Shaun Mccran

My digital playground


A career change, a blog hiatus, but I’m back to it now

It has been a while since I wrote any blog articles with any consistency. Like so many things in life, it was not a conscious decision to stop blogging or sharing knowledge. More that my day to day activities changed, and, as many of us do, I found new opportunities to drive myself forward that did not necessarily align to my historical skillset.

The hands-on work started to take a back seat in my day-to-day timetable. Coding, Information Architecture and User Experience design. All these things started to get left behind, while I moved through Architecture roles, eventually leading teams of people in the roles I'd previously held. The things I really enjoyed during previous roles became hobbies that I practiced in the evening, such as mobile development and JavaScript apps.

As you distance yourself from skills you used to use on a daily basis, skills you used to teach others through mentoring programs, the opportunity to blog about them became smaller, and my focus turned to driving my new skills to a point of maturity.

The process of becoming the trainee again, in new skills, such as understanding team members personalities, defining Enterprise Strategy, effective team management and successfully engaging with C grade stakeholders was a great personal challenge. The opportunity to step outside your comfort zone and learn new things is something I've always relished, but it does lead you to a place where you have a sharp learning curve, and you are no longer a master in your field. That tends to impact on your ability to blog on a subject with authority, or as a subject matter expert.

So! Its been a long journey. I've moved across several new disciplines, and now I'm getting that nagging feeling in the back of my head again. I've got views to share, best practices to push into the public space to talk about, and collaborate over. Its time to start blogging regularly again.


How Swindon Inchcape Audi destroyed my faith in the brand, and that specific dealership

How my Swindon Inchcape Audi meeting destroyed my faith in the brand, or at least that specific dealership. - Friday 17th January 2020

To set the scene, I'm 3 years into a 4-year PCP. this is the first Personal Contract Purchase vehicle I've owned, so its all a new experience, and as it's a premium brand, I'm was expecting an actual 'Experience' rather than a basic journey through facts and figures. With that in mind I booked an afternoon appointment to go through figures and options for a 3-year-old PCP, Audi A4, and look at booking in a set of test drives for replacement vehicles.

Our appointment was with a salesperson that we didn't have a previous relationship with, as ours, Richard, left a few months after selling us the car. Let's call the new chap Lee, that was his name, so let's use it. We sat down and had a brief intro, I asked him if he was having a good Friday, as typically people find Fridays to be a happy day of the week, to which he replied, 'it's another day, at least its not the weekend'. So not a glowing start, and a slightly weird beginning to the conversation.

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Examining Leadership: Retaining your talent

I've noticed more and more than leaders spend a lot of time talking about talent, but appear to make the same mistakes over and over again in growing and managing it? Over the last year I've moved through the steps of an internal, formal leadership training process, all with the end goal of examining what the wider perception of what leadership is, what it means, and leaders are displaying those leadership qualities that set them apart. Its also a good way to demonstrate to parties that need that sort of thing confirmed, that you know what you're doing.

With all the emphasis on building and displaying leadership development, I've noticed that there seems to be a huge struggle with being able to retain the top talent. Having an existing leadership team in place that can identify the potential for others to grow is great, but they have to know what to do with those people once they get there. If there's an internal career superhighway for ambitious employees to pick up new skills and demonstrate themselves, there has to be an agreed, recognized end of the road, otherwise that career progression journey will take them straight out of the door into the market.

I've learnt that when you want to examining the talent growing process at any organization look at the culture, not the rhetoric – look at the results, not the commentary about potential. A disjoin in perception vs reality was accurately summarized from a recent industry survey, when employees were interviewed, here's what they said*:

  1. 1. More than 40% don't respect the person they report to.
  2. 2. More than 50% say they have different values than their employer.
  3. 3. More than 60% don't feel their career goals are aligned with the plans their employers have for them.
  4. 4. More than 70% don't feel appreciated or valued by their employer.

So, for all those leaders who have 'everything under control', you better start re-evaluating. The old saying that goes; "Employees don't quit working for companies, they quit working for their managers." Regardless of tenure, position, title, etc., employees who voluntarily leave, often do so out of some type of perceived disconnect with leadership.

In my experience I've found that employees who are challenged, engaged, valued, and rewarded (emotionally, intellectually & financially) rarely leave, and more importantly, they perform at very high levels. However if you miss one, or some of these critical areas, it's only a matter of time until they head for the open market.

Below are some key reasons that I've seen talent leave a company. As a leader, keep an eye out for these things and make sure you aren't doing them!

  • 1. You Failed To Unleash Their Passions: Smart leaders align employee passions with corporate pursuits. Human nature makes it very difficult to walk away from areas of passion. If you fail understand this and you'll unknowingly be encouraging employees to seek their passions elsewhere.

  • 2. You Failed To Challenge Their Intellect: Smart people don't like to live in a dimly lit world of boredom. If you don't challenge people's minds, they'll leave you for someone / somewhere that will.

  • 3. You Failed To Engage Their Creativity: Great talent is wired to improve, enhance, and add value. They are built to change and innovate. They need to contribute by putting their fingerprints on design. Smart leaders don't place people in boxes – they free them from boxes. What's the use in having a racehorse if you don't let them run?

  • 4. You Failed To Develop Their Skills: Leadership isn't a destination – it's a continuum. No matter how smart or talented a person is, there's always room for growth, development, and continued maturation. If you place restrictions on a person's ability to grow, they'll leave you for someone who won't.

  • 5. You Failed To Give Them A Voice: Talented people have good thoughts, ideas, insights, and observations. If you don't listen to them, I can guarantee you someone else will.

  • 6. You Failed To Care: Sure, people come to work for a paycheck, but that's not the only reason. In fact many studies show it's not even the most important reason. If you fail to care about people at a human level, at an emotional level, they'll eventually leave you regardless of how much you pay them.

  • 7. You Failed to Lead: Businesses don't fail, products don't fail, projects don't fail, and teams don't fail – leaders fail. The best testament to the value of leadership is what happens in its absence – very little. If you fail to lead, your talent will seek leadership elsewhere.

  • 8. You Failed To Recognize Their Contributions: The best leaders don't take credit – they give it. Failing to recognize the contributions of others is not only arrogant and disingenuous, but it's as also just as good as asking them to leave.

  • 9. You Failed To Increase Their Responsibility: You cannot confine talent – try to do so and you'll either devolve into mediocrity, or force your talent seek more fertile ground. People will gladly accept a huge workload as long as an increase in responsibility comes along with the performance and execution of said workload.

  • 10. You Failed To Keep Your Commitments: Promises made are worthless, but promises kept are invaluable. If you break trust with those you lead you will pay a very steep price. Leaders not accountable to their people will eventually be held accountable by their people.

To summarise, as a leader, you need to spend less time trying to retain people, and more time trying to understand them, care for them, invest in them, and lead them well, then retention will take care of itself.

*Statistics rounded out to show trending rather than specific figures.


Why should you invest in Architectural qualifications?

As part of an ongoing series of articles covering the skills and process that people go through in order to move into architecture I thought I'd have an exploration through the landscape of professional qualifications. The key discussion topic was driven from a recent conversation on whether architectural qualification are valid, whether they enhance an architects skills or validate the architect as being more 'architecturally capable'.

I've split the article into what architectural qualifications mean to several different parties, such as individual architects, companies that use architects and the architectural industry as a whole. This is mainly because each of these parties have very different requirements and goals around professional qualifications, reasons to obtain them, and what value they provide.

The Individual view

For the individual architect obtaining a professional, industry recognised qualification can bring several benefits. First, architecture can sometimes be a little intangible. We don't physically produce anything, and often what we produce is proprietary for the industry we are in, making it very hard to measure the quality or validity of output. Possessing a qualification such as TOGAF proves that you know the correct terminology, can recognise architectural artefacts and impacts and are likely to provide architectural documents to a reasonable standard. Its treated somewhat like an architectural 'kite mark', ensuring that there is an inherent quality to the content.

For the working architect its also good to know that your colleagues and peers can understand the content that you produce. If you create a TOGAF or Zachman aligned document you want to know that your colleagues can consume it, and that as a practice it will fit into your overall approach.

Lastly, it makes you a more attractive resource, if you are seeking employment. It's a very good selling point for recruiters and employers as, explained above, its an industry standard, so brings with it a certain quality level when filtering applicants for a role.

Corporate view

Companies can often see qualifications like the ones described here as being overly academic and not really driving their overall goals, in terms of focussing on delivery or project specific issues. Qualifications can be an expensive and timely activity to put your teams through, so are often sidelined entirely, or put at such a low priority that they never materialise. Delivery objectives take over, and all the talk of being a 'people organisation' goes out the window.

Key things a company has to recognise though is that endorsing a professional framework can provide many benefits to them:

  • 1. It shows potential recruits that they are serious about their architecture and that they are prepared to invest in their people
  • 2. It's a handy metric in the review process. Send everyone on a course, and their pass mark is a very good metric in what can be a very ambiguous process (employee reviews)
  • 3. Where a practice aspires to ensure a consistent level of service to other departments from its architects, knowing that they are all qualified to the same level, and know the same content. This somewhat equalises the organic way a team forms.
  • 4. Lastly it's also a good measure of capability. It may sound harsh, but being an architect is a hard role to perform successfully and consistently. If you are unsure of the calibre of the people in your team, an effective way of measuring it would be to send them on a course and measure the results. Similarly if you are trying to build a trainee or junior architect programme they can serve as a good graduate gateway. If a graduate architect wants to consider themselves a fully functioning member of the team, then passing TOGAF or the BCS qualification should be a required qualification.

Industry view

In terms of industry recognition, possessing industry standard qualifications gives you a place in a larger community. There are often social activities and online groups that you can join and participate in. When you look at an architects profile online, there are few keywords that indicate evidence of qualifications and experience. TOGAF, Zachman, BCS and ISEB are the key words I typically look for to determine if a candidate is not only affiliated with, but claims accreditation with one of these bodies. This marks them as a professional architect.

Types of Qualification

There are two recognised industry qualifications for architects, one is based on the TOGAF framework the other being a British Computer Society accredited qualification in Enterprise and Solution Architecture. Obviously there are many books discussing architecture and architecture processes, and even other frameworks such as Zachman, but none of them contain courseware, exams and accreditation processes.


TOGAF is very much a framework. By this I mean it is not a guide as to how to be an architect, it will not tell you how to do the day job, but rather describes an approach. It's a standard methodology and process to enable you to take up an out of the box toolkit. It should, however not be applied in this format. Success with TOGAF is very much a case of assessing the framework, trying the elements out in your organisation and seeing what works for you and does not. If you try and wholesale adopt TOGAF as your architecture practice's methodology you will rather quickly find yourself hitting issues with delivering anything.

BCS, Enterprise and Solution Architecture

The BCS, previously ISEB, course is a tough one. Its an intensive course, covering a lot of content. My advice with this one is that it is not a purist architecture course. You'll need to be aware of ITIL, PRINCE2, Six Sigma and a slew of coding and development technologies. It doesn't require you to have in-depth knowledge on those subjects, but rather to understand what they are, how they work, and how they interplay with architecture. My recommendation is that you have to be a practicing architect, with a few years experience in a tough environment to pass this one.

Further reading

I can heavily recommend a book titled 'Enterprise architecture as Strategy', it's a great read and covers a lot of useful information. Rather than being a theoretical architecture book, I've found myself actually referring back to it at times during my day to day role. Enterprise Architecture as Strategy

Lastly, as I've mentioned above, there is a significant architecture framework, the Zachman framework that is very good to be familiar with. You can read more about Zachman here.