The architect as explorer on the evolutionary path (2/7)

Agility has become more important than ever for organisations. The arrival of the World Wide Web (WWW) in 1993 was the start of a technology push which has accelerated exponentially over the last few years. A combination of strongly decreasing prices for computational power and data storage and the availability of internet as a cheap means of transportation has led to a wave of new technological inventions. The pioneering years are no more. Data is a new primary production factor with an enormous impact on existing business models.

No sector will remain untouched by this. The retail trade is changing by moving shopping activities online, the production industry is transforming and business services are changing using algorithms to produce natural text. In sectors such as Healthcare, physical labour is being partly replaced by technological monitors. The key message is that nothing is certain. For the architect, this leads to one certainty: ‘Change will happen’.

This means that you need people in your organisation who can systematically think ahead and explore the environment. They can see which changes are taking place and can suggest changes of course.

Herein lies an important task for the architect. Architecture, as a discipline, focusses on looking ahead, at estimating the consequences for the future ability to change, at looking at a problem from different points of view and communicating with all involved about it. It’s precisely people who are architects who have the skills to keep looking a few steps ahead and to weigh conflicting signals or requirements against each other. Architects can ensure solutions which can evolve along with the sector.

the architect as explorer

What does exploring mean in practise? In my opinion, the architect-explorer should:

  • Follow developments in their sector and evaluate the impact on their own organisation,
  • Keep tempting the organisation into discussing whether the use patterns, the course chosen and the movements noticed in the sector still fit one other,
  • Communicate about the consequences of choices. No communicating in choice-options. A weakness of many architects is that they think that the organisation understands what they are seeing, but they manage to forget that they often look ahead further and more broadly than the rest of the organisation. That’s why they are architects!

Evolution is a cleverly constructed process of systems. If you were to look at the system from a distance, then you could see an optimum result emerging out of apparently haphazard changes. For an individual organisation, which is a part of this system, the result and the path that the system in evolution is following are unknown.

As an individual in evolution, you need a measuring stick to constantly measure whether you are evolving in the right direction or if you have ended up in a cul-de-sac moving towards extinction. You need to be agile and change course at the right moment.

An organisation cannot become and remain agile by following the insights of only a couple of individuals. It’s not up to the architect to be the sole decision taker about what an organisation should do, just as it is not solely up to the managers. Determining a relative position is done through communication and cooperation and by discussing the results of the exploration. Out of this discussion, a joint image can evolve and this can be used to jointly decide the direction in which the organisation should develop.

Remaining agile is a matter of ensuring that you pick up signals from the environment and actively keep the organisation moving. Architects have just as great a responsibility in this as do all the other people in the organisation. I often see architects not taking on this responsibility. The then administer derogations instead of giving the organisation a push in the right direction. Writing is easy, but it doesn’t change your course.

You need to anchor agility systematically into your way of managing. Architecture as a discipline can help you as one of the means in your overall governance. Architecture is not going to save you, but thinking like an architect can help you to continuously check your position against all of the other evolving players in the market. To do this you need architects with the right attitude.

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