The 5 Principles of Solutions Architects

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Many people may have never heard the term “Solutions Architect” before, but here at Intersect, it is one of the most important roles on our team.

As our colleague, Anson Kao points out in a recent blog post, some companies will call this role a “Technical PM.” However, at Intersect we know that what these people do is more than just manage, they help to lay out all of the plans that the rest of the project team will follow to build the product. Just like an architect would if a building was being built.

This is not a small or minimal task for people to undertake, which is why our team of Solutions Architects lives and dies by five distinct principles that help to guide them through everything they do. Today, we’d like to walk you through these five principles, what they mean to some of our current Solution Architects and how they play a role in helping them do their job every day.

Solutions Architect Guiding Principle #1: If We’re Not Growing, We’re Dying

“Continuous improvement is the essence of life. Planned or unplanned, knowingly or unknowingly, we look for better ways of doing things and we strive for increasingly better outcomes.

Great organizations pursue continuous improvement in a planned way, as reflected in their organizational processes and culture being geared towards learning and development. Intersect is one such organization; we get a lot of opportunities to learn new things, to come up with new ideas, to develop new solutions, to optimize in new ways, and in doing so, indeed make lives easier.

I can discuss my ideas with anyone around, in the company, and can be sure that I will be heard and supported in shaping those ideas into concrete objectives. I love this because it is the kind of environment where great ideas are nurtured and get transformed into realities. I feel like not only am I learning, but I get to implement what I learn, which helps me grow more and more every day.

We have lunch and learns. We have team tribes where we discuss lessons learnt. Sometimes even our casual and fun chats could turn into interesting discussions on the optimization of processes and solutions.

Overall, Intersect is helping me grow my personal and professional skills, including my ability to think critically and creatively.” – Asra Aqeel, Solutions Architect

Solutions Architect Guiding Principle #2: Deliver With Discipline

“To me, ‘deliver with discipline’ means that you always need to be at the forefront. You are the leader when it comes to engagements, projects, alignment with the client, and alignment internally.

One of the deliverables that we have is the scope, and what that scope is to me, is the plan for the entire project. There’s no way you can actually deliver that with confidence if you’re not the leader. And the way to become that leader is with discipline.

You have to set discipline with yourself as well as with your peers; clients, internal partners, external partners. This is something all SAs need to stand up for in order to be able to talk about everything we do with confidence.

Part of our engineering cycle is that we have a day-to-day routine, and how this principle plays a role is that we always need to be prepared no matter where we go. If everyone thinks this is just a casual meeting, you’re the one that brings a notebook to the table. You have to think one step ahead of everyone else and make sure that nothing gets missed or slips through the cracks.

That is part of what a solution architect does day-to-day. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do everything, but you have to always be the most prepared person in the room.” – Susan Shao, Solutions Architect

Solutions Architect Guiding Principle #3: Without Effective Communication, Nothing Holds Meaning

“I’m literally obsessed with everything remotely related to communication. Even though humans have invented so many creative ways to communicate with each other – expressions, literature, art, music – we always find ourselves miscommunicating our intent and misunderstanding each others’ message. Why is it so hard to deliver information effectively?

As Solutions Architects here at Intersect, this guiding principle is a daily challenge.

We work with so many clients of various backgrounds – technical architects, startup founders, enterprise C-suites, marketing and legal teams, etc. If we don’t speak or write through the right frame for our clients, we risk blocking information flow and becoming the bottleneck on projects.

Solutions Architects also work across departments translating requirements into specs, assessing the feasibility of designs, and creating plans out of risks. If we don’t practice active listening and take that extra step to play back our understanding to our team members, we risk misunderstanding requirements for a project. And that ultimately causes more work.

We are frequently staffed on multiple projects, where our attention is spread thin. If we don’t over-communicate, at the speed we operate at, it’s extremely easy to become misaligned on expectations.

I’m extremely grateful to be in a work environment where I get to learn, practice, and reflect on something I’m so passionate about. I wake up with a purpose every morning, where not only do I get to work on what I’m good at (technology), I also get to improve on what I care about (communication) and see myself grow over the years. I believe mastery in communication is a skill that can be taken to any job, career, situations.” – Kim Liu, Director, Engineering

Solutions Architect Guiding Principle #4: Estimate Accurately. Think Critically.

“Here at Symbility Intersect, Solutions Architects are often the first set of eyes on a project (or potential project) and are involved from an early stage in the process. We operate in this space filled with uncertainty, and have to find a way of making sense of it all – requirements, constraints, compromises. It’s no surprise that a foundational ability (as an SA) for dealing with ambiguity is being able to accurately estimate. Estimation is a notoriously difficult skill to master – and it is a mix of an art and a science. You have to have a wide range of knowledge and know-how in order to get a sense of technical complexity. But you also have to have a good sense of some of the more nebulous aspects of developing a product. What risks may manifest themselves throughout development? What dependencies are there and how confident are you of them? And what human issues may surface up – the learning curve for new tools and processes, the solidity of requirements and resourcing?

That being said, strong estimation skill is only a part of the puzzle. The other side if it is finding a way to meet the client needs within engineering constraints. SA’s need to be technically sound and have the breadth of knowledge across platforms and paradigms in order to asses and propose technical approaches to problems, especially in areas of uncertainty. But it’s equally important to have a strong product sense, and have the ability to ingest requirements, understand priorities and assess design approaches and complexity. In a lot of ways, we naturally become the bridge connecting the two worlds. This means we are often the leaders in what I consider the trickiest part of the job – finding compromises and creative solutions that work for both worlds, and result in a beautiful, well functioning, and delivered product.” – Shawn Kumar, Senior Solutions Architect

Solutions Architect Guiding Principle #5: With Each Other, For Each Other

“To me, ‘with each other, for each other’ speaks to teamwork. We’re all part of the same family. We’re part of the same crew. We’re here for each other. We’re responsible for each other. We’re going to back each other up for anything that’s needed. Everyone can believe in each other in terms of responsibility.

If I know I need help with something, Shawn can jump in. If I know that Asra has worked on something before, I can leverage her skill to help work with my design or my project.

The whole crux of it is that no one has all the answers and we don’t expect everybody to know everything. The idea is that collaboratively we are stronger than as individuals. Having five brains means that we don’t necessarily all overlap each other, but that we’re getting the best of all worlds and mushing that all together to come up with a well-defined product.

From product to the solutions architects, to the management team, to actual client work, and the actual engineering effort that we do, it all just ties together. Everybody is part of the same team and the success of our team depends on the success of our surrounding teams. We share our success and we share our shortcomings as well. Anything that needs to get done will be leveraged by any of the teams across the org and we make sure that we collaboratively move forward in a better direction and have a better future.” Harshil Meheta, Solutions Architect

Do these principles sound like they make sense to you? Do they appeal to you? Do these seem like some fine people you can work? Well, good news! We’re hiring Solutions Architects and many other roles at Intersect.