Top Digital Transformation and DevOps Influencer

Jason Bloomberg

Subscribe to Jason Bloomberg: eMailAlertsEmail Alerts
Get Jason Bloomberg via: homepageHomepage mobileMobile rssRSS facebookFacebook twitterTwitter linkedinLinkedIn

Related Topics: Agile Software Development, SOA Best Practices Digest, Microservices Journal

Agile Development: Article

Think Like an Agile Architect By @TheEbizWizard | @CloudExpo

Even the most traditional executive can drive agility in their organization

Everybody likes a good cliffhanger, and my last Cortex newsletter offered a doozy: Know when to optimize and know when to disrupt – and above all, know how to tell the difference. Deep. Profound, even. But just how are executives supposed to tell the difference, especially if they’ve gotten this far in their careers without so much as a clue?

Perhaps they’re not the proper type of executive. There are many different kinds of executives running companies or departments today, after all. There are the visionaries: the ones who see a future no one else does. The leaders: setting an example people strive to follow. And then the managers: executives who know how to get the best from the people who work for them. Operations people who run their organizations like well-oiled machines. Sales professionals focused on meeting customer needs. And finally, entrepreneurs – jacks of all of the above but often masters of none.

Of course, all execs, especially the good ones, have a mix of these traits. In fact, balancing these roles, both within individuals and across executive teams, serves to separate well-run organizations from the not-so-well-run.

At least, until it comes to balancing optimization and disruption in order to drive innovation. Many executives seem to lack the necessary skills to tackle this basic challenge. And that brings us to the one role that’s missing from our executive laundry list: architects.

Of course, it’s really no wonder architecture skills are left off the list of exec must-haves, given the sorry state of architecture in many of today’s organizations. It seems that most companies either bury the practice of architecture deep within the technology department, or for those enlightened few firms who understand the important business role of the enterprise architect, expect little more than vast quantities of paperwork from these hardworking but underappreciated professionals.

But none of those roles is what I’m talking about here. Over the last decade of working with and training architects around the world, I’ve identified a special skillset that the best architects must have – not the paper-pushing variety or the deeply technical type, but a revamped architectural skillset I’ve come to call thinking like an agile architect.

Newsflash: Agile Architecture isn’t just for architects. It’s for executives as well – especially those executives who are struggling with innovation in the face of disruption. So, let’s add architect to the list of roles good executives and executive teams must have to compete in today’s ever-changing world.

Four Ways to Think Like an Agile Architect

If you really want me to teach your executive team to think like agile architects, you really should bring me in to run a seminar, you know. But in the meantime, here are five central techniques that will move any executive along the difficult road to driving innovation in the face of disruption.

AA Thinking #1: Separate concerns. We’ll start here because architects will be on familiar ground with this one, as separating concerns has been a tool in their tool belt for many years. Break up any business issue into its basic elements, for example: Organization. Process. Information. Technology. Then consider the properties of each of those elements, and the relationships among them. Some architects make the mistake of confusing this step with the whole of enterprise architecture. Don’t be one of them.

AA Thinking #2: Differentiate between reality and perception (while valuing both). Recognize that people use language to describe reality, and they also use language to influence other people. Seasoned executives carefully choose their words in order to have the right effect on others around them, while architects tend to be quite literal in their language. The essence of this skill is pulling these two approaches together, and knowing when it’s appropriate to use each one.

As an exercise, apply this principle to the advice in this Cortex. “Agile architecture skills” too geeky for the boardroom, perhaps? How about we call them “strategic management skills” instead? An agile architect – excuse me, a strategic manager – will know which terminology to use when, and will also know the underlying reality that the language actually refers to – and most importantly, will never confuse the two.

AA Thinking #3: Think about how things change rather than the things themselves. Following the first two techniques will give you a heightened clarity of expression: you’ll be able to separate concepts into their fundamental essences and then talk about those concepts in a literal way when necessary. Now, stop focusing on those concepts – or more specifically, focus about how the things change rather than the things themselves.

Instead of worrying about various teams or departments, worry about how your organization supports and drives how they change. The same with business processes, competitive pressures, priorities, and all the other issues and entities in the business environment. And don’t forget to apply this rule to the business environment itself! Other people will focus on the things. For executives to drive innovation, they must grab change itself by the horns and climb on board.

AA Thinking #4: Be an iconoclast. Iconoclasts only follow the rules they want to follow and discard the rest. It’s easy to take some management fad or another and treat it as the official word from on high – but every rule, every approach, every methodology applies in certain circumstances while not others. If some approach doesn’t suit the situation at hand, change it, make an exception, or even be willing to throw it out entirely if need be.

If you’re paying attention you’ll notice a unique characteristic about this particular principle: it’s self-referential. In fact, it applies to all the advice in this Cortex. Nothing I’ve written here should be taken as dogma. There will always be exceptions or different interpretations, and no management advice ever applies in every situation.

AA Thinking #5: Do by not doing. Sometimes what appears to be the most direct route to achieving the goal you seek is precisely the wrong approach. For example, focusing on optimizing business key performance indicators leads to brittle organizations. The end result? Failure to achieve the very optimization that was the original motivation. In other words, the best executives optimize by not optimizing.

I’ve also discussed how the best managers give their people the tools they need and then leave them alone to self-organize and figure out how to achieve their goals on their own, without any instruction or direction from management. Yes, the best way to manage is often not to manage at all.

The same is true of architecting, of course. Traditional enterprise architecture loves to cram the business into frameworks and models, connecting plenty of boxes with lines to help describe what the business should be doing better. However, the best architects – agile architects, naturally – take a deeply iconoclastic view of such folderol. They’d much rather be architecting without architecting.

The Intellyx Take: Management for the 21st Century

How, then, do we take our five agile architecture thought exercises and apply them our core innovation challenge? The big picture here is building a culture of innovation. Changing our organizations so fundamentally, however, is inherently risky. Innovation requires disruption, and thus companies risk devolving into chaos as they follow the path to innovativeness.

But good executives (the ones who think like agile architects, of course) realize that there is a difference between chaos and the loosely-managed, self-organizing teams that deal well with change on an ongoing basis. Yes, the behavior of such teams is inherently unpredictable and may appear chaotic, but in reality such a culture is madness with a method, leading to innovation and greater agility. In contrast, true chaos has no pattern and leads only to more chaos.

In my experience, some executives take to this new model for management quickly (or find that they have been following the general approach all along), while others struggle deeply with the fundamental changes that innovative cultures require. The good news is that thinking like an agile architect isn’t rocket science. Take it one step at a time and even the most traditional executive can drive agility in their organization.

More Stories By Jason Bloomberg

Jason Bloomberg is a leading IT industry analyst, Forbes contributor, keynote speaker, and globally recognized expert on multiple disruptive trends in enterprise technology and digital transformation. He is ranked #5 on Onalytica’s list of top Digital Transformation influencers for 2018 and #15 on Jax’s list of top DevOps influencers for 2017, the only person to appear on both lists.

As founder and president of Agile Digital Transformation analyst firm Intellyx, he advises, writes, and speaks on a diverse set of topics, including digital transformation, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, devops, big data/analytics, cybersecurity, blockchain/bitcoin/cryptocurrency, no-code/low-code platforms and tools, organizational transformation, internet of things, enterprise architecture, SD-WAN/SDX, mainframes, hybrid IT, and legacy transformation, among other topics.

Mr. Bloomberg’s articles in Forbes are often viewed by more than 100,000 readers. During his career, he has published over 1,200 articles (over 200 for Forbes alone), spoken at over 400 conferences and webinars, and he has been quoted in the press and blogosphere over 2,000 times.

Mr. Bloomberg is the author or coauthor of four books: The Agile Architecture Revolution (Wiley, 2013), Service Orient or Be Doomed! How Service Orientation Will Change Your Business (Wiley, 2006), XML and Web Services Unleashed (SAMS Publishing, 2002), and Web Page Scripting Techniques (Hayden Books, 1996). His next book, Agile Digital Transformation, is due within the next year.

At SOA-focused industry analyst firm ZapThink from 2001 to 2013, Mr. Bloomberg created and delivered the Licensed ZapThink Architect (LZA) Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) course and associated credential, certifying over 1,700 professionals worldwide. He is one of the original Managing Partners of ZapThink LLC, which was acquired by Dovel Technologies in 2011.

Prior to ZapThink, Mr. Bloomberg built a diverse background in eBusiness technology management and industry analysis, including serving as a senior analyst in IDC’s eBusiness Advisory group, as well as holding eBusiness management positions at USWeb/CKS (later marchFIRST) and WaveBend Solutions (now Hitachi Consulting), and several software and web development positions.