Influence vs. Force – Incenting Others to Get on Board with Your Architecture Initiatives

Aug 31, 2013
Written by
Daniel Jumelet
Daniel Jumelet

Influence vs. Force – Incenting Others to Get on Board with Your Architecture Initiatives

Almost every architect has met the following frustrating experience during his career: A proper and well defined business case, architectural advice or Project Start Architecture is not being used by the organization the architect wanted to serve with it. Time and again we see decisions made based on:

  • A vendors ‘too good to be true’ sales presentation.
  • The wish of a major department manager, leaving the architect’s work ignored or pushed aside.
  • A project manager formally accepts a PSA, but then leaves the builders’ team almost undisturbed in a completely different direction than the architect envisioned.
    In daily life, it is clear that architecture is a fragile process that does not have status and authority in an organization automatically.

Even when an organization has developed complete governance structures, with a decent place assigned to the architecture function, it often appears to be much more difficult to bring it into practice than it was to put it on paper. In many cases, line managers are not convinced of the usefulness of architecture. Project Managers perceive the architect as a professional inhibitor or policeman. System administrators look upon architects rather as threats or incompetent busybodies. This means that architects must sell their added value to the organization, and more importantly, the architecture products they produce. But how is something like that done? How does one ensure that, from his or her position as architect, a sufficient amount of influence is exerted and his/her contribution is successful and valued by the organization? Often, those around the architect have little or no incentive built in to follow along and are not “forced” to do so, due to the absence of formal decision-making powers. From personal experience I would like to share an observation that might be of help here.

For a number of years I have been a member of the Town Council in my city, next to my full-time job as infrastructure architecture consultant. In this Town Council, the party I serve has only one seat, on a total of twenty one. Since the coalition is formed by other parties, I am ‘condemned’ to reside on the opposition side. Parties on this side have the minority of votes and are often divided amongst each other, to make things worse. However, as it is often the case in life, it actually turned out to be a ‘blessing in disguise’. It brought me the insight that something like ‘influence without force’ exists, something – if exerted right – has great value.

First of all, it means that I need to pick my battles. It then requires deep research into relevant facts, while at the same time keeping a global overview. It means that I have to interact in different ways with different parties, organizations, individual and grouped citizens based on a consistent representation of information and ideas that is adapted to each and every counterpart. It requires transparency and the communication of vision, positions and desired solutions through various channels and media. That involves, amongst other things, the party website, publications in local newspapers and online community forums, exhaustive exchange of phone calls and emails with other councilors and of course, the actual debate in the Town Council. That is how I have been able to achieve a number of important results our city benefits from. In the long run, it is these results that count and prove that one can influence the course of things without being able to execute force.

Of course, the comparison between the role of the architect (responsible for consistency and quality) and that of a councilor seated in the opposition bench (trying to goad the coalition into better decisions) does not hold in all aspects. However, my conclusion from this experience, is that an architect must prove its added value based on the results he gets. This is done by providing architecture products that make a difference. This is done by creating various products that fit the needs of different stakeholders whilst sharing those products in various, effective ways with those counterparts. Time and time again, stakeholders need to be convinced, making use of clear views and crisp arguments. In this process, it proves to be very important to involve stakeholders at an early stage of the development of architecture products. Preferably with short and powerful interactions, in this situation, ‘less is more’. In this way, a good reputation is being built and trust is being created, which makes it easier to be of value to the organization, step by step. Probably the most important thing is the desire to serve. Because influence without force works best if it finds its source in pure motives. This way, transparent fragility is being transformed into delicate power.

I wish you the best in your architecture endeavors!

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