Draw Something

I have been an architect for some years now. This has led to the ability to express technical concepts with a reasonable level of clarity on a whiteboard without really thinking about what I am about to draw.

If you are ever unlucky enough to be interviewed by me, I will ask you to ‘draw for me the architecture (or part of one) that you played a part in defining’.

The response to this request is often telling by the willingness to jump up and draw as much as by what is actually drawn. I have a reputation that I can’t sit in a meeting room for very long before I grab a whiteboard marker and start to draw something – it’s not something that I hide. An architect that is shy of doing so is a worrying prospect if I am to be completely honest.

The next part of the interview usually involves exploring the resultant drawing further to understand if the candidate has made it up, to ensure the drawing is consistent, to ascertain if the candidate understands the strengths and flaws (and is humble enough to admit them), and which bit of the architecture the candidate was really responsible for (‘so which bit of this were YOU responsible for?’), trying to tear down the ‘we designed’ and ‘we built’ statements and distil them down to ‘I specified’ and ‘I led’ in order to determine skill, seniority and responsibility. Sometimes the conversation will dive into data models, protocols and fallback mechanisms.

I probably put a little too high an emphasis on the quality of the diagram. The style, arrangement and what an arrow really means are all very important to me.

I also like to think myself a bit of a Visio ninja, quite openly admitting that I actually like the tool! The neatness and consistency of a diagram that someone has had time to draw is something which is very telling of their character and something that I will rather unashamedly judge someone by.

There is a whole other world of expression through diagrams that has largely alluded me until very recently. This world is a far cry from the very comfortable universe of systems, interfaces and data models. This is the world of execution approaches for projects, stakeholder relationships,  organisational constructs and operating models.

Let me say that this is not something I can say I am good at but certainly something I am getting better at with my audience sometimes asking if they can take a picture of my diagram so they can put it on a slide (hopefully to show someone important). Quite the compliment.

As architects, it is these diagrams that link us to the real world, to real business outcomes and to what really makes our organisations really function. These diagrams are also the ones that speak volumes to the real decision makers. We tend to not hone this skill quite as much as much as the more technical diagramming that is our bread and butter.

To this end I have decided to invest more effort in learning how to express business concepts in diagrams so I convey my message to my leadership and really make a difference, expressing the stuff that we all know but struggle to communicate.

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