The Architect’s Contract

By Paul Preiss, of IASA Global

Today, it has been 22 years that I have been studying architects. 22 years of delight and chagrin, of hope, belief and wishing. Mpre than two decades of seeing our greatness and the reasons we often fall short.

Many architects consider my approach to the profession to be… intense, is I guess the word. I can be pedantic and even argumentative over seemingly small points, and hand wave away what others think are critical issues. For example, I see no apparent long-term effects from to whom some architects report. If software architects report to the chief strategy officer and business architects report to the VP of application development, it is of no mind to me (bear with me I will explain in moment). I have a weird sense of humor. My friends think Im a bit obsessed. My partner understands this is a life’s calling not a job. Big P Professions, that last, must be shaped. They don’t really just start themselves.

I often worry that I am not up to the task of describing the world I see, the world that I dream about and the one I see forming around us every day, through large and small decisions and through industry changes and pressures. This world, I imagine, is the one I built IASA for, the one I hope to get architects ready to support and enrich. That may sound self-important, but I say it as humbly as I can. That vision is not about me … it is about all of the practitioners and leaders in the profession that I follow, learn from and support. And it is based on the notion of what we can call the societal contract.

Professions Have a Purpose

The societal contract is the core reason a profession exists. Not professional behavior, but what we call the Big P professions… medical doctors, lawyers, accountants, building architects and the like. The basis for the contract is relatively simple. Professions do something for humanity that is necessary which requires intensive study, deep competency, and is bound by ethics. This is service provides something which a ‘layperson’ could not hope to do for themselves in the time they have. Doctors save lives and heal. Building architects and structural engineers build our buildings. Accountants protect our livelihood and future. Lawyers represent us and protect us from immoral, illegal or unethical behavior in a complicated world. In return we award them: a) respect, b) a good to great living, and c) certain ‘rights’ to which no one else is allowed. They are in turn responsible for executing their roles ethically and with a high degree of excellence.PaulTPreiss

So when people talk about architects being professionals, not just acting professionally, but having a true PROFESSION (Im going to capatalize this to differentiate it visually), it is this that I envision, that I have dreamed of for 22 years. A world where architects have a societal contract and are awarded the benefits of that contract as long as they meet their end of the bargain. This herculean effort is no less than the establishment of a truly robust, certified, possibly licensed and definitely liable profession in architecture.

What Is Our Contract?

My great search in IASA has been to discover if architecture is then truly a profession, or even whether it could be multiple professions. I was in no way convinced of that 22 years ago. Back then, architect was a dirty word in most places, it wasn’t until I did thousands of interviews I found out that we are cyclically displaced and ousted in organizations for certain types failures.

So I went looking for a purpose. It is important to note, professions like this have One Big Contract and not 5-10 of them per specialization. Medical doctors save lives and heal. That isn’t reserved for surgeons or oncologists. I hope I am communicating that properly. It translates to IF architects are a PROFESSION, then business architects and software architects must have a common career path and basic value proposition to society. IASA started 50 chapters with this in mind… attracting the most number of architects to participate. My goal was to get to a statistically relevant body of architects together and find what united them and what they provide to their clients in a general way.

Doctors heal. Building architects build… what do we do? The answer came from reviewing focus group answers and about 2000 surveys… we did over 8000 in total, but is was the unifying factor of that data that showed us something special. From all the titled architects five pillars emerged:

  • business technology strategy (what you would call digital today),
  • design,
  • human dynamics,
  • technology and
  • quality attributes.

These were almost universally demonstrated in senior architects… of ALL types. Business architects and enterprise architects, software and solution, information and infrastructure. Some had more focus on one or two pillars than others. For example business architects were normally stronger in BTS, but in general most successful architects claimed ALL five.

This led to our contract.

The architect is a business technology strategist. They provide their clients with ways to augment business with technology strategy in both localized and universal scales. They make decisions which augment the value output of a business model (or a mission model) by describing technology solutions which can fundamentally alter the business model. Some architects specialize in one or more areas of that. But the general data indicated that even pure business architects are called on to rely on their technical skills quite often, and the most technical software architects must have numerous business skills to be successful.

The architect contract: We deliver against best in class decisions on business technology strategy at appropriate velocity in complex ecosystems bound by ethical constraints (we don’t sell you harmful things).

What Comes Next?

I honestly have been searching for the best way to make this profession on par with all the others for the last 20 years and I don’t see myself quitting ever. If enough architects begin to identify as professionals, in my lifetime, and begin to empower themselves through shared action… body of knoweldge, certifications, university curricula, contributions, communities, represenation … and all of the things that big P professionals do so often. Then, by the time I pass on I just might see us take our destiny in our own hands. Where architects can finally have the status and structure and satisfaction of doing what we love and being recognized for our passion, skills and value.

Some of My Lessons on the Way

As I said I make some pretty wild statements to my audiences… things that boil some peoples blood, and yet after 22 years of studying these groups and drawing conclusions here are a few things I have learned:

  • Your current employers ‘way’ of doing architecture is not that important to the profession. In 1 to 5 years they will change leadership or adopt a new methodology or fire all their architects or make them engineers or whatever other management fad comes around. Your architecture practice only succeeds if the architects in it are so valuable they cannot be displaced. Even then executives can still choose another way.
  • Who you report to neither limits you success or hinders it significantly professionally. There are idiots and geniuses, good bosses and bad, successful architects remain successful… even if they have to change employers.
  • There is no such thing as a ‘product’ architect. We would never limit our choices to a single vendor, pattern, or technology.
  • There is no right answer without context and data. Saying ‘we don’t build software’ is like cutting off your arm for no reason. We always do what the right answer for our client is… buy, build, or rent…
  • Governance is not why architects get into the job. The ones that do are generally architect managers not competent architects themselves. All competent architects started out by making things. Proactive, innovation based teams create new architects constantly.
  • Moving up to too high a level of scope makes it very hard to stay a practicing architect. It takes radical dedication to learning to be a real chief architect. Scope is one of the biggest challenges of our field as it is based on the concept of scarcity. Like having city planners ‘design’ homes or skyscrapers or cathedrals. There just aren’t enough to go around.
  • Unless a person is measured by a group of experts against an authentic competency model, you have no idea if they are an architect. Ive sat through board deliberations… it is extremely hard. So don’t ever say someone titled isn’t an architect. It just makes you sound silly. They have the title just like you. Respect it.
  • We are our own worst enemy. Architects spend more time bad mouthing architecture than we do representing each other in the market. In unity is strength. All else makes us look like the intellectual cannibals we are often portrayed as.
  • Technology is more important to the business than any other business unit. I am a technologist and proud of it. I have OTHER business skills too.
  • You have no chance to make an architecture practice interesting if you build it yourselves. Your practices keep reinventing the same failures because you don’t reuse techniques and then share anything new you have found to other professionals. If doctors did this, we would still be leaching people with broken arms.
  • We talk more about architecture than we do about outcomes. It’s like the scab we cannot help picking. Good god you should hear people debate service versus capability versus product. It is awful. At least keep that stuff in the standards world.
  • Frameworks, including TOGAF, have done very little to improve the quality of architecture. They have increased the ability of consultants to sell architecture. That appears to be the purpose of frameworks. (this last one is slightly tongue in cheek).
  • Frameworks cannot be implemented. Only skilled people with the right competencies can build a large architecture practice. Anything else is just ludicrous. Tools and methodologies have failed. You have ALL told me this… just not publicly, it is quite humorous.
  • I don’t hate TOGAF, I never have. It’s fine as far as it goes. I think it is relatively harmless and also relatively unimportant to the history of architects as we mature. But if you want to say I hate it… that’s cool. I will say on record that I will never support our profession being run by a vendor-led closed standards body which is controlled by a non-architect team. Doctors would never accept that. Neither do I.

I hope you will join me on this weird quest. It is hard. There are a lot of twists and turns. And god knows we love an argument. But underneath, I have found, we share more than we disagree.