Introducing the Bullsh*t Continuum
Updated: Dec 13, 2019
The term Continuum is common in enterprise architecture, most commonly in the Enterprise Continuum within the TOGAF framework.
CONTINUUM - noun
a continuous sequence in which adjacent elements are not perceptibly different from each other, but the extremes are quite distinct.
However, as I've progressed through my career in IT, from BSc Computer Science, through technical support, solution architecture and solution leadership I have noticed another important Continuum..... which I merrily describe as the Bullsh*t Continuum (for reasons that will become apparent).
It describes a simple model of technologists abilities and careers.
Farthest left are the hard technical skills, farthest right are the presentation, leadership, commercial, EA, and communication skills. Careers typically start on the left and progress through capability, seniority and pay toward the right.
It seems simple doesn't it? But there is a catch! No-one can span the entire Continuum.
As you progress from development or engineering into architecture and leadership it's almost impossible to maintain a detailed grip on all of the technology you (or by now your teams) might work with. By necessity, you have to deal at a component, then system level. Relying on your knowledge of the characteristics of - and interfaces between - systems and how they used to be rather than detailed knowledge of their current implementation.
For the most talented, the Bullsh*t Continuum is a slide! As ability leads to promotion and leads to distance from the "coal face" of technology implementation and support.
The danger is that you slide too far, into the "Danger Zone" where you still retain knowledge of how technology used to be, how it works from a logical and theoretical perspective but have lost touch with the detail. At this point, you might have highly polished presentation ability, but a solution might be fundamentally bullsh*t because there are detailed technical constraints or quirks of the underlying technology that mean it will at worst never work or that a solution will take a lot longer and be much more complicated than expected.
I have seen this happen a couple of times in my career where bids have been won from wondrous EA diagrams and overly simplistic proofs of concept..... only for a delivery team to arrive and find what they have to deliver to a time and cost is superficially excellent but fundamentally broken.
So in Solution Leadership, you have two choices:
1. "Arrest Your Slide" - Put in the hours to stay properly in touch with the technology. To do this, you will need to read about it, build it, lab it, train on it, talk to those higher up the BS slide than yourself, do design assurance and so on. Retain that solution leadership role where you can understand the detail and be a bridge between the detailed implementation and the management, leadership and commercial strategy. That is where - as a technologist - you deliver the most value.
2. "Rely on those above you" - If you want to take your career further away from the technology, then you need to recognise that you are increasingly remote from the coal face and don't make the big decisions based upon your historical knowledge and logic/theory alone. Identify or recruit people in the technical excellence and solution leadership space and Trust them to warn you of technical issues. Involve them in the big decisions and engage them in planning and estimation.
You can see this illustrated in the success of the digital movement in U.K. Public sector. Where many Digital leaders naturally tend toward this behaviour. As former developers and constant technologists, they have a tendency to stay closer to the user requirement, closer to their technical teams and closer to the technology itself.
I think this also illustrates part of the reason for the backlash against Enterprise Architects that have I seen online (particularly on LinkedIN) recently. Where all too often, solution architects that have slid too far, rebrand themselves as Enterprise Architects without recognising EA is a fundamentally different set of skills.
So.... there it is.... the Bullsh*t Continuum. I've used it for maybe nine years now to describe this problem, particularly when talking about career paths or when recruiting solution architects. Its also something I'm wary of and the reason I still go on technical training regularly and get hands-on whenever I can in an attempt to continually arrest my own slide. I hope you find it useful or thought provoking.
At Through Technology, we recruit and retain our architects with this in mind. Offering associate roles to people in the technical excellence and solution leadership spaces, that combine real technical knowledge and ability with great communication skills and an understanding of the commercial and business impact of their work.