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Why Solutions Architects Need Exceptional Communication and Leadership skills

As highlighted in my previous blog, there are a few key expectations from an architect to be a successful architect no matter in which technology or area the architect is focusing e.g Architectural mindset and thinking, understanding of business model and organizational structures, technical knowledge scope, communication skills, ability to define architecture decisions and principles that serve as a guidance for the detailed solution design and technology selection, etc.previous blog focused on the knowledge scope expectation. which I extremely recommend reading it if you haven’t. Click Here

This blog will focus on other key skills or abilities (communication and leadership)

One of the main abilities that makes you a successful architect, is the ability to effectively communicate your thoughts, concepts, and issues along with recommended solution(s) to stakeholders (anyone who is responsible for the project outcomes or will be impacted by its outcomes such as, networking mangers, applications developer, CIO or even a business user.)

The word “effectively” communicate, was mentioned above intentionally, because it is a key attribute of the expected manner or level of communications.

For instance, as an architect you can produce a 150 pages, document to communicate and describe your proposed solution and the business problem(s) that going to addressed. Nevertheless, the worst thing you can do as an architect is to produce such a large document and share it with stakeholders of the project to read. Simply, because no one will read it.

To communicate your solution as an architect, in a more effective way before, sharing such a large document that people may or may not read it, is by using a an interactive in person session ideally with white-boarding to discuss, explain and justify your solution and thoughts directly with the project stakeholders, as well as listen to their feedback and obtain the buy-in prior to sharing the solution or and official proposed solution document. This is what was referred to as “effective communication” above.

Because almost always the technical parts are the fun ones, and most of the times the focus always on this part. However, the ability to explain the technical aspects, values and business benefits out of it, to nontechnical people is by far the most valuable part. Therefore, you will always find that, if someone doing this job effectively (explain complex technical solutions to nontechnical people), his/her job will never get outsourced anywhere. because you’re the focal point in building and translating the solution architecture from technical to nontechnical terms and map it to business benefits.

That’s why, as part of the key communication skills of an architect, is the ability to act as a translator between the business and technical people, by articulating the architecture solution in clear and concise terms as appropriate to each stakeholder. For instance, explaining a complex solution architecture and taking five hours to do it, this is not very clear or concise.

The other vital aspect here is “appropriate”, for example, having a technical implementation or support engineers in a room to discuss with to them the TCO and ROI aspect of the solution, perhaps not going to be something valuable or appropriate to them. Similarly, discussing in depth, with a CIO, the technical protocols, traffic routing, or Kubernetes Persistent Volumes, etc. within the proposed architecture is not appropriate.

Therefore, a successful architect always ensures to communicate the solution architecture in clear and concise terms as ‘appropriate’, to the respective stakeholder.

What about leadership?

Leadership skills in conjunction with the aforementioned communication skills is a must, to be a successful architect. Because, as an architect, you will be always leading various communications, discussions, and teams’ members, specifically the people who are part of the project at different phases (almost always, those teams’ members are not necessarily report to the architect from the company’s organizational point of view).

For any solutions architect, leadership can be a simple task to a certain extent, if the architect is at the top of the team hierarchy, this team has a pyramid-like, structure and he or she is the team boss, in which team members are depending on the architect.

However, architects in any organization are hardly ever operate in hierarchies. Most often, they operate in networks with other teams’ members. A network here, indicates that there are multiple teams and members, and sometimes they cloud be with opposing interests. In other words, this is not pyramid structure style, instead it is more of a spaghetti-like structure of joint dependencies.

The structure imposes some complexities on the architect, because in real world we deal with unstructured problems and divergent opinions, which means there is no single right solution. Without going deeper why such conflicting or divergent opinions exists. Instead the key point here is that, a leader in such project is someone with certain type of expertise and mindset who should be capable to guide the different teams in the right direction.

Keep in mind, this is not as simple as described here. Therefore, it is very important that an architect must have exceptional leadership characteristic. This exceptional leadership characteristic refers to the ability to influence and lead people from different teams without being their direct manger. This typically comes from having the right technical expertise, strong communications skills, leadership attitude, and the ability to lead by example. Also, a successful architect, invests in good relationships with other peers and other teams’ members, to collectively deal with any rising uncertainties. Moreover, an architect to be a successful leader in any project or new solutions engagement, he or she should appreciate that decision making should be an interactive process and has to emerge in cooperation with other peers, and not in isolation.

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Marwan Al-shawi – CCDE No. 20130066, Google Cloud Certified Architect, AWS Certified Solutions Architect, Cisco Press author (author of the Top Cisco Certifications’ Design Books “CCDE Study Guide and the upcoming CCDP Arch 4th Edition”). He is Experienced Technical Architect. Marwan has been in the networking industry for more than 12 years and has been involved in architecting, designing, and implementing various large-scale networks, some of which are global service provider-grade networks. Marwan holds a Master of Science degree in internetworking from the University of Technology, Sydney. Marwan enjoys helping and assessing others, Therefore, he was selected as a Cisco Designated VIP by the Cisco Support Community (CSC) (official Cisco Systems forums) in 2012, and by the Solutions and Architectures subcommunity in 2014. In addition, Marwan was selected as a member of the Cisco Champions program in 2015 and 2016.

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