Software architects are responsible for the technical solution to ensure it achieves the desired business outcomes. To do so requires broad technical and business knowledge with a deeper understanding in a couple technical areas. It requires being able to see the big picture. It requires the wisdom to evaluate different solutions to the problem. But most of all it requires really good communication skills to convey the solution. You can become a great software architect by being a great communicator.
Why the Emphasis on Communication?
To understand your customers’ and team members’ positions. To get your point across to different audiences. These audiences range from developers to business & system analysts to product owners to business customers. Each has different levels of technical comprehension.
As software architects we deal with complex concepts every day. We need to convey these concepts to a wide range of audiences. Nowadays these concepts are becoming even more complex. The need to be able to explain them clearly is becoming more important. Managers responsible for hiring are increasingly looking for people with good communication skills. Therefore, if you come across as a great communicator, this gives you an edge.
At least half of communication is listening. This means making a conscious effort to put yourself in the recipient’s position. Really try to understand their perspective. Visualize yourself in their situation. They may be looking for some way to increase customer satisfaction, to improve response times, to meet a requirement, or to implement security in their code.
It’s very important to understand their perspective. What for you is more frequent automated deployments may for them be faster response to changing regulatory requirements.
By actively listening like this, you can design an architecture that best meets their needs.
How to Develop These Skills
The same way you get to Carnegie Hall. Practice.
In your next status meeting, try using slightly less technical terms and more business terms that your product owner can understand. Be careful with acronyms. Use them when your audience knows exactly what they mean.
The next time you meet with one of your business system analysts, try using more terms they are familiar with.
Offer to give a lightning talk or a lunch & learn to your fellow developers. Your peers are your most forgiving audience.
Offer to give a presentation at your next user group meeting. Organizers are always looking for new speakers and fresh topics.
After each interaction, think of how how you could improve yourself the next time the situation arises.
Ask for advice and feedback from your boss and colleagues.
Think of the outcome that matters to your audience. For developers this may mean how to use a new framework, or how to make better use of an existing framework. For business customers it’s usually solving a problem they have. Explain your solution in terms of how it will solve their problem.
If this sounds a bit like salesmanship, well, it is. We’re listening to our audience to understand their problem. We’re trying to solve their problem by explaining the solution in terms of how it will benefit them.
Carefully review what you have written. If you are giving good news, it’s hard to mess up the message. If it’s bad news or the least bit controversial, take time to review your message from your audience’s perspective. Would they interpret your message the way you want them to?
Avoid confrontational language, instead opt for gentle persuasion. Instead of saying “you should do …”, try “if we considered doing X, we would accomplish Y sooner/cheaper because …”.
Point out the benefits of what you are writing about in terms that matter to your audience. For analysts it’s often how it will meet a business requirement. If you still use project managers, write in terms of how it will meet the planned scope, schedule and/or budget.
Watch and listen to your audience as you make your point. Do their eyes glaze over? Do they repeatedly ask the same question? Then you may be getting too technical. Bring it up a level or two and simplify or clarify your explanations..
On the other hand, if they appear to be engaged, if they lean forward in their chair or toward the screen, or smile and nod their heads, that’s a good thing. It’s a sign they are interested, and you’ve hit on something that matters to them.
The key to success in business communication is conveying the message in a way the recipient clearly understands. It is our job to ensure the recipient understands what we are trying to say. Phrase your message using terms they understand. Ensure that message solves the problem in a way that matters to them.