If this following missive seems a
little self-serving, well, let me apologize up front: I don’t know any way
around it. As an enterprise architect who has often been thrust into temporary
roles in old and venerable institutions, I have a few notes on the subject, for
better or worse. Hopefully they’ll come across as benignly as they’re offered.
More and more, architecture
matters in in-house IT, as the Internet continues its burgeoning
self-promotion, the cloud rises, and mobile rears its head with increasing
petulance. We don’t have time to do things one at a time, and so we are
continuously retooling the environment itself to morph along with the times.
And for that, many organizations need to bring in extra hands.
A lack of social bridges
There was a time, and it’s pretty
far in the past now, when the company rolled out at least a perfunctory welcome
wagon for the six-month visitor. Such hired-gun engagements are sufficiently
commonplace today that this sort of thing is now more rare. That’s a shame,
because there’s seldom a get-to-know-each-other phase in the consultant’s
Consequently, the consultant often
remains an outsider, even when the nature of the work is the
roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-muddy-together kind. When the work is intense, the
hours are long and the stakes are high, it’s much better if everyone on the
team has a high level of comfort with one another.
The manager of such a project can
do quite a bit to bring this about. One such manager was a great help to me
when she added a social component to project meetings that I, as the
consultant, attended: once a week, a working lunch was arranged, and in interim
meetings, the session would begin with small talk. This was hugely helpful: I
got to know the other team members, and they became more comfortable with me,
far more quickly than is usually the case.
In another engagement, the scrum
lead included me every morning, even though I wasn’t strictly necessary. It
wasn’t time wasted: I was able to learn the strengths and skills of the rest of
the team quickly, and able to establish a tone for my own input that was
Resentment in the ranks
It’s the nature of the problem
that the visiting consultant knows things that the in-house team doesn’t, but
often that doesn’t suit some members of the team. Having put in their time on
the platforms being rebuilt, they often feel that the consultant isn’t
One way to offset a sense of
intrusion and subsequent resentment is a two-for-one gesture that I’ve been
asked to provide on several occasions: a continuous transfer of knowledge,
during the term of the consultation. Offering not just design input but the
knowledge underlying that input not only empowers the in-house staff, but it underscores
the reasoning behind the changes being undertaken.
And that knowledge transfer can be
two-way. A positive step for the consultant is to ask, at every opportunity,
for explanation of how the status-quo platform came to be, giving its original
designers and builders the opportunity to explain their reasoning, their
architectural preferences, and to demonstrate their own fine-tuned expertise –
all of which have benefited me (as the consultant), many times.
Yours, mine, and ours
An important point is that from
the consulting architect’s standpoint, there’s not nearly as much as stake in
the long run. The visiting expert doesn’t want or need credit for the ultimate
success of the endeavor, beyond what will be recorded in a resume. While those
who live in-house are understandably concerned with credit where it’s due, the
consultant’s trophy case is off-premises. Speaking for myself, but hopefully
for other consultants, a long-term legacy of shared knowledge and a spirit of
cooperation are the long-term legacy.
And ultimately, that’s what really
Scott Robinson is a 20-year IT
veteran with extensive experience in business intelligence and systems
integration. An enterprise architect with a background in social psychology, he
frequently consults and lectures on analytics, business intelligence and social
informatics, primarily in the health care and HR industries.