by Paul T Preiss

The most common issue that enterprise and technology architects face is lack of value perception in business AND technology arenas. The team is often considered overhead by both groups. The business doesn’t understand the value that architects add and the technologists resent the architect getting in the way and slowing down the project. These issues stem from a single problem and that is the lack of PERCEIVED value creation. So how do you get around that? The single most important activity of the architect team is to KNOW and SUPPORT your business strategy. Here are 10 ways to support your strategy AND grow your value:

  1. Get to know your business. The best tools for doing this I have found are the business capability map, the business model canvas and the strategy map. There are many resources out there both free and paid to learn these tools including Iasa course, but I have found that most people can understand them with a google search and some reading as well as youtube instruction. Even if you are very very technical architect (actually especially if you are) you should have these created for your company overall and for your partner business units. If you dont know how your business measures itself, where the money comes from and how it creates value for customers then you have no chance of contributing to the bottom line.
  2. Start talking business metrics ALL THE TIME. Over lunch, around the coffee pot, at your desk. If you know the company, it’s goals and it’s business environment and you are constantly talking about sales strategy, market, customer, profit margin, Internal Rate of Return, wall street analysis, trends in your industry – other business people will take note. Maybe they won’t immediately invite you into their business planning but they will identify you as a ‘real’ business person.
  3. Look for easy value wins. Figure out what projects are running currently and what is coming up in the pipeline. Then look around you in the business. Figure out ways to easily save some money and better yet look for things no one has noticed. Is a customer segment under served by technology? Is the human resources project spending way too much money on failing technology? Is there a new technology that would allow you to do something more quickly or smoothly. If you don’t find anything at first keep looking and asking. I have found most architects can identify a few quick wins in just a few months if they are asking the right questions. Note: be careful it is clear you are doing this in your own time and not ‘on the clock’ as it might be perceived as you not doing your job.
  4. Write a business case for an architecture led project. Need to upgrade your infrastructure or move to a SOA? Need to automate a business process? Write a business case and have IT management and business management review it. Doesnt matter if it gets implemented. Start writing business cases for everything. Most architects I meet have never written a business case and don’t know how. This limits your understanding and your perceived value to the business. Why does sales have to do this to get their CRM but IT doesn’t.
  5. Looking into your governance process. Is your project governance exemption rate (the times project staff request exemption from a governance rule or standard) very high? Does the architecture review look like a rubber stamp that the project teams hate? Try refocusing your time on actively participating in the most important projects instead of trying to approve ALL projects. I have met architects with up to 100 projects they are assigned to review. That is not only not feasible it is a waste of staff hours. Get productive on something that moves the company forward instead of constantly playing bad cop.
  6. Do cost benefit analysis for each significant technology investment. I normally characterize significant as any decision which leads to 20,000 or more dollars in developer time, maintenance, license fees, or other measurable impact. If your team doesn’t have the time to do this, train your development leads to do so. It is not horribly complicated to do a basic CBA and the result is it makes people think not about what is technically cool but what is good for the company.
  7. Measure the value delivered from previous projects. How many of your projects had some ridiculous business case (“we are going to make millions off of upgrading our store interface to have bigger buttons!”) only to realize that the project delivered and no one ever asked whether it delivered on the promise. Now you don’t want to call someones pet project a failure necessarily but begin auditing value creation and delivery will get the right language started in terms of how project success is measured.
  8. Build your relationships inside and outside of IT. Can you take a sales person to lunch? Do you know the folks that work in the data center? Successful architecture practice is all about influence and connection and knowing what is really going on. You can not do that from inside your cubicle. Get out and meet people. Go to conferences and networking sessions in town. You need to be the person who know the right people to call when something needs to get done. And they aren’t normally the ones that sit next to you.
  9. Find out how your boss and their boss is measured in terms of performance. Successful architects create value. Value is measured in terms of accomplishment against goals. How is your boss measured? How does he/she receive their bonus? How about their boss? Find out this for your boss and for the boss of the business unit you work with. Successfully impact THOSE measurements and you won’t ever have to look for work. Not to mention you will be helping your company in the ways it finds meaningful.
  10. Study your industry. To stay competitive you have to know what a) the competition is doing, b) what industry best practice is, c) where the business and technical trends are headed. How many trade journals do your read in the business you are in? What technologies or business strategies are leading the way? What research is being done that will impact your business? What compliance standards or regulation impact you.