Architect or Sorcerer’s Apprentice?

Now, I want to tackle one pet peeve of mine, which may well be making piles of cash evaporate from your earnings if you have any IT capability present in your business. I do come across a lot of businesses and organizations and one thing strikes me at times: how on Earth is it possible to have so many people keeping themselves busy on matters that they do not have a clue about? And not  contributing any progress? Ivory towers, wishful thinking, planning forever instead of executing, all of these make me wish for a huge broom to clean the floor! And it is nowhere as key as when I come across so-called IT Architects. True IT-Architects are a fine bunch. But sorting the cream from the  crop is a must do since they have such an important effect on enabling business to thrive through the use of technology. First of all, let’s look at what makes a great IT Architect: The IT Architect function is to be placed in the natural evolution in the career of a successful implementer. Amongst the required skills we find;
  1. Vision: the ability to have a vision of the future and how business and technology can mesh to deliver value.
  2. Knowledge: the understanding of what exists on the marketplace.
  3. Pragmatics: a willingness to practice Occam’s razor principle when it comes to systems.
  4. Ability to synthesize: there are just way too many viewpoints and items to consider. So, the ability to synthesize and focus on the essentials that do matter really making a huge difference.
  5. Ability to delegate work: following on the previous one, the architect who micro manages and isn’t unable to delegate work is doomed to fail. Just because he’ll be swamped in minute details. What the architect brings to the table is vision rooted in reality. He provides a reference frame that is solid enough for other to work on, so that the whole things isn’t sinking.
  6. Resilience to fads: a successful architect is immune to fads. He can see the value of technologies and approaches and will integrate them in his practice. But not herald one way as ‘the true way’. Becoming a zealot is not on his agenda.
  7. Widely read on architectural topics: there is more than one form of architecture, be it functional, technical, organizational, human, you name it. A never ending willingness to learn and put in practice for pragmatic results is what drives him.
  8. Willing to take prudent risk: architects aren’t lawyers. Lawyers are paid to avoid risks. But that’s not the way you succeed in the marketplace. Prudent risk is the way to go. Because it will give you that little edge advantage that will make you win. Prudent risks in sequence will make you go a long way. And so thinks the successful architect. Innovation, but not for innovation’s  sake. For pragmatic reasons that deliver value.
  9. Able to look from the telescopic down to the microscopic: this is really key. You need to be able to dream up, see the big  picture, while at the same time having your feet firmly planted in the ground. The devil is in the details. A willingness to listen to the rank and file implementers is recognized as a great feedback mechanism. Of course, feedback is only for information and the architect is able to take on the hard decisions since he has a global view.
Sorcerer’s apprentices usually share a set of characteristics as far as I can tell from my encounters with them:
  1. Freshmen with no historical perspective: these have been some kind of education but really don’t grasp the details. They are “in the moment” when it comes decisions and shoot from the hip when it comes to express an idea. Needless to say, in complex organizations, this is a recipe for disaster. Especially when their opinion is connected in real-time with the ever changing fads of the day they read about on the web one hour ago.
  2. Golden hammer syndrome: they believe that one thing will solve all problems. So, they make everything look like a nail. Even eggs. Needless to say, you need a hammer for nails, but hammers don’t work marvelously well for sawing parts or gluing things together. There is an attitude problem and it’s rooted in insecurity and unwillingness to open horizons.
  3. Castle in the sky attitude: typical of sorcerer’s apprentices with no real-world experience of scale, this castle in the sky attitude leads to over complex architectures, which nobody in their right mind would consider practical. But unaware management will fall into the trap and embark on a long, dark, and costly journey if they buy on these castle in the sky ideas. I’ve seen quite a number of tens of millions of good money evaporate this way. And more often than once mind you. Beware!
  4. Misunderstanding complexity: complexity comes in two flavors: essential and accidental. Essential is related to intrinsic complexity of the problem you are trying to solve, no matter the technology (e.g. quoting prices for complex risks). Accidental complexity is connected to accumulated stupid decisions, accretion of old parts, or technology that is just requiring you to be a rocket scientist to use. And sorcerer’s apprentices do create an awful lot of accidental complexity, making even the easy problems look hard.  This keeps the organization from moving into the future.
  5. Overinflated ego: sorcerer’s apprentices should be well inspired to take a huge dose of humility. Their overinflated ego has the bad side effect of alienating them from the other people, rendering their concepts rejected by the practicioner. Nobody wants to deal with a moron, let alone a moron with an overinflated ego. Even if not a moron, an overinflated ego will make you look like one no matter what. This is not to say that a good architect has not a healthy ego. On the contrary, he as one. Just that overinflated egos don’t help and hinder acceptance and forward movement.
  6. Ivory tower mentality: associated with the previous point, the ivory tower mentality has the sorcerer’s apprentices gather together in some department, usually named the “architecture group” whose nobody exactly knows what they do in. There seems to be activity but nothing that influences the field in any meaningful way. It looks like that the sorcerer’s apprentices keep their “valuable” knowledge to themselves. Net result? No evangelization of what works and delivers results. And also, money thrown down the drain.
  7. Paper centered instead of executable focus: sorcerer’s apprentices revel in producing realms of papers, charts -- the more convoluted the better, and other meaningless artifacts that don’t make sense to the people that would be in need of guidance. What people want from architects is guidance, frames of reference, and a sense of trust that they aren’t going to die a slow death into a bad project. Sorcerer’s apprentices don’t provide for that. On the contrary, they’ll send you down a bad trip just as a twisted experiment. And more often than not, they’ll not even be aware of the fact!
So, are your architects sorcerer’s apprentices? Or which one are you? Once known, where to go from there? A great question indeed. A question that may require harsh decisions to head the ship back into the right  direction instead of risking making it the next little Titanic of your organization. Until next time, happy hunt!

11022011 – A special day for numerology? “- –

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Une Relaxation avec Philippe Back

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