Listen – Understand the What first

This is a post in the mentoring series that aims to capture bits of experience that I impart on a Senior Analyst Programmer who is making the transition to Architect.

When a project kicks off there are usually a number of workshops where the business talks through the problem that they want to solve. This is a great opportunity for an Architect to better understand the scope of what they are being asked to design a solution to. The key her is to resist the urge to jump into solution mode, the business will fell a lot better that you understand what their problem is. Besides that there is a fair chance that you have made an incorrect assumption and your solution isn’t quite what the business is looking for.

The best thing an architect can do in these types of meetings is to Ask Questions this allows you to learn some very important things:

  • Learn the business langauge: being able to talk about the problem in the langauge of the business will help build a relationship with the business. Don’t be afraid to play dumb, ask for something to be explained to you so you can understand.
  • Get more detail: for the grey areas ask probing questions that will allow you to understand the scope better as well as some sort of priority. Questions like “Could you give me some more detail about what you mean by Onboard a Customer?” or “Do you see a mobile version of the site as mandatory or a nice to have?”
  • Bring knowledge to the table: As you learn about the problem space you may see some quick wins for the project, this may be additional functionality that the project may be able to leverage off another system or a project bring these up. These sort of things can earn a few extra brownie points people alway like a bargain.
  • Replay: For areas of the problem that could have a sizable impact on the cost of the project clarify what you have heard, “Can I just clarify the mobile site is a nice to have feature?”. You want to make sure that things like this aren’t an assumption but are a fact.

These sort of questions will allow you to learn so much more about the scope of the project. Once you have learnt as much as you can about the projects scope you can start talking about the high level architecture which will be the subject of my next post.

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