The Project Manager and Solution Architect Relationship

Solution Architects and Project Managers work together and require good dynamics in order to be effective.  There is no subordination in this relationship and the roles are complementary to each other. I’ve seen good dynamics, but I’ve also seen toxic relationships too.  In this article, I’ll distinguish the good dynamics of an effective PM/SA relationship from the bad.  

Positive Dynamics 

  • Project Management sees Solution Architect as a trusted advisor.  There is good engagement and architecture collaboration across the spectrum.
  • The Solution Architect is consulted on the big decisions in which technical direction is needed.
  • Solution Architect continually ensures that PM and team are aligned.  SA ensures that the team and PM have a solid understanding of the architecture and reasoning for design decisions.
  • Solution Architect revises, simplifies, or changes architecture to support new project constraints.  SA proceeds to get alignment on the changes and identify where new risk acceptance is required.
  • Transparency ensures that the SA is always up to date with any new constraints or new and significant business requirements. 

Negative Dynamics

  • Project Manager makes decisions about scope without qualifying or understanding the architectural impact 
  • Project Manager will not accept the guidance of the SA and proceeds to work around the SA to do things the PMs way 
  • Project Manager considers the Solution Architect as subordinate.  The PM assigns tasks to the SA. – or vice versa.
  • Solution Architect is firm and unwilling to budge or compromise and is unable to be reasoned with
  • Project Manager deprioritizes architecturally significant work to please non-technical stakeholders.  This happens without seeking advice or input from the Solution Architect.
  • SA and PM don’t understand each others roles or there is a lack of respect, and this creates friction. 
  • Aspects of the architecture are not clear leaving the PM holding the bag for the re-work and run on timelines.

How to Improve the Relationship

Architects are senior strategic technical leaders.  Project Managers are trusted to lead projects that are critical to the success of the organization.  These roles intersect and this relationship is critical to the successful delivery of the project.  

The following actions can be taken now to improve your Solution Architect / Project Manager relationship:

  • Follow up more regularly with the project manager to build more trust.  Check in on the team.  
  • Proactively ask if there are any significant issues or roadblocks that require your attention 
  • Let the Project Manager take care of project management activities.  SA’s educate PM’s, but SA’s don’t override the PM when it comes to the activities of the team.  
  • Check in on the status of non-functional requirement completion.  Ensure that the relationship of these requirements to the success of the project is well understood.  Discuss any discrepancies with the project manager.
  • Document the interactions with the Project Manager where decisions have been made and agreed upon.
  • Ensure risk is identified and communicated as early as possible to the PM.  Ensure that Project Managers understand when risk acceptance is required to proceed.
  • Work directly with the project team on alignment of the solution to the architecture.  Always keep the PM informed.  
  • Respect the Project Manager.  Don’t escalate issues outside of the team unless there are extraordinary circumstances or the PM is not willing to address them.  Let the PM take care of any project escalations that are required — this should be the case 99% of the time.  
  • Avoid broadcasting messages to people beyond the team about project team concerns.  
  • Don’t assume malice.  People have different ways of looking at things.  Educating each other on your value proposition will smooth out bumps in the relationship 99% of the time.
Working together
I took this street photo in June of 2022 in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia. I like how it portrays workers coming together to complete a common goal.

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