The Psychology of Change: An Architect’s Perspective
The Psychology of Change: An Architect’s Perspective
Milan Dabic (P.Eng.), Senior Systems Engineer & Software Architect
May 2, 2018
Change, or the plan to change, is probably the number one reason an organization hires architects, especially when their system landscape is becoming a little antiquated and management is screaming for legacy modernization. Sometimes it’s the business that wants to reengineer their business processes and align them to innovative technology solutions. These are all changes that demand architects to help them. Companies that don’t change with the changing world around them, get left behind. Actually, they shut down or go bankrupt. And it is only later they realize that successful companies change and adapt in a competitive market environment.
By definition architects are changing things and people hate that. The architect feels a sense of accomplishment after creating or improving an area of the business that has become stale. Most employees don’t get the same opportunity. Let’s consider what architects do. Architects carry out projects while the vast majority of employees are working in operational roles and their feelings of accomplishment come from successfully carrying out those operations. Thus, it is a natural human tendency that they oppose us every step of the way. Even if what they’re doing is clerical or routine operations, it doesn’t matter because that’s what they’re judged on and how they perceive personal progress. As architects, our efforts and feelings of accomplishment can, in fact, threaten theirs.
I was hired as the chief architect at a company I thought wanted to make change and go places. However, all I ever heard was “cultural fit” and “the company way” and how much better things used to be before all the change we were trying to make. It soon became evident that nobody wanted to change a thing. There’s nothing worse than being an architect in a place that has nothing to architect (verb). I’m sure one day they won’t have a choice but to change. I wish I could say this was an isolated case, but it was in a software development role at another company where I had a déjà vu experience. I came up with a software innovation that I believed was leading edge, and had both practical and commercial value for our company. However, only a couple of the engineers understood the technical viability, while the rest opposed me tooth and nail. Could they have understood? Most definitely, but they didn’t want to make the effort and change. This would have been against the grain of their corporate culture.
Challenges to the Architect
Every project we face as architects has its challenges to overcome. Technical challenges inevitably come to the top of our minds. After all, this is where we “live”. But let’s not forget business challenges in terms of streamlining business processes across functional areas, standardizing work procedures, improving KPIs, etc. Management is determined to overcome these challenges if it wants to remain a player in a changing and competitive business environment. However, there are other more fundamental challenges that are greater and yet to which we often pay scant attention. More notable among these are cultural and psychological.
Every organization has its own culture, and cultural behaviors are something for the architect to consider seriously. The architect needs to be aware of not only organizational goals but individual goals as well. How will the efforts of the architect impact those organizational and individual goals? Consider as well, how does the organization run its daily functions? A project orientation versus an operations orientation creates very different cultures. And sometimes these cultures collide.
On an individual level, there are psychological challenges. None of us is free of cognitive bias and that is a challenge we need to address. Chief among these is the so-called “status quo bias” that we’re all inclined to believe things are fine the way they are. Another challenge is confirmation bias. It’s all too easy to ignore things that are contrary to our beliefs. Of course, the architect needs to be cautious of bias too. Fundamental attribution error is a trap that is all too easy to fall into. Remember, sometimes people have good reason to oppose us. It’s not always about cognitive bias.
Addressing the Challenge
The way forward is for us to expand our ideas about our roles. We must become agents of organizational change management. If we are to succeed and remain relevant in the future, we must expand our contributions to our organizations. This means that we must promote our ideas, convince management of the value, and set expectations in what we are able to deliver and when.
As has been said before, it’s the soft skills that make us successful – our ability to demonstrate value and communicate with people at different levels of the organizational hierarchy. I’d say having good social skills and the ability to engage with people goes a long way. Also, improving our understanding of the people in our organizations and their perspectives can only help us. It is through persuasion, partnering, crossing domain boundaries, and altering our own perspectives that allow all of us, not just architects, to deliver successful change.
Sometimes I wish I was Wayne Dyer – a famous personal counsellor and psychologist – so that I can help people who want to change. They wouldn’t fight me every step of the way. This would definitely give me some job satisfaction. I’d be helping people by promoting change but also everyone working with me would feel that way too. As architects, we have to find companies that are progressive and serious about change…and appreciate architects as enablers of change. These are the kind of companies that architects can excel in.
Mr. Milan Dabic is a Senior Systems Engineer & Software Architect affiliated with IT Architects in Calgary, Alberta, and has worked in Oil & Gas, Telecommunications, Electronics Manufacturing, and Defense Contracting. IT Architects (www.itarchitects.ca) is an information consulting firm specializing in business process optimization, system evolution planning, and the deployment of leading-edge technologies. If you require further information, Milan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 403-605-1771.