The rise of people architecture

Jamie Eckle

In managing human resources, people architecture is gaining popularity, says IT workforce analyst David Foote. He explains what it is and why it's on the rise. 

The chief analyst at IT workforce research firm Foote Partners says people architecture is gaining popularity.

What is people architecture? It's very similar in principle to traditional IT architecture initiatives, but applied to workforce management and IT human capital practices. There are capability road maps, phase-gate blueprints and performance metrics. Governance issues need attention, and business strategy drives it all. But with people architecture, it's about how key human capital management elements such as job definition, skills acquisition, compensation, professional development, work/life balance and recognition plug into an overall optimized operational model. The model is tuned to new technologies, business strategy, organizational goals, and culture and performance philosophies, and it promotes flexibility and scalability, like any disciplined architecture approach.

For employers, people architecture can mean improved individual and team performance and more predictable execution, more consistent availability and quality of skills and workers, higher utilization rates, and optimized resource supply/demand management. For IT professionals, it can mean more tangible career paths, more useful feedback on how they fit into the overall IT and business mission, and less confusion about job options. And we hear stories about better morale.

How is it implemented? People architecture has a long tail; much can be implemented in months, but it is really built incrementally over years. It starts with adopting a model in which technology professionals inhabit broad, horizontal roles rather than hundreds of siloed and somewhat disconnected jobs. Typical roles include analyst, architect, project and program manager, consultant and tech specialist. Standards are logically defined and aligned within each role, covering things like proficiency in the technical, business and soft skills necessary for moving along development and promotion paths. Jobs that fall within each role can then be defined, titled, graded and leveled with appropriate compensation structures, incentive designs, skills pay programs and performance plans.

It sounds difficult. It might not be easy, but it's necessary. CIOs are having difficulty finding and retaining people who can perform at a high caliber on increasingly more difficult tasks, and at the same time they're feeling immense performance pressure. Plus, the IT workforce today is spread throughout the enterprise doing multidimensional jobs that are hard to categorize, price and manage. In this environment, many IT leaders and business executives have come to see the architecting of people management as the next logical frontier.

Who is employing it so far? The IT professional services and business consulting industries have been practicing people architecture for years, and for good reason: Their assets walk out the door every night. Just to stay competitive, they've had to pioneer a lot of very effective human capital management programs for attracting, developing, promoting and retaining great people. But people architecture principles are within reach of every employer. We're seeing interest growing in many industries.

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