Starting an Architecture Practice in your Organization

I think I can speak for many developers when I say that there comes a point in every project when things just seem to get stuck. And from that day forward, you never look at the project the same way again. So you move on, hoping that you won’t get stuck again. And, perhaps you won’t, but why keep moving around only to get disappointed again? I’d propose an alternative to moving on: making development fun again.

Development is a job that is really dependent on the work itself for fulfillment. Working on a great project with great people is often worth more than making more money doing something boring or tedious; or worse, downright painful. If you find yourself in the latter category, it might be time to look for bigger picture solutions than keeping running into the same issues over and over. So, as a developer, sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is find a different perspective. To that end, starting or joining an architecture practice at your organization can provide you both with new opportunities, and the chance to really “build it right”.

I started in architecture with a value proposition to my CIO. I didn’t claim that I was going to save tons of money, or that I was going to revolutionize anything. But I did have solutions to problems the organization was currently facing. It was his buy-in that made everything possible. Executive support is a critical step in establishing the architecture practice, so take your time with your value proposition. Really think about the challenges your organization faces, and how you can provide not only technological solutions, but business solutions as well. IT Architecture is about bridging the gap between business and IT – to understand business problems in technical terms, and to present technical solutions in business terms.

The next step I took was to build a roadmap. In the case where you are just establishing an architecture practice, there’s probably a lot of chaos. It’s important to have a vision of where you want to get to. Research is important here. Finding out about best practices, modern designs, and new techniques is the bread and butter of being an architect. Once you have an idea, however nebulous it might be right now, it’s time to figure out how to get there. Current State – Future State – Gap Analysis. That’s the essence of a roadmap. Here’s where you communicate your plan to the executive and present clear steps and timelines to achieve goals. Don’t worry about solving everything at once – establish some key principles and focus on those. Architecture is an iterative process, and you’ll hopefully get a chance to build another roadmap.

5 years ago I wrote my first roadmap. 6 months ago I wrote my second. Now I am in charge of making it happen. It is far better for me to have taken a different path, and it has been far better for the organization. This all started because I thought: “there must be a better way”. If you think there’s a better way, don’t be afraid to show its value and find a champion for your ideas. You just might get to implement them.

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