In general companies have installed an executive hierarchy. This hierarchy is one that has been evolved and tested over a long period of time. We have reasonably clear ideas about what it should establish. People have one boss, who more or less decides about their roles, assesses their performance, and decides what to do when the performance is not up to standards. These bosses in turn have a boss themselves.
A competence hierarchy is usually not so well established in a company, if it is present at all. What do I mean with a competence hierarchy? I mean a kind of shadow hierarchy (of that executive hierarchy I mentioned) with people not in charge in an executive way, not dealing with money, functions or salaries, but a hierarchy based on expertise, competence in doing the job well. The American model of organisations has been adopted in many countries, and that model seems to emphasise that management is key. To become a manager is to be successful in what you do. The natural career growth path for people is forced in the direction of executive responsibilities, which we call in this article (derived from the RACI model about which more later) accountability. This results in a continuous drain of responsible competences. Also in most organisations the reward system is not geared towards responsible competences. It is considered to be part of the job description to do your job well. It is completely overlooked that competent people add value to an organization that is much more than any reward system I know can cope with. A competent person is not, say, 10% more productive than an average person, but research has shown that the margin is an order of magnitude bigger, in the 100 percents. Were organizations to deal with this, it would mean that wages for responsible roles could very well be much higher than for accountable roles. I always try to make executives realize this fact, and deal with the consequences. Neglecting the value of competent people in your organization will inevitable lead to a brain drain.
In the Netherlands (and internationally) a model has been used in many organizations that expresses this rather elegantly. It is called the RACI matrix. Below you can see an example in the nautical domain.
I will not enter into an explanation about the consulted and keep informed aspects but want to focus in this blog on the responsible and accountable aspects, relating to the executive and competence hierarchies I talked about.
Responsible is what I mean with “competence hierarchy”. Someone is responsible because he or she has the competence to do what he does, or to say what he says. This competence can be based on experience, or on the proper education, or preferably a combination of both. The competence is not one that is exercised in an executive manner: the work being done is usually the result of an order issued by an accountable role, because persons with that role have the resources (financial or otherwise) to allocate and direct.
Most companies have no competence hierarchy installed. People do their jobs and report the results one way or another to an executive role, an accountable role. The problem of course is twofold: both the accountable and responsible roles need to be submitted to a qualitative assessment. Who is going to provide that? An accountable role is not without competence obviously, as is a responsible role, although the latter is more clearly based on competence. If the only hierarchy installed is an executive one, there is a need for competence assessment that is only partly met by additional instruments.
Several methods exist for this. We have the 360 Degree Assessment method for example. Other methods exist, like McClelland’s and Hay Group’s competency identification process which attempts to take into account emotional factors that contribute to competence, something many existing methods do not address, perhaps simply because those factors are hard to quantify.
The responsible role is one that I label as being played by the architect. The term “architect” would even be one that I propose as the term covering this responsibility within organisations. I would like to argue for a non-executive responsibility on the various executive levels in organisations, for “ownership of competence” by filling this role not with a hired consultant, but with a person that is part of the (competence-focussed) hierarchical structure of the organisation. This way we can avoid what we see very often on the higher executive levels, namely hiring consulting companies that establish a more or less structural relationship with management to fill the void of an established architecture process, thereby “outsourcing” much of the competence that should be native to the enterprise.
An important consideration in establishing these two hierarchies is that the competence based roles do not have accountable responsibilities. A lead architect has no budget, is not a “manager” of “lesser” architects or developers. The accountable roles on the other hand need to be able to focus almost exclusively on things like budget, time, strategic goals and positioning. They can only do this effectively is they are helped by the competence roles who prepare for executive decision making with drilling down the choices and presenting them with the consequences of the various options for these focus areas. For this an Architecture Governance Board (consisting of accountable roles) should be established.
You can read more on this in The Responsible Architect.