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Soft Skills for Software Architects

An Interview With Our iSAQB® Accredited Trainers

A myth: The iSAQB seminars – regardless of Foundation or Advanced Level ­– primarily rely on hard skills – technical know-how that modern software archi­tects should possess in order to do their job well.

At the same time, it has long been clear to industry insiders that IT projects rarely fail because the people involved are techni­cally incom­petent, but rather because there are inter­per­sonal problems. Misun­der­standings regarding requirements, conflicting goals, seemingly insur­mountable resource bottle­necks and the like.

Years ago, this practical experience led to the Advanced module SOFT (Soft Skills for Software Archi­tects) teaching commu­nicative topics in particular, but also other modules such as AGILA and DDD do that.

For this article, we asked trainers of the SOFT module which topics are partic­u­larly important to them and which myths in the field of soft skills must finally be dispelled.

In this blog post on the topic, Heike Molin and Holger Tiemeyer (Soft Skill trainers, among other things) classify the most important soft skills for software archi­tects for us and debunk further myths.


Kim Nena Duggen: In your opinion, which content of the Soft Skill curriculum is the most helpful/important for software archi­tects in practice?

Heike Molin: In my Soft Skill trainings, the topics “commu­ni­cation”, “moder­ation”, and “conflict management” are mentioned as the most important topics by software architects.

Holger Tiemeyer: A software architect’s standard answer usually is, “It depends.” Basically, I believe that all curriculum topics should be part of a software archi­tect’s skill reper­toire. After all, while hard skills are currently highly valued, it is the soft skills that ultimately move us forward on many levels.

The current curriculum is very well positioned in this respect: It covers content from a range of topics such as commu­ni­cation, visual­ization, moder­ation, conflict management, and reflection. In addition, aids and tools for everyday work are taught. And this is precisely where it matters which tools can be used in which context.

The curriculum is struc­tured in stages so that all topics are inter­de­pendent and build on each other. For me, the topics “moder­ation”, “conflict management”, and “reflection” are really important in order to lead well-founded arguments even in difficult commu­ni­cation situations.

Kim Nena Duggen: Soft skills context: What do software archi­tects struggle with most? What makes the disci­pline so challenging?

Heike Molin: The greatest diffi­culty I experience for software archi­tects is the differ­en­ti­ation between soft skills (social and personal skills) and the other (hard) skills (profes­sional and method­ological skills). We therefore always start our Soft Skill training courses with the compe­tency model and the related delin­eation of personal skills (how do I appear as an individual), social skills (how strong am I in a team), method­ological, and profes­sional skills.

Holger Tiemeyer: According to a survey by IKS (translator’s note: IKS Gesellschaft für Infor­ma­tions- und Kommu­nika­tion­ssysteme mbH), software devel­opers and archi­tects have diffi­culties with unclear or too frequently and quickly changing requirements, deadline pressure, and poor project management. These issues certainly also include soft skills. Strong commu­ni­cation skills promote the coordi­nation regarding requirements or project management. Trans­parent commu­ni­cation is crucial in order to reach goal-oriented agree­ments in conflict situations.

In a few project situa­tions, it is enormously difficult to address one’s needs and commu­nicate them openly. The Johari window is an example of this: Working in a project environment that is in the open quadrant is excellent, efficient, and performant. But how do we get into this open quadrant? A software architect doesn’t have to be a psychol­ogist to correctly address and commu­nicate their own needs. A few craft topics from commu­ni­cation theory can help here.

In addition, software archi­tects are all too often confronted with extremely complex issues. A major problem is that these topics are sometimes only under­stood and compre­hended by specialized depart­ments and the imple­men­tation team. Especially the dimen­sions of problem solving, problem commu­ni­cation, problem identi­fi­cation, and an under­standable visualization/presentation of the solution harbor an enormous potential for conflict (with oneself as well).

In addition to pure soft skill matters, the AGILA and DDD modules take up the topic of finding solutions in a team. The in-depth soft skill topics are very helpful here.

I think one of the basic questions in soft skills is: HOW can I convince someone else (team, manager, customer, etc.) of my solution? Simple tips/tricks are often needed here, not complex psychology.

Kim Nena Duggen: What are software archi­tects capable of after the “Soft Skills” seminar? What did they internalize?

Heike Molin: After the training course, software archi­tects know the different models in the field of commu­ni­cation, reflection, moder­ation, and conflict management. They also got to know some tips for visual­ization and presen­tation – in the virtual space as well.

Holger Tiemeyer: After my Soft Skill training courses, I don’t expect anyone to leave as a commu­ni­cation expert. My primary goal is to raise awareness about this funda­men­tally important field and to make trans­parent that commu­ni­cation and inter­per­sonal actions can be very complex.

Partic­i­pants have an advanced trans­parency about WHY certain things happen. They may see their own blind spots and have tools at their disposal to reduce them in a team as well in order to get into the already mentioned open sphere of the Johari window.

I believe that the seminar pays off in the long run. By creating awareness of the matter, we deal with it more often – especially in difficult life situa­tions that may have nothing to do with our actual work.

Today, I see an increased need for soft skill topics – especially in teamwork.

Kim Nena Duggen: What is the biggest myth/misconception about soft skills that you are confronted with on a regular basis?

Heike Molin: The biggest myth is that you can comprehend and inter­nalize the soft skill topics offered within 3 days. This training course can give a good overview and sugges­tions by means of the various practical exercises.

Holger Tiemeyer: I think the biggest myth is that soft skills, as the name itself suggests, is a soft topic and therefore only meant for soft people.

Computer science, or the issues that we as software archi­tects face, are considered “hard” topics.

People tend to overlook the fact that soft topics are the key to actual success, though. In many cases, software archi­tects with strong commu­ni­cation skills are far more successful and effective in supporting successful systems.

Kim Nena Duggen: In the context of soft skills, what have you always wanted to be asked and how would you answer? 

Heike Molin: In the context of soft skills, I’ve always wanted to be asked whether skills have become less important in times of virtual working, and I would answer, “On the contrary, soft skills are very important in the digital space to make working in online formats as appre­ciative as possible.“

Holger Tiemeyer: Question: “What can I do to change my own behavior regarding various issues, e.g., code quality, behavior, teamwork, etc.?“

Answer: Basically, I would say that you should look for role models. Role models who are empathetic, strong commu­ni­cators, yet efficient, who are well accepted in a team, and who seem to find inter­acting with people fairly easy. These role models help you to become a role model yourself – based on the topics of our Soft Skills curriculum.

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About the Author

Kim Nena Duggen
Kim Nena Duggen, born 1984, organizational architect, embarc Software Consulting GmbH. After studying international management in Hamburg and staying abroad in different countries I worked in Business Process Management and Automation in big corporations for several years. While taking a masters degree in Competence Management I started working with oose Innovative Informatik in 2011. Besides training in BPM, EAM, RE and soft skills/conflict management, I was appointed cooperative board member. Since August 2019 I work at embarc in organizational development with companies that want to address complex challenges as coach & consultant and function as trainer and curator for the SOFT module in iSAQB.

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