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5 tips for succeeding with stakeholders in architecture projects

Enterprise architecture projects involve dozens of stakeholders from various disciplines. Getting to know them and their needs is key to a project's success.
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Three lightbulbs in bright colors

Photo by Daniele Franchi

Enterprise architecture plays a vital role in organizations working to solve large, complex problems. A significant success factor when designing enterprise architecture is effective collaboration between the architects and the project's stakeholders, who often are from varied backgrounds.

In my first experience drafting an enterprise architecture for an enterprise-scale initiative, I had more than 50 stakeholders and subject-matter experts (SMEs) from different departments. At first, I was not very methodical in managing communication. I was making changes in architecture models, but I was losing track of who I was accommodating with each change.

I realized if this continued, I wouldn't be very successful in this venture. I also realized that early and frequent communication helps me draft architectural models more accurately. So, I started developing some techniques for stakeholder engagement.

To meet the requirements of the people I'm designing an architecture for, I use an effective modeling language, take a systematic approach, and maintain consistent communication throughout the process. This article shares five tips I've learned from my experience handling enterprise-scale initiatives.

1. Create a list of stakeholders

The first step is to create a list of stakeholders. You might get your initial list from the architectural initiative's sponsor.

Once you've identified who you're dealing with, determine how they will be impacted. These questions from the TOGAF Standard's Stakeholder Management guidelines can inform this exercise:

  • Who gains and who loses from this change?
  • Who controls change management of processes?
  • Who designs new systems?
  • Who will make the decisions?
  • Who procures IT systems and who decides what to buy?
  • Who controls resources?
  • Who has specialist skills the project needs?
  • Who has influence?

The list of stakeholders will grow as you learn more about the domain you're designing.

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Next, classify your list based on each person's power and interest. Find your allies. You can map them based on TOGAF's power-interest matrix.

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Image of a power and interest matrix
(Source: The Open Group, Copyright © 1999-2018)

Operations management professional Andi Thoncianus explains how to apply this matrix:

  • High power / high interest: These are the people you must fully engage and make the greatest efforts to satisfy.
  • High power / low interest: Put enough work in to keep these people satisfied, but not so much that they become bored with your message.
  • Low power / low interest: Keep these people adequately informed, and talk to them to ensure that no major issues arise. These people can often be very helpful with the project's details.
  • Low power / low interest: Monitor these people, but do not bore them with excessive communication.

2. Use mind maps

You'll have regular conversations and meetings with your stakeholders, where you'll record, structure, and visualize ideas. Mind mapping is a good way to do this.

There are various tools available for creating mind-mapping diagrams, including Draw.io, Lucidchart, and Miro. These are web-based tools, so they make it easy to collaborate and share models and maps with a team.

I used Miro for some of my workshops. I was dealing with a large number of participants across distributed teams. There's not enough time to hear from each person individually, but an online tool for collaboration can help record their perspectives. Miro provides flexibility to brainstorm ideas with a big group, allow participants to share their perspectives in a notes format, and give infinite canvases to capture ideas, maps, and relationships.

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3. Apply different models for different stakeholders

Building architects create multiple documents, like floor plans, electrical diagrams, topographical maps, and so on, to describe different facets of the structure to each type of stakeholder, such as owners, electricians, or contractors.

As an enterprise architect, you need to create different models to describe the various aspects of your plan. If you use the same model for all of your stakeholders, there's a high chance that some of them won't be able to visualize what you want them to see and give you feedback on.

Instead, give a high-level view using an introduction and motivation model to share the initiative's overall context. Next, create detailed technical infrastructure models for information systems, data flow, process flow, and so on. Cater to stakeholders' pain points in your models; it makes a huge difference in gaining their trust.

I use Archi for creating different models for my initiative. Archi is an open source modeling toolkit for creating ArchiMate models and sketches, helping you create a combined view of process and data flows. It also helps you stay focused on your initiative's purpose, so you can have meaningful conversations with stakeholders.

[ Is your project going off the rails? Read 20 tips to get an architecture project back on track. ]

4. Encourage mutual understanding

Enterprise architecture models are often considered to be too complex or abstract and hard to use in practice. As an architect, I used to use only technical language when talking about a project, because I felt that it was the most precise way of speaking.

I have since learned that informal collaboration sometimes helps you better understand each other's perspectives. This type of conversation helps you architect a design model not only based on the overall initiative's goal, but also based on each stakeholder's preferences, needs, and goals.

5. Communicate broadly and narrowly

To deepen the level of trust between you and each stakeholder, it's imperative that you communicate with clarity and honesty.

Most big initiatives have teams for program managers and project managers to handle communication, but as an enterprise architect, you're involved with many different people. Many aren't in the high-power / high-interest category, but they do have deep knowledge and technical expertise about a given domain. Communicate with those stakeholders to build rapport and gain an understanding of the changes happening on their side.

Still, utilize the team of project managers or program managers when you can. This saves you bandwidth and helps you focus on the architecture. 

For technical expert engagement, you can use any preferred channel of communication. For technical SMEs, I prefer biweekly or monthly tech chats to ensure everyone is up to date.

Architecture is engagement

Stakeholder management isn't important only for project managers. It's vital for being a successful enterprise architect.

Get to know the people you're working with. Get their feedback, iterate often, and keep the lines of communication open.

What to read next

Topics:   Collaboration   Leadership   Career   Strategy  
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Pranjal Bathia

Pranjal Bathia is a Principal Architect within the PnT Operations and Infrastructure team at Red Hat. She has 12+ years of experience in designing and developing solutions and products for challenging business problems. More about me

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