How to use architectural thinking principles to enhance digital intelligence and produce an excellent outcome
Our brains function with structure and patterns. Using a structured approach such as architectural thinking principles as a checklist ensures that we don't miss out on essential factors and steps in the process. This structured thinking process poses a valuable proposition for understanding the digital world.
In this post, I share an overview of the structural thinking approach and its relation to digital intelligence using ten major points. From my experience, architectural thinking can be used as a robust framework to gain digital knowledge, uncover the mystery behind digital intelligence, and enhance digital intelligence with a structured approach.
This structured, coherent, and methodical approach can serve as a high-level checklist to measure our digital intelligence and validate our outcome. Let me give you an overview of architectural constructs.
1 - Concept and Vision
In architectural thinking of the digital world, any technological or service-oriented venture starts with a vision and concept.
Architectural thinking mandates setting the vision first and creating a conceptual view of the venture using a top-down approach.
Vision is being able to think about the future with creative imagination coupled with wisdom. Vision sets the scene for the future. It shows us where we want to be in the future.
A concept encapsulates the overall systemic, logical, and mechanical view.
Even though everyone has a vision, a productive and strategic vision is a leadership capability. This unique and precious vision requires a substantial amount of intelligence, knowledge, skills, and experience.
Every leader involved in digital pursuits needs to have a compelling vision to steer and prepare the followers in the transformational journey.
Vision requires understanding the big picture and taking bold steps.
Practising each step with persistence, the leader moves strategically in digital engagements. Visionary thinking is an enabler for improving digital intelligence. This type of thinking involves multiple mental attributes and knowledge of a wide variety of interrelated processes.
Vision and strategy go hand in hand.
2 - Strategy
Once leaders have a compelling vision for a digital venture, they set the strategy. They position themselves by understanding where they are now in the journey, where they want to go and map out how they want to go there.
A clear strategy aiming at the manifestation of a digital venture allows the leaders and followers to reach the destination using a master plan. The master plan can be a high-level roadmap to take the team to the destination.
Visionary and strategic thinking can increase our digital intelligence. Our digital strategy can have many requirements.
3 - Requirements
Any digital endeavour comes with a set of requirements. They are the needs of users and systems. Requirements can have multiple facets. They are not straight forward. Some may be conflicting and competing with each other. Therefore, understanding requirements from all angles is a critical step.
Requirements involve multiple stakeholders, processes, systems, tools, and technologies. We can encapsulate these players under two main categories: users and systems. Both users and systems have their distinct requirements.
There may be different requirements for different kinds of users — for example, internal and external users, technical, executive, and management users.
Systems also have their unique requirements. We can call them technical, support, and operational requirements.
In general, requirements can be functional and non-functional. Functional requirements cover what a system delivers functionally. Non-functional requirements cover how a system delivers it. A typical example of functional requirements is what a user can do with the system. Typical examples of non-functional requirement are performance, scalability, capacity, useability, and security,
Requirements gathering for digital ventures is an end-to-end process. It starts with collecting the requirements. Then, analysis, clarification, tracking, validation, and using follow.
These steps consist of numerous intellectual activities requiring digital intelligence. A good example of intelligence for the requirement is encapsulated by the acronym SMART. It stands for specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and traceable. These terms characterise requirements and are instrumental for requirement management.
Using these five attributes can increase the quality of the requirements management process. To better understand requirements, particularly from the user perspective, we need to deal with use cases.
4 - Use Cases
Understanding the use cases of digital ventures is an essential intellectual skill. Dealing with use cases requires various thinking modes. The most prominent approach is looking at requirements from the user's perspective. Observing and being an observer at the same time is a critical mental capability associated with digital intelligence.
A use case is a specific situation depicting the use of a product or service of a digital solution by the consumers. We develop use cases from the users' perspective. We need to understand how the consumers will be using a particular component or aspect of a digital solution.
Usually, the functional requirements can help us to formulate the use cases. Alternatively, in some circumstances, use cases help formulate the functional requirements. Use cases and requirements are interrelated. We need to analyse them together, not in isolation.
Some selected users, as samples, can help us understand the use cases when we interact with them. We need to question the users and obtain their feedback on how they are intending to use a function that is expected to be in the solution overview.
In general, overall solution use cases must define and elaborate input from all stakeholders, not just end-users. There may be different use cases for various stakeholders.
Use cases can also be determined based on roles, responsibilities, a.k.a. solution persona. Personas represent fictitious characters based on our knowledge of the users in a specific digital venture solution. Identifying personas and their use in our use case development and requirements analysis is critical.
5 - Current and Future State
After understanding the requirements and use cases of a digital venture, we must apply them to the current state. The current state shows us where we are in the journey.
By understanding the current state, we set a future state and develop a roadmap to reach the target goals.
This fundamental architectural approach can be applied to any digital solution that we engage in daily. This structured approach is instrumental to transformative initiatives. Since technology evolves rapidly, there will always be some modernization and transformation activity.
6 - Feasibility
Architectural thinking mandates the feasibility of the digital solution roadmap. This map includes risks, dependencies, issues, assumptions, and constraints on the way.
This assessment process covering all aspects of our solution requires substantial intellectual capability. Developing a comprehensive viability assessment can pose many benefits. Viability assessment is a methodological term.
A viability assessment's fundamental purpose is to mitigate critical risks, resolve existing issues, address challenging dependencies, and clarify assumptions. Missing this crucial step in our thinking can result in dire consequences in the long run.
7 - Trade-offs
Most of the time, assessing a digital venture's viability also requires making a considerable number of trade-offs to reach optimal solution outcomes.
When making trade-offs, we need to consider critical factors, such as cost, quality, functionality, usability, security, regulatory compliance and many more non-functional items.
We make trade-offs to create a balance between two required yet incompatible items. In simple terms, a trade-off is a compromise between two options. For example, we can make a trade-off between quality and cost for particular items.
Being able to make trade-offs require intellectual capability coupled with intuition. We need to make numerous trade-offs to deal with uncertainties. We can use techniques such as combining, comparing, and contrasting for these types of difficult trade-offs.
8 - Architectural Decisions
Each trade-off also requires architectural decisions. These crucial decisions can have substantial implications for the success or failure of the digital solution. Decisions include pros, cons, implications, and impact.
We need to make decisions with prudence and care as each decision can have a severe impact and multiple implications.
Some implications can be cost-related, while others can relate to performance, availability, security, and scalability. We need to communicate architectural decisions with numerous stakeholders as their requirements and use cases can play essential roles.
9 - System Context
After making the decisions, the next essential task is to provide a representative picture of the solution on a single page.
This single page picture is usually called the solution context diagram. It shows high-level components and critical dependencies.
This abstract thinking ability is an example of intelligence that we apply to the digital solution process. Setting the context for any solution is essential to communicate it to relevant stakeholders in an efficient manner. Context adds clarity to understanding the solution of a digital venture.
10 - Models
Models are significant work products in digital solutions. A model is the proposed structure typically on a smaller scale than its original.
Once we draft the solution at an abstract level and our stakeholders understand it, the next important step in the architectural thinking process is to represent the abstract level in further details by describing each component and the relationships.
Describing abstract representations in concrete details also requires a great deal of mental capacity. It involves dealing with multiple patterns.
Models help us create plans, high-level designs and elaborate on the detail-level designs and specifications.
Using this approach, we can see the big picture of a digital venture. Each item in this process can improve our digital intelligence.
Thank you for reading my perspectives.
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