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Chances are your biggest problem isn't technical at all

Right now someone's running a failing project to build a payroll system. Probably more than one someone.

Why? Was it because they chose Ruby over Java, or Python over Smalltalk? Or because they decided to use Postgres rather than Oracle? Or did they choose Windows when they should have chosen Linux? We've all seen the technology take the fall for failed projects. But what are the chances that the problem was really so difficult to solve that Java/C++/C#/Smalltalk/Python/etc. wasn't up the the task?

Most projects are built by people, and those people are the foundation for success and failure. So, it pays to think about building systems that help make those people successful.

Equally, there's a good chance that there's someone who's "just not doing it right" and is undermining the project. In these cases, the solution is not technology; you need to solve your problem is very old and well established indeed. What you need is a conversation.

Learning to treat people with respect, give them the benefit of the doubt, and handle these conversations well is one of the core skills that turn a smart architect into one an effective architect.

A couple of small bits of advice that can improve your effectiveness:

1) Approach these events as conversations -- not confrontations. If you assume the best about people and treat this as a way to ask questions you definitely learn more, and you are less likely to put people on the defensive.

2) Approach these conversations only after you've got your attitude right. If you're angry, frustrated, annoyed, or otherwise flustered its very likely that the other person will interpret you non-verbals as indicating that you're on the attack.

3) Use these as opportunities to set mutually agreed upon goals. Instead of telling a developer that they need to be quiet in meetings because they never let anybody speak, ask if they can help you increase other people's participation. Explain that some people are more introverted and need longer silences before they jump into a conversation, and ask if they will help you out by waiting 5 seconds before jumping in.

If you start with a shared purpose, treat people "problems" as an opportunity to learn, and manage your own emotions, you'll not only become more effective, you'll also learn a lot.

By Mark Ramm

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3

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