Saturday, September 14, 2013

Book Review: Quiet and musing on Introvert and extrovert Enterprise Architects

I happened to come across Susan Cain’s bestseller, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking,  mentioned in an online blog debating personality of technologist and Enterprise Architects and decided to check it out. Peppered with anecdotes and stories, the book well researched and highly readable, not in the style of usual self-help books.   It is certainly an interesting book that takes a 360 degree view of introverts, extroverts and their interactions.  (my Amazon Review)

The book starts by exploring the extrovert culture in America.  The reason for the book’s bestseller status is obvious. It speaks to many of us who might have been called “shy,” “reserved” or at times “introverted” and “quite.” Nobody wants to be labeled thus, especially in professional circles where it can spell “failure.”
At work and in professional engagements, speaking up is seen as a virtue, and an opportunity to stand out.  By not doing so, one could miss out on opportunities; or so it is perceived by most of us. In  our professional life, many of us who might prefer the solitude and quite reflection might put on an extrovert façade.

 Just as the label is contextual and not permanent, there are aspects of the book that one may relate to more than others. As the author and most analysts of human behavior have noted, there is a sliding scale of being extroverts and introverts with a vast majority of us finding a place somewhere in the middle, most of the time.

I love the section on Soft Power explaining the Asian-Americans and the extrovert ideal. It highlights the cultural variances as it pertains to extrovert ideal and introverts while also bringing in the cross-cultural dimensions.  The author’s research is based on review of Asian Americans and Chinese American “kids” in America. She summarizes “Though Eastern relationship-honoring is admirable and beautiful, so is Western respect for individual freedom, self-expression and personal destiny.  The point is not that one is superior to the other, but profound difference in cultural values has a powerful impact on the personal styles favored by each culture. In the West, we subscribe to the Extrovert Ideal, while in much of Asia (at least before the westernization of past several decades), silence is golden. “

Musing on Enterprise Architects and personality types:
  • Communication skills, both verbal and written along with an ability to listen attentively is a key success factor. Introverts need to trust their gut and share their ideas as powerfully as they can.
  •  It is typical to see an EA team with all personality traits; would be too much of a group-think if it were otherwise. Susan Cain explains there is a place for both extroverts and introverts in corporate world (If you are in the backyard sitting under a tree while everyone else is clicking glasses on the patio, you’re more likely to have an apple fall on your head.).
  • Enterprise Architects should train themselves to be both introvert and extrovert as the communication scenario demands.
  • Attitude matters more than personality types. By attitude, I mean perseverance and willingness to stick one’s neck out if the situation demands. Willingness to speak up when something is not right is perhaps as important as the right way to say it; and finding right forum where voicing an opinion will matter.
  • If you’re a manager responsible for Enterprise Architecture, a tip from Susan Cain “remember that one third to one half of your workforce is probably introverted, whether they appear that way or not. … make the most of introverts’ strengths – these are the people who can help you think deeply, strategize, solve complex problems and spot canaries in your coal mine
Bottomline: Personality type plays a lesser role in most business interactions than we give it credit. With the right experience, grounding and training all personality types – introverts, extroverts and those in between –can make good architects.

Tags: Books

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Enterprise Architecture lessons from City Planning: Don’t let the 'Walkie-Talkie' slip by

​“Enterprise architects are practitioners of enterprise architecture; an information technology management discipline that operates within organizations” goes the Wikipedia definition. In a sense, we are practitioners of a unique craft that entails bridging business drivers, goals and vision with technology capabilities and solutions, while ensuring the proposals align with the organization’s roadmaps and regulations. All this can be a bit overwhelming as an elevator pitch. When asked to describe what an Enterprise Architect does, it is common to refer to the “City Planner” analogy. For example, US Government's NIH reference of Enterprise Architects starts by explaining how “You can relate enterprise architecture to the more widely understood concept of city planning. In city planning, zones are established for very specific purposes. The buildings that are built in these zones are constructed to specifications to meet those purposes.”

The EA as City Planners is exactly the analogy I was reflecting on when I came across recent news accounts of the car melting skyscraper in London (“'Walkie-Talkie' skyscraper melts Jaguar car parts”). A few thoughts and perhaps lessons here:

An article quoted the developer of Walkie Talkie building analyzing “the phenomenon is caused by the current elevation of the sun in the sky. It currently lasts for approximately 2 hours per day, with initial modelling suggesting that it will be present for approximately 2-3 weeks.” It is unclear whether the Architect and city planners analyzed this bit of information and decided, the residents of the neighborhood could live with the problem for about 2 hours a day for 2-3 weeks in the year? There is a distinct parallel to the challenges Enterprise Architects face. EA's are sometimes requested to let “tactical” solutions and proposals slip by because the potential impact is “calculated” to be minimal? An example perhaps when the business stakeholder indicated security of data was an “important” Non Functional Requirement (NFR) but got a sticker shock when told what it would cost for the system to be architected with the right principles within our firewalls. The Business stakeholder may also have been sold on a much cheaper alternative: a SaaS solution, hosted on the cloud by a third party vendor. The vendor might have promised that the risk of data breach was “minimal.”

The EA question here: Could the business live with this security risk for "2 hours a day, 2-3 weeks in a year?" Enterprise Architects should review findings of pilots, POC and modeling during initial design; and also stand by the right thing to do!

Another article on the topic mentioned how “The Architect Behind London's Car-Melting Skyscraper Has Had This Problem Before"Rafael Viñoly, the Uruguayan-born architect who designed the new London building that's now frying eggs across the street because of its intense reflection, is the same architect who designed another notorious "fry-scraper" in Las Vegas years ago. In 2010, guests of Viñoly's Vdara Hotel and Spa at MGM's Aria began complaining of severe burns from the glare being reflected off the building's facade."

This is also an issue Enterprise Architects are distinctly familiar with: Governance, feedback loops and of course the courage to say "No" to recurrence of design flaws. And holding a vendor accountable.

Of course, the biggest assumption with the City Planning analogy is that cities are populated by citizen who want to be governed and live by the rules, which would exclude cities in most of the developing world. I crack a smile every time I visualize the city planner analogy applying to Bangalore, the Indian Silicon Valley. On googling, I discovered that the Bangalore Development Authority does have an elegant master plan (link) with a Town Planner Member on board; an Enterprise Architect exists! Per the description, Bangalore’s Plan considers the present situation, the various growth trends at work and future issues. It integrates key influencing factors including City's natural environment, its heritage, and issues of economic efficiency and social equality.” And the visuals on the web page are akin to landscape diagrams Enterprise Architects in a fortune 500 enterprise would be proud of recommending!

My guess is that the town planners in Bangalore, like their peers in most developing nations encounter every imaginable resistance from “stakeholders” - from power hungry politicians who sign off on variances to zoning ordinances, to corrupt planning inspectors and bureaucrats willing to look the other way at major and minor infractions. Of course the City Planners also operate in cities that are populated by residents willing and intent on bending or breaking every zoning rule that doesn’t meet their fancy!

Just like much of the world's population inhabits the third world cities with toothless City Planners, much of Enterprise Architecture is practiced in enterprises without strong governance and stakeholder buy-in. Perhaps Enterprise Architects are really like Bangalore’s Town Planners: defining elegant master plans, landscapes and roadmaps from an ivory tower while their peers rubber-stamp every variance to the standard that “stakeholders” demand!

Other popular EA City Panning references
  • Enterprise architects are like city planners, providing the roadmaps and regulations that a city uses to manage its growth and provide services to its citizens. Wikipedia
  • Companies are focusing on "building codes" that define the principles and guidelines for architecture and on "building permits" that are granted to change initiatives that have been deemed compliant through the architecture review process. City Planning: A Metaphor for Enterprise Architecture:
  • A Simple and Flexible Specification Enterprise Architecture Practice - CMU Reference