Architecture Qualifications

I was recently asked about Software Architecture qualifications by a reader to the blog, and I’m keen to share my advice a bit more widely.

They are an experienced developer, looking to take a step away from being an individual contributor, to become a design and system implementation influencer. They wanted to know my thoughts about TOGAF, and how useful the qualification had been in my own progression.

My advice assumes that you’ve already decided that a certification or formal course of study is the right way for you to go on your next learning step. If you are a proponent of the 70/20/10 model, then this is very much covering what you should do with your 10% time. So, without further ado, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of the possible options.

TOGAF was an interesting course of study, but I really feel it’s got a very narrow range of applications. I believe it’s only relevant for a very small number of extremely large organisations. It’s main focus was around the creation and maintenance of a large architecture practice in an enterprise, which is well away from the day to day of designing and developing systems.

If you are looking at a progression path from individual contributor to technical leader, then I’d strongly advise your favourite flavour of cloud certifications. I use AWS at the moment, and there’s a Solutions Architect track that’s really good. There are similar Microsoft paths for Azure, or Google ones for their cloud.

ITIL is possibly a useful direction, but that does tend more to hardware and processes, so might be less useful if you are aiming to design and create new systems, as opposed to running existing systems stably and efficiently.

If you are thinking modern companies, strong agile approaches and staying close to the day-to-day implementation of your designs, then the Cloud route is my number 1 suggestion, and there’s a lot of great supporting courses out there to aid your studies!

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Time is precious

Time is the one thing we all have the same amount of, the only thing we cannot get more of and our most precious resource.

As such, we should all be mindful of how we spend it, how much it’s worth to everyone we interact with, and how valuable it is when someone uses their own time to help you out.

The first and most important thing we can do is understand how we use it. HBR recently published an excellent and insightful article on how top CEOs spend their time. The Leader’s Calendar is an eye opening view on many aspects of the daily lives of top execs, and certainly worth the read.

One piece that stands out is that even for these already time conscious people, the difference between how they think they spend their time and how they actually use it is stark. As true today as it was when first coined, Know Thyself is advice that resonates down the years.

Understand why you are doing something, what value it brings to your life and the lives of those around you. Ruthlessly cut out anything that isn’t great or moving you in the right direction. Do this and you’ll do more of the right things, which is the most worthy of aspirations.

The Coaching Habit – Questions

Just a quick update today on the Coaching Habit.

If you are building up your muscles in this area and trying to solidify your habit, then having the seven questions available to you in an easy to digest format is incredibly useful.

I’ve found this poster covering the Seven Essential Questions to be the best representation of these questions. You can print it out and paste it in your notebook, so it’s always there whenever you need inspiration on where to go next in the conversation.

Measure What Matters

Measure What Matters is John Doerr’s new book outline the theory and practice of using OKRs to drive success and 10x growth.

Objectives and Key Results are a goal setting method that can be used to bring to bear four superpowers:

  • Focus and Commit to priorities
  • Align and Connect for teamwork
  • Track for accountability
  • Stretch for amazing

The basic premise is simple, on a regular cadence, set Objectives that can be measured by a set of Key Results.

Each OKR is made public, they are transparent and shareable. Every person in the company can link their personal OKRs in to the company wide objectives, as an example one of your personal Objectives may tie directly to a Key Result of your team or department’s OKRs, and so on up the chain.

Key Results must truly be measurable, they should be specific, set with a real date and the metric should be unambiguous. ‘Increase active users’ is bad ‘Increase daily active users by 25% by 1st May’ is far better. They don’t cover the how, but are used to define the direction and measure of success.

We must also check in on OKRs regularly, the value is not just that they exist, but that we measure how we are getting to the goal. Looking at the successes and understanding the failures is a fundamental method to ensuring they add the true value they can provide.

John reminds you that OKRs should not be tied back to personal performance reviews. One of the superpowers is the ability to stretch, and OKRs should be set so they are difficult or uncomfortable to achieve. A stretch OKR may only be hit 60% of the time, but if it’s tied to personal compensation, you can be sure it’ll be hit more often. The stretch is so important because hitting 80% of a massive goal is much more rewarding and transformative than reliably hitting 100% of a simple goal

The book is an easy read, with a history of OKRs, how they came to Google and illustrations of their use at a number of other companies. It’s an inspirational guide on how a simple tool can have such significant power. The resources at the end of the book are extremely valuable, especially if you are attempting to set up your own OKR system, so it pays to spend to the time studying these as well as the case studies covering specific areas.

Overall, a great introduction to the OKR mindset, definitely worth picking up, and returning to as you go on your own OKR journey to success.

Leaders Eat Last

Simon Sinek’s follow up to Start With Why is another excellent and thought provoking read.

Leaders Eat Last is a longer read, and in many ways an easier one. Where Start With Why occasionally struggled with the repetition of example, this is less a feature in Leaders Eat Last.

Instead, we are taken through a tour of what it means to be a leader, how building a circle of safety and trust will create a strong organisation, and allow people to achieve their greatest outcomes.

It spends a long time talking about various biological and chemical imperatives that make us work well together, and suggest where we may fail. It’s not fundamental that you believe this approach to take value from the core message of the book. It has the feeling of popular science that may not be backed up by rigorous evidence, but this doesn’t detract from the overall thesis.

Leaders need to make a safe and trusting space for those they lead. They reap the benefits of higher status and acclaim, but the deal is that they will be the first to run towards danger when it manifests itself.

This is the core idea. Serving the needs of those you lead, being ready to risk all for their good and you’ll be rewarded with loyalty and dedication above and beyond what you could otherwise expect.

Greatness by David Marquet

This excellent video is a brilliant use of ten minutes of your time – Greatness – David Marquet

It’s a great way to see an example approach to Servant Leadership, switching from a telling to an asking mindset and empowering people to use their own skills and abilities to solve problems.

By setting expectations on behaviours, and goals to achieve, it’s possible to give people the opportunity to get to those places in the best way, bringing the efforts of all towards finding a solution, rather than relying on the approach and guidance of one person.

The Coaching Habit

Back this month to books, and I’ve just finished Michael Bungay Stanier’s excellent and entertaining book, The Coaching Habit. It’s a short and fast paced introduction to providing highly valuable coaching sessions in the busy day-to-day work environment.

The book’s premise is simple, and on the front cover! Say less, ask more.

However, rather than a high minded or academic approach, Michael runs through a set of seven short but effective questions you can use to take practical steps to improve your habits.

The start of the book explains how to build a habit, why it may be difficult and why you should persevere. It then splits between explanations of the seven questions, and masterclasses that give useful techniques and insights.

Where some books may stretch their content with repetition, The Coaching Habit eschews this approach, going for fast pacing, large text and bold quotes. It’s an easy afternoon read, but one that you’ll want to come back to many times as you start putting its lessons into practice.