The importance of mentoring

English: Architect at his drawing board. This ...
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According to a recent survey by MIT Sloan Management Review, 60% of employees surveyed don’t have enough data to do their jobs. And it is not a technology challenge; but rather cultural and management. Not an entirely encouraging statistics in the context of the growing importance of the tertiary sector of our economies – information is key, especially if you work within the IT industry.

The survey reminded me about Nonaka, a professor in management research. According to him, we have two kinds of knowledge – explicit and tacit; and four knowledge processes (framed below in the context of software architecture):

  • From Tacit to Tacit – when a less experienced architect (or wannabe architect) observes a master architect in action; if your organisation has a shortage of good architects, then this one is important.
  • From Explicit to Explicit – an individual can combine separate pieces of information into a new whole, e.g., combining several architectural styles and patterns into a new, solution specific architecture. But explicit descriptions are only as good as people’s ability to read and understand them – i.e., the tacit knowledge the reader is assumed to possess.
  • From Tacit to Explicit – when specialists are able to articulate more of what they know, e.g., capture and describe unique reference architecture or new patterns. Do you or your organisation really knowledge how well the architecture is working for each system and project?
  • From Explicit to Tacit – i.e., you learn by doing. You can only learn so much by reading, and the next step is always applying the acquired knowledge in practice. Are your architects following the templates, styles, references, patterns; or are they just making it up from scratch?

The key is the tacit knowledge, that people need in order to perform the four processes well – and mentoring people in how to do them is central to any organisation’s ability to `empower’ (another good management word) their employees. And as an architect, it is important to step back from the daily activities, and consider what you are doing as part of the four knowledge processes. Your architecture is only as good as the available mentoring…

References
Nonaka I, 1991, ‘The knowledge creating company’, Harvard Business Review, Nov-Dec, pp. 96-104.
Nina Kruschwitz and Rebecca Shockley, 2011, ‘First Look: The Second Annual New Intelligent Enterprise Survey‘, MIT Sloan Management Review.

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