Solutions Architect Series – Part 11: Learning Soft Skills to Become a Better Solution Architect (1/2)

This is my learning note from the book Solutions Architect’s Handbook written by Saurabh Shrivastava and Neelanjali Srivastav. All the contents are mostly distilled and copied from the book. I recommend you to buy this book to support the authors.

Another series: Fundamentals of Software Architecture: An Engineering Approach

Acquiring pre-sales skills

Pre-sales is a critical phase for complex technology procurement, whereby the customer collects detailed information to make a buying decision. In the customer organization, a solution architect is involved in the pre-sales cycle to procure technology and infrastructure resources from various vendors. In the vendor organization, the solution architect needs to respond to customers’ requests for proposals (RFP) and present a potential solution to acquire new business for an organization. Pre-sales requires a unique skill set that combines strong technical knowledge with soft skills, including:

  • Communication and negotiation skills: Solution architects need to have excellent communication skills to engage the customer with the correct and latest details. Presenting precise details of the solution along with industry relevance helps customers to understand how your solution can address their business concerns. Solution architects work as a bridge between the sales and technical teams, which makes communication and coordination a critical skill.
  • Listening and problem-solving skills: Solution architects need to have strong analytical skills to identify the right solution as per the customer need. The first thing is to listen to and understand customer use cases by asking the right questions to create a good solution.
  • Customer-facing skills: Often, the solution architect needs to work with both the internal team and the external customer’s team.
  • Working with teams: The solution architect establishes a relationship with both the business team and the product team.

Presenting to C-level executives

A solution architect needs to handle various challenges from a technical and business perspective. However, one of the most challenging tasks could be to get executive buy-in. Senior executives such as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Chief Financial Officer (CFO), and Chief Information Officer (CIO) are regarded as C-level as they have a tight schedule and need to make lots of high-stack decisions. As a solution architect, you may have lots of details to present, but your C-level meetings are very time-bound. Here, they need to make the maximum value of their meeting in the allotted time slot.

  • The primary question is: How to get senior executives’ attention and support in a limited time? Often, during any presentation, people tend to put a summary slide at the end, while, in the case of executive meetings, your time may further reduce as per their priority and agenda. The key to an executive presentation is to summarize the primary points upfront in the first 5 minutes. You should prepare in such a way that if your 30-minutes slot reduces to 5 minutes, you should still be able to convey your points and get buy-in for the next step.
  • Explain your agenda and meeting structure even before the summary. Executives ask lots of questions to make proper utilization of their time, and your agenda should convey that they will get the chance to ask a clarification question.
  • Don’t try to present everything in detail by stating information that may seem relevant from your perspective but maybe doesn’t make much sense for an executive audience.

You should be ready to answer the following questions that concern executives more:

  • How the proposed solution will benefit our customers?
  • What assumption did you make to baseline the solution?
  • What will be my ROI?: Executives are always looking for ROI by determining the total cost of ownership (TCO). Be ready with data to provide an estimated cost of ownership, solution maintenance cost, training cost, overall cost savings, and so on.
  • What happens if we continue as it is today and do nothing?
  • What will be our competitor’s reaction in regard to your solution?
  • What is your suggestion, and how can I help?

Taking ownership and accountability

  • Taking ownership and positioning yourself as a leader helps you to win trust with accountability. Ownership doesn’t mean that you need to execute things alone; it is more about taking new initiatives and holding on to them as it is your organization.
  • Accountability is about taking responsibility to drive the outcome. Ownership and accountability go hand in hand, where you are not only creating initiative but working on getting the result. People can trust you to execute any job and drive results. Accountability helps you to build trust with your customers and team, which ultimately results in a better work environment and achieving a goal.

Thinking big

Solution architects should have the ability to see the big picture and think ahead. A solution architect creates a foundation upon which the team puts building blocks and launches the product. Thinking big is one of the critical skills that solution architects should possess to think about the long-term sustainability of an application. Thinking big doesn’t mean you need to take a very unrealistic goal. Your goal should be high enough to challenge you and bring you out of your comfort zone. Thinking big is critical for success at both a personal and an organizational level.

Being flexible and adaptable

Adaptability and flexibility go hand in hand, and you need to be flexible to adapt to the new environment, working culture, and technology. Adaptability means you are always open to new ideas and to working with the team. Teams may adopt a process and technology that is best suited for them. As a solution architect, you need to be flexible in accommodating team requirements during solution design.

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