A Project Manager’s Best Friend – The Architect

Marianne Hang, Senior Project Manager

March 23, 2018

What does a Project Manager who has been in the business for 25 years say about architecture and how it saved my life on more than a few occasions? I’ve seen it all, everything from pure project management using waterfall methodology to agile methodology to hybrid methodologies. I’ve covered all strains of project management, including project delivery, program management, portfolio management, project management offices, and everything in between, which would make your head spin. When I’m asked what makes a project successful, my response is always focused on the people – I call them people rather than resources for a reason. Deliverables are vital but it’s the people behind the deliverables who really matter. The quality of deliverables depends almost entirely on the people that you have around you on the Team. I capitalize the word “Team” for a reason too. I don’t remember ever managing a project that was simple and easy, and I’m not sure that there is such a thing. By the very nature of work that is deemed to be best managed through a project, we know there is something to do with that work that is neither simple nor easy. So we bring together a group of people to work together to address what is not simple or easy in order to realize success. Bringing together people into a Team – the right folks at the right times – is vital. Each Team member is vital and a vital component of the whole. In this article, I want to focus on the vital nature of the IT Architect to the Team.

In my experience in the project management space, I’ve come to understand that the IT Architect and their role can make or break the success of an initiative. If that role isn’t sourced appropriately, it can be one of your greatest strengths or one of your greatest weaknesses. Without alignment with the IT Architect, an initiative cannot and should not get off the ground. Moving forward without that alignment can turn a project into what we in the project management space unkindly refer to as “the project from hell”. Unless alignment is found, the initiative can be a death march for all, leading to unsuccessful or poor quality delivery. As important, it can mean broken working relationships that may require years to heal. And some battle wounds, especially when the war is lost, never heal.

On the other hand, an IT Architect sourced appropriately based upon skill set, solution requirements, and relevant business knowledge – in addition to soft skills – is an enormous proponent and protector of project success. As such, they are also a proponent and protector of the organization’s best interests. Empowering such a resource is key and has value throughout the system delivery lifecycle of an initiative. Value add is also realized organization-wide on an ongoing basis. My experience working with a strong, aligned IT Architect who also believes in the importance of soft skills has been transformative – both for me as the Project Manager and for the project itself. In the early days of a project, we want to see a foundational group of three roles – Project Manager, Business Lead, and IT Architect – who help ensure that the initiative moves forward out of the visioning stage well prepared to actually deliver on that visioning.

The skill set of a great IT Architect is not for the faint of heart. As a Project Manager, I look to the IT Architect not only to be my technical confidant, but also to embody knowledge that transcends the solution and organization in understanding technology at a global level. This knowledge base is what helps to ensure we deliver the right solution for the business requirements, with as few surprises as possible, aligned to best practices, quality standards, and maintenance processes. The IT Architect understands the ins and outs of the technology matrix, including the pain points and future benefits, as wells as the vendor behind the technology. The IT Architect has working relationships with the business, and understands the importance of forging and fostering those relationships. Their egos do not lead and they work just fine within a Team, while also understanding their role as a solution leader. The IT Architect works closely with the Project Manager and Business Lead in partnership ensuring that the rate of project success increases dramatically. Challenges that arise, as they invariably do, are met by a mutually supportive Leadership Team that naturally empowers its members in various areas of expertise. This Leadership Team also works together to empower the Project Team as a whole – providing guidance, mentorship, coaching, direction, protection, and modeling best practices. It is this group of three that assists in developing the vision and maintaining alignment with that vision, as well as managing the journey that leads to delivering solutions to realize the vision.

The early days of a project can feel like a gray and insubstantial place – nothing is concrete yet, no deliverables may yet be in place, people joining the Project Team may feel uncomfortable with the newness of it all, and it may be difficult to capture and communicate the point of the initiative. As a Project Manager, I look to my IT Architect as much as I look to myself during this time to help navigate out of the gray and insubstantial, and into a place where we, the Team, and our stakeholders feel increasing comfort with the process. This requires clarity of thinking and communication; it means we need to work closely together to get a definition in place that describes what the project is doing and why. This definition must be crystal clear for an organization to succeed. Thus, an IT Architect who knows the business and possesses strong soft skills is invaluable. It’s not enough to provide pure technical visioning and design plans at this time. In fact, it may not be possible quite yet. What is more critical is being able to articulate technical components of the vision for the solution in a way that is understandable to all stakeholders, clearly aligned to high level requirements and with enough confidence to inspire comfort without being intimidating or closed to input. Here is where I must remind you of my earlier statement regarding the lack of alignment in the early days of a project, which may result in the project never getting off the ground. If the Project Team cannot inspire confidence at this time, the important early and positive connection with stakeholders may be lost and as the saying goes: “You have only one shot at making a good first impression”. Remember that the Project Team itself is a key stakeholder at this time and the leadership group of Project Manager, Business Lead, and IT Architect must work together to build confidence and comfort with those individuals, as much as with business and governance. In particular, the technical people on the Project Team may be taking their direction from the IT Architect so early alignment within this working group is necessary. An IT Architect who acknowledges this and provides that direction from a coaching and supporting perspective, along with their expertise, will help to bring out and maintain the best of the technical people on the Team. This is especially important as solution design and build work begins, testing is conducted, go-live proceeds, and transition to operations is formalized.

Another key area that the IT Architect supports and facilitates is vendor management. This component may be forgotten or minimized in a project and when it rears up, can significantly impact the success of solution delivery. The IT Architect will often have, due to the far-reaching nature of their skill set and background, working relationships and/or experience with solution vendors. This is extremely important in terms of risk and its mitigation. Thus, when the IT Architect has a good working relationship with the solution vendor, risk is much more manageable. In some cases, the IT Architect can provide an early warning system for solutions that have a history of failure, in which case risk can be eliminated by changing the solution and/or vendor, or at least help by mitigating against surprises.

As a result of my long experience and in reviewing past successes and failures, I see very clearly that while the role of an IT Architect is so often considered a purely technical one, the reality is that a great IT Architect possesses so much more than top quality technical knowledge and experience. The IT Architect also possess a high level of expertise and experience in working with people (i.e. understanding how to bring a high level solution vision into an actual working solution because they’ve talked with people, empowered people, and embraced their leadership role with the Project Manager and Business Lead). The IT Architect is adept at maintaining a skill level that reflects a worldwide level of knowledge, while also being able to perceive and solution at a tactical and human level. For me as a seasoned and expert Project Manager, working with an IT Architect who embodies these qualities is always an honour, often a relief, and frequently becomes a trusted and valued working relationship that lasts a lifetime.

Ms. Marianne Hang is a Senior Project Manager affiliated with IT Architects in Calgary, Alberta. 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, Marianne can be reached at [email protected] or 403-815-7505.

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