Early in my career, I was in a meeting where we were talking about a project. The lead architect drew a picture consisting of blobs and lines. The diagram was presented with certainty throughout and positioned the speaker as a key expert. Each blob and line was explained clearly except one…
I pointed at a part of the diagram and asked, “I think missed the explanation of one of the relationships, what does this line mean?” There was a disapproving glare and a sharp answer “there is a relationship!” The tone made it clear to me that the real answer was, “I was glossing over the fact that I don’t know and now you have embarrassed me!”
Perhaps I could have asked the question in a less challenging way. However, that aside, presenting certainty when there is none can cause serious issues as a project progresses and create and build on unacknowledged assumptions.
Sometimes, however experienced you are as an architect and however “strategic” you are in your work, sometimes it pays to get right back to basics. The issue often is how effective is our communication? In the communication of ideas through pictures and words are we being clear? If not then we fail, so it is right, sometimes, to go back and ask yourself whether you are getting the basics of communication right.
I read a book called “101 Things I Learned at Architecture School” by Matthew Frederick. It is about the basics of “traditional” architecture rather than enterprise architecture but I was surprised how much I could get of the book and find relevant to what we do.
The first of the 101 “Things” is “How to draw a line”. Just as in traditional architecture, pictures at various levels of formality are critical for communication.
You need to buy the book to get the specific advice however this page prompts a number of questions:
- what does each line on your diagram mean?
- do the differences between lines – thick, thin, colours, dashes, dots, arrowheads, etc. all have clear unambiguous meanings?
- is the labelling meaningful and informative?
- are you routing lines so they are easy to follow?
- are they crossing?
- are there too many blobs and lines?
- do they take the audience from the “beginning” of the diagram to the “end”?
- does the diagram tell a story?
- when you sketch on a whiteboard, are your lines strong and bold showing certainty in your ideas?
- are the lines weak indicating your lack of clarity?
- do your diagrams leaving people nodding in confusion?
- could your audience use your diagram and explain it to someone else accurately?
The most fundamental tool for an enterprise architect is the simple line. Are you using it right?