5 Steps to Become a Successful Solution Architect
Learning something new can be intimidating and overwhelming, and learning the ins-and-outs of Anaplan is certainly no different. Lists? Line items? I thought this was just like Excel, so why are all the formulas different? Like most new endeavors, there’s a learning curve with Anaplan. Once you have taken the first small step in climbing the mountain that is Anaplan, it can feel like there is an impossibly long way to go. And how will you know when you have reached the summit? With the right blend of tools, attention to detail, and a touch of patience, there is nothing stopping you from getting there.
Solution architects possess broad knowledge across multiple development platforms. They draw on their skills and experience to assess customer requirements and architecture in order to design secure, high-performance technical solutions that maximize the potential of the Anaplan platform. Mastery of such a dynamic tool takes time, but you’re off to a great start just by reading this post! To help you on your journey toward becoming a successful solution architect, here are five guiding principles to set you up for success.
- Gather the right tools. While one can sometimes find success from learning on the go, this can also increase the probability of missteps. The more sustainable approach is to first collect a set of tools to leverage as baseline knowledge.
The primary method to develop this knowledge base is through Anaplan’s online course offerings. You can get started by navigating to the Academy where you will be able to self-enroll in a series of courses that introduce the Anaplan basics, describe the Anaplan Way for agile project management, and provide opportunities to practice model building with targeted exercises and data sets. There are even opportunities to review various mini-courses on topics or techniques of interest. They cover things like user access, data integration, and data hub management. These courses are also great resources for later reference.
At Impetus Consulting Group (ICG), we have developed a 6-7 week, new hire enablement crash course designed to prepare anyone—regardless of previous technical or consulting experience—to meaningfully contribute on day one of an Anaplan project. The intention is to leverage a rigorous, structured, and repeatable enablement program, in order to propagate the unique strengths of every existing ICG team member to every new hire. One important exercise is to review what we call our “Top 20 Concepts,” encompassing common problems or techniques that we have seen across various clients and use cases. Training and hands-on exercises prepare our new hires to understand how, why, and when each concept should be leveraged.
No matter how you get there, developing these foundational skills will prove invaluable as you begin on your first project.
- Start climbing, step by step. Now that you have the tools, it is time to get started! As valuable as developing a knowledge base is, there are many things that you are only likely to learn in the dynamic environment of a project. That said, the most important thing when starting is not to be afraid to develop. You will make mistakes and ask seemingly “**** questions,” but again, we’ve all been there. By continuing to build and try things out, even when it may be uncomfortable, you are more likely to maximize your technical learning.
Whether starting independently or with a more experienced Anaplanner to support you, it is important to always think about the “how” and “why” of an approach. This is especially important when tasks are given to you more procedurally (from a manager or project lead), meaning explicit steps to complete a task are laid out for you. While this may expedite project progress in the short-term, it will stunt personal development in the long-term if you are not thoughtfully considering how to structure your build to fulfill a business need.
- Pause and reflect. As thoughtful as you may be before starting to work on a chunk of functionality, it is inevitable that your first pass will not always be without its hiccups. When at a breathing point, whether that means after a sprint review or after the completion of the project, it can be useful to pause and reflect on the chunk of functionality most recently completed. Was there a more optimal path, or an adjustment that could be made to improve overall functionality?
It can be difficult to see the forest from the trees when in the midst of a hectic project, but taking the time to reflect at these breakpoints can help reinforce key learnings from the work that has been completed, or allow you to identify a better tactic the next time you encounter a similar situation.
- Rinse and repeat. Getting your first project under your belt is a huge accomplishment and nice confidence boost, but no two projects are created equal. Getting exposure to different types of projects is extremely valuable. Techniques and approach will vary, and each new project gives an opportunity to pick up new technical skills. In the Anaplan world, practice really does make perfect.
At the same time, additional projects also represent an opportunity to gain expertise in different business processes. This is equally important to expand your technical skillset, as understanding the business process allows you to more easily translate business requirements into a robust, user-friendly Anaplan model. Having all the tools in the world is not helpful unless you know when, where, and how to best use them.
- General advice. Following the steps above should put you well on your way. The following tidbits can help you get even more out of your experiences.
- Learn from everyone, not just your superiors. Often, new-hires, peers, or end users can provide the best learning opportunities. It may not be in as obvious a way as a mentor showing you a new technique, but their questions and suggestions can guide you to new ideas. Don’t ignore these opportunities to expand your understanding.
- Stay curious. There may be things you never encounter yourself on a project. Read up on different use cases and areas of Anaplan functionality. Also, be sure to stay up to date on Anaplan Platform Releases. There may be a new piece of functionality that would be worth adding to your toolset.
- Work backward. Especially when facing a tough problem, it can be helpful to think about what the desired output needs to look like. Then, think back through the steps you will need to take to reach it.
- Don't be afraid to tinker. It can be very helpful to mock things up in different ways, both for yourself and a client, to see how different approaches could be used to tackle the same problem. This also applies as you “pause and reflect.” If there is something that you can re-work to improve existing functionality, don’t be afraid to do so.
- Question the standard approach. Whether presented from the client or another team member, the tried-and-true approach to solving a problem may not always represent the best Anaplan solution. Critically thinking about new ways to address the business need can further advance your learning and improve the solution you deliver.
Finally, back to one of our original questions: How will I know when I have become a solution architect? There is no finish line that will make this immediately obvious. Instead, you should be able to tell that you have become one when the way that you think about building has changed.
As a model builder, you will start by executing tasks based on requirements given to you and the technical skills at your disposal. You have likely reached solution architect status when you naturally begin questioning a dictated approach. When given a problem, your mind starts to cycle through different approaches and weighs the pros and cons of each based on how things will connect in the broader Anaplan architecture. Being a solution architect doesn’t mean you immediately know how to solve every problem as it is presented to you. Rather, it means that you are adept at listening, questioning, and thinking through them. And while it will take time to get there, the impact you can have as a solution architect makes the journey worthwhile.
Jon Newcomb is a Principal Consultant at Impetus Consulting Group. He has a BS in Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences from Northwestern University and has over 3 ½ years of consulting experience, with a focus on business modeling, specializing in sales performance management and workflow, and data visualization. Jon has led initiatives providing Anaplan solutions to more than ten clients in industries such as Pharmaceuticals, MedTech, and High Tech. Jon is a Certified Anaplan Solution Architect.