Question everything.

As a Solution Architect, I engage clients on many types of projects with many stakeholders. Too often, things are taken for granted. Assumptions are made but not spoken. The easiest way to set back, or derail a project is to not have enough communication and assume that everybody is on the same page and thinks the same way. I am far from perfect on this, but I am getting better by accepting my weaknesses and working to improve them. These are some of the things that I do to improve communication between all parties.

Whether you are starting on a project, or even in the middle of one, question everything.

1) Question requirements

– Are they arbitrary?

– Who created them and on what premise?

– Is there a cognitive bias in play that moulded the making of the requirements?

2) State your assumptions

– If you do not know the answer to a question. Make up a logical answer and state it. This will help get clarity.

– You will be operating under your assumption whether or not you state it, so it makes more sense to get it out in the open as early as possible.

3) Track your design decisions and how they relate to the requirements

– Use a requirement tracking matrix (RTM)

– Map out what all the requirements are and where they came from (the client? assumptions? best practices?)

– Justify your design decisions.

– Map out alternative decisions that would provide a more ideal outcome, given different assumptions.

The more dialog that is created the better (to an extent that is). However, if there is more dialog than action, then you may start entering the zone of analysis paralysis. This can happen when there is an unrecognized disparity between human cognitive models having a discourse. Some people are what are called “internal-processors”, whereas others are “external-processors”.

Internal-processors think through their fabric of thoughts internally, then convey the result of their conclusion to the other person. It is deliberate and follows a logical structure.

External-processors think out loud with half-ready thoughts that iterate quickly and may even be contrary in the process.

It may be frustrating for some people of one type to have a conversation with the other type because they may interpret the conversational responses differently. Is the person an internal-processor? Or are they disengaged from the conversation and silent? Are they an external-processor? Or are they completely on a different page, with a different understanding and conclusion?

If you can understand a perspective, then you can understand motives and actions. Try to walk in the shoes (mentally) of everyone you are working with. What drives them? What guides their decisions? What is fundamentally important to them, regardless of the specifics of the project? The more you do this, the better (and shorter) your conversations will be.