Slow!

Nish always takes it slow! He may be ten steps ahead of his audience but he is very careful to nurture their understanding as he tells his story. I had the honour to be present as he introduced some new ways of working to his colleagues.

We knew the answer. We had a plan. My natural approach would be to tell the world the plan and bask in the glory of my great insights and creativity. However, after too many failures to convince others of how to do things better, I have learned that others are better at getting ideas accepted than I am.

I have watched others and tried to learn. Where I can, I have adopted their approaches. I wrote previously about the puppet master. He had great techniques for getting things done. Then there is Don, he is Australian and the slight accent seems to charm people. But his greatest skill, in my eyes, is taking my injudicious statement, rewording it and making it acceptable to a potentially hostile audience. I did adopt, in my own clumsy way, a technique from a CIO that I used to work for. It was to use the phrase “I want to build on that” and then say what ever I wanted to say very loosely attaching it to the previous statement. I have got away with some quite outrageous leaps doing this.

Back to Nish. He would identify all the people who might have an interest and work out a message that they would accept. He would then very carefully work out the steps in getting that message over. He would then pace his communications to take just one step at a time. He would meet each group of people face to face or by phone and slowly and carefully take them through one concept, one change, one idea at a time.

I would sit and try to fade into the background. I wanted to speak, I wanted to accelerate the conversation. But I knew better. My natural confrontational approach does open up the discussion but sometimes it closes minds. So I continue to sit there, only speaking when asked to, partly frustrated and partly bored.

Nish would achieve his communication goal and close the meeting, no extended discussion. We would then review what had happened. Did I notice the body language, did I notice the voice tone, were any strange phrases used, did I notice any changes in posture? Nish wanted to understand if he had indeed communicated what he had intended. We would assess and revise our communication plan after this review. We would also assess and revise the changes that we planned. Nish emphasised that we should be learning from our communication not telling.

After our audience had time to adsorb the message but before they forgot it, we would take the next step in the communication plan. After some weeks or months, Nish would have convinced all the stakeholders that there is a useful change to be made and we would be given the go ahead to implement the changes. These changes were not ours any more. They had evolved through the conversations and now belonged to the group.

a name

Why “mozog”?

Every site has to have a name.

I wanted something distinctive.

I have connections to Slovakia and Hungary and the word “mozog” came to mind.

It is short, hopefully memorable, means nothing in English and was available.

In Slovak, “mozog” means “brain” which is apt because what I do is based on thinking.

In Hungarian, “mozog” means “move” which is also appropriate because I aim to help organisations move themselves to better places.

The danger of passion…

Like many enterprise architects, I am extremely passionate about my work. I like to work with and employ passionate people. But the passion that creates drive, which causes them to push through when others would stop, is dangerous. It can override sensitivity to other people’s feelings. It can mean poorly thought through action prevails over a considered plan.

If you are about to employ a passionate person then think it through. Get them to work through tough scenarios. When they miss out on a promotion or pay rise because they upset a key person who doesn’t understand passion, how would they deal with it? When a colleague actively obstructs them, how will they handle it? When the strategy that they have worked on for six months is rejected by the board, what will their reaction be? Can you help them think things through without stifling their power? Can you protect them? How would they avoid the situation? How would they reduce the damage caused to other people and themselves? How will you look? How will you deal with the problems that a passionate person can cause? You need to understand how you will use and direct this passion for positive effect. You need to understand how you will manage the risk to yourself and your passionate employee.

As a passionate person, you need to understand that how ever much your employer talks about wanting people who are passionate, this is usually a myth. The job adverts and person profiles are mostly written by “dry old fish” who wouldn’t recognise passion if it came up and kissed them. They are writing to attract staff, they may be half copying someone else’s work, they are selling. You are buying, you need to make sure it is not a con. Can your new manager cope with you? Will they protect you? Is the political situation one where you will be easily provoked into rash action?

Take a walk around the office — it is easy to spot passion — there should be raised voices, there should be people standing around talking animatedly about work. If there is quiet, if people are huddled in their own cubicles with little interaction then there is no passion. A passionate person communicates and shares. If there is quiet then you will be a misfit. Are you willing to be a pioneer and create some, at least initially, unwelcome noise? Does your new manager really want you to disrupt the current peaceful working environment? Is your new manager prepared to take a risk? Is your new manager prepared to have some fun?

What story does your architecture tell?

Stasis

A little while ago, I was presented with a “solution” that started with an over-complex block diagram of a set of inter-related applications with a brief description of each below. This was followed by a description of the technical implementation of the “presentation layer” followed by “business logic layer”, etc. The problem statement was along the lines of “we need to be more agile in redeploying our sales force to address changes in the market”.

My response was to state that we need to explain the story of business change. Within that overarching story there will be an IT story. Both stories must show that we understand where we are today, where we want to get to, the imperative for change, the key decisions that we need to take and the major steps on the way.

Trigger

At this point I am uneasy because I’m not sure whether I have made myself clear. Do they “get it”? Do they understand what an architectural story is. Yes, everyone is TOGAF certified. But I’m not sure if they have the hard won experience of a grey haired enterprise architect to recognise what is needed to get through the approvals boards and funding committees that will turn their hard work into reality.

The Quest

My role involves creating, reviewing and often guiding the development of solutions. A question that I often ask to gauge whether they are on top of the solution is “what story are you trying to tell?”. My idea was to explain how to tell a story…

Ruth Mallan quotes number 11 from Pixar’s “22 rules of storytelling”. “Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.”

Surprise

Why tell a story?

I found Kelsey Ruger’s site “Kenzie Creative”. Take a look at his articles on storytelling. Story telling helps people cope with change, it removes fear, it makes the complex simple, it persuades, and it creates a vivid picture of the future.

What is a story?

More from Kelsey Ruger… “ When you are dealing with complex situations, topics or people, stories offer a way to bridge the gap through the use of what is called universal truth stories.” When an architect is presenting a solution, this is selling, the message needs to resonate emotionally. Only then do the facts become relevant.

A defining aspect of a good story is that there is tension, there is conflict, there is a level of discomfort that keeps the audience engaged. This is a defining aspect of architecture, there is typically a stress between long term and short term goals, between local agendas and the corporate direction, between the strategic and tactical.

Critical Choices

How should I tell a story?

Kelsey Ruger again … “stories shouldn’t be just a string of events mashed together” they must have a structure. There a number of standard story structures. Using a familiar structure means that the audience are more likely to follow the story.

How should I structure my story?

The 3 act structure is probably most well known story structure. What is the Three Act Structure? How do we use the Structure & Plot to build a story?

In the first act we find out what the problem is, who the main characters are and what conflict there is. This is where we paint the picture of the As-Is, we recognise there is a better way — the To-Be, this is where we recognise there is an imperative to change.

In the second act, the complexity of the problem is presented, near impossibility of resolution, we need to make critical decisions to move forward or accept defeat. This is where we get to the root causes of the problems and start to identify possible solutions, but we discover there is no easy way out.

In the final act, we make key decisions to reach our goal, we make a plan and follow it to a successful conclusion. We make the difficult decisions, we make the compromises or stick to principles, we develop a roadmap, we develop a delivery plan and we govern it through to achieve the To-Be.

Climax

But this isn’t enough, is it?

We need something with a bit more depth. This is where Nigel Watts’ Eight-Point Story Arc comes in, it adds enough details to the story structure so that we can construct a story arc for architecture. This structure can be used as a checklist to ensure that a story is complete.

Reversal

The 8 points, with an architecture interpretation, are:

  1. Stasis — The As-Is state.
  2. Trigger — Why now? What is the trigger event that means that we should act now? What is the imperative to change at this point?
  3. The quest — These are the problems with the current state that need to be addressed. What is our motivation to change?
  4. Surprise — This is where we determine the goals to be met by the change. We may wish to solve the problems or we may wish to go further.
  5. Critical choice — The key decisions that need to be made to achieve the goals, or to compromise on the goals. This is where we define our options for change, the change impacts and the decision principles that we will apply in making a decision.
  6. Climax — This is the big decision where we commit to a way forward with the resources necessary to get there and a change owner to drive the change through.
  7. Reversal — We reverse the problems and create an improved future state through a roadmap of coherent actions.
  8. Resolution — The To-Be state.

Resolution

When I presented a diagram to a boss of mine some years ago, he said “I know that they say a picture is worth a 1000 words, but if you can’t summarise message in the picture in a few words then the picture is worth nothing.”

When you want to present your architecture you should try to fill in each box with a few bullet points. If you can then you know that your architectural story is complete. If you cannot then you still have some work to do — you can still present it but you should be asking for guidance, help or time rather than approval.