architects out in the 'resource pool'.

Now there's likely a few factors involved in this;

  • 1. Sometimes the criteria for actually identifying what an Architect IS can be a bit vague, and is open to considerable amounts of interpretation, this is across both organisations and Architecture industry bodies.

  • 2. The path to becoming an Architect is typically quite a long one, with an individual having to traverse many different disciplines, gaining experience in each, and practicing a set of 'over the top' skills as well, such as stakeholder management, to be able to operate in quite a demanding space within an organisation. This is generally not a fast process, taking time and effort, becoming familiar with a lot of different challenges, being tested in them, and becoming a pretty resilient character.

So if you've got aspirations to get into Architecture, how do you go about it? What's considered the 'traditional' path? Is there a fast track? All things that I'll cover in a series of blog posts. Its going to be a pretty big picture conversation, so

I'll link each one off from here, taking an Architectural approach if you will, building up each part of the story so that you can see how it comes together. Note as well that this isn't a guide to TOGAF. There are much better places to learn that than here, I'm simply applying some of the core elements of the framework to show how it can help you think about being an Architect. TOGAF may appear somewhat 'High brow framework' sometimes, but it has been developed over the years with a common sense approach to how to actually perform Architecture tasks, as such it can give us some really good insight into how to think like an Architect.

My initial list of topics is below, but as is the case with any Architect, I'm likely to change it as I go along.

  • 1. The standard approach to becoming an Architect
  • 2. Is there a fast track approach to becoming an Architect?
  • 3. What do you need to know, to become an Architect?
    • a. Architecture roles
    • b. Architecture domains
    • c. Facing into a Business as an Architect
    • d. Common 'approaches' (get out of jail free cards) that Architects use
  • 4. What should you be able to knock out the park, day after day as an Architect?
    • a. Options papers
    • b. Transitional state views
    • c. Governance submissions and responses
    • d. Principles and Patterns

Think I'm well off the mark in any of these articles? Feel free to provide a counter balanced view, after all, that's a key aspect

24
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2016

Architectural Governance driven through the application of Principles

Most organisations with an Architectural practice of some kind also have a Governance structure, either controlled by, or at least populated with Architect of various flavours.

Key success factors for any Governance board are:

  1. 1. Consistency of entry, decision and output
  2. 2. Established engagement model, i.e. how to enter and exit them, what will you be judged on?
  3. 3. Established workflow, somewhat as above, what is the process to trigger Governance
  4. 4. A standard, well rounded group of individuals that can understand the implications of what they are governing
  5. 5. Established, identifiable rules to Govern against, i.e. a set of Principles and Patterns

So why bother with Principles and Patterns? Why use them to Govern against, than say just general opinion around the room? There are a few key things that using established principles bring to the table that 'Governance by opinion' doesn't.

Inheritance across Strategies

Within a Governance board how do you know that submissions align to Strategy? Either business or IT Strategies? Typically it's a cascade through a series of artefacts, each slightly lower in its level of detail, each depending on the existence of the previous one. So let's step through the things that should be in place already that lead to our Principles.

  1. 1. Business Vision
  2. 2. Business Strategy (Based on the Vision)
  3. 3. IT Strategy (based on the Business Strategy)
  4. 4. Architecture Principles (Defined from the IT Strategy)
  5. 5. Architecture Patterns (Applicable principles)

So based on the hierarchy above we can assume that our principles will align to the Business Strategy and IT Strategy. So if our Architecture aligns to the principles, it must then align to our Strategies.

Why align to strategy through principles?

So what does that give us? Why even have them? The alternative is Governance by opinion. In real world terms this is where each of the members of a Governance board effectively apply their own point of view to what is being presented. This is, by its nature subjective and undefined and leads to variances in the outcome. What's to say that the same artefact wouldn't be presented several times, but based on the atmosphere in the room, meet with different outcomes each time?

You have to confidence that a Governance board has standards, and that what you are bringing to them will be judged on those standards, otherwise why employ Architects?

Of course, as soon as you have standards, you also have consistency of Governance, which leads to consistency of Architecture, which is a vital part of an operating Architecture practice if you have a large volume of Architects, all driving solutions with overlapping dependencies.