Solution Skill Quadrants–Part I, the model

For quite a while I’ve been having a model of skill requirements in my head.  That model guided me to analyse situations in different companies, mostly the staffing patterns for the maintenance of applications.  I wanted to formalize it a little more and hence this post.

I call this model the Solution Skill Quadrants.  Now you might ask what this HR digression is doing on a technical blog?  Well, read on, because on top of allowing one to easily analyse staffing requirements and team dynamic, it is also a wonderful tool to influence a solution.

You know, buried somewhere in those non-functional requirements is the 'maintainability' one.  This requirements dictates that the solution you are architecting / designing should be easy to change, evolve, maintain.  Easy?  Cheap.  Your solution should be cheap to maintain.  How do I know that?  Well, read on, here’s the model.

Like everything in pop-psychology, we split the world along two axis, in four quadrants.  It’s mandatory, I didn’t create the universe, it’s just like that.

The horizontal axis is the ‘Required skills’ axis.  How much skills does it take to get your architecture, to understand it to the point of being able to make it evolve without accidently breaking it?  This dictates the staff profile your customer needs to hire in order to maintain your solution.  At the low-end of this axis you have low-skilled employees.  Those people are easy to find and do not ask for a Rolls Royce just to come to the interview.  At the high-end of that axis are the high-skill workers.  Scarce on the market, they take longer to recruit and ask for more.



The vertical axis is the ‘Task Challenge / Creativity’ axis.  This tells us about the typical tasks somebody has to perform given the architecture.  At the low-end of the axis, the task are easy, predictable & repetitive.  At the high-end of the axis are the tasks that are uncommon, challenging and require some creativity.

Let’s look at the impact of the tasks on the staff profiles by running around the quadrants:




Here you have a low-skilled employee doing repetitive work. This is quite easy to manage. Actually, the management science was invented and optimized in order to handle that context. If they get bored you promote them if you can, replace them if you should.


Here your low-skilled employee is doing non-repetitive work. The work doesn’t require more skills, it’s just less mundane. Most people enjoy this. The employee enjoys this because he’s challenged within the boundary of his skills. The manager likes it, because his employees aren’t complaining about the routine all the time. Since here you still have a large population of prospects that can fulfill the tasks, you can easily find employees to do the job and you’ll have a good sales pitch for the position.


Here you need an highly skilled employee and you let him go nuts to do ‘his thing’. Typically that person is hard to find and expensive, but the job is challenging for him / her, so they should enjoy it and strive in it. On the other hand, the minute they don’t enjoy it, they’ll have a hard time being understood by their manager who typically doesn’t understand the details of his / her daily job. That can be a challenge.  As an architect, you probably live in this quadrant.


Here you need an highly skilled employee in order to perform mundane tasks. This is hell. You’ll have a hard time finding those employees and they’ll quit on you on a regular basis because the job is boring in general and especially boring for them because they would much prefer to do the ninja job your competitor is opening this month. On top of that, chances are the manager is unable to properly structure the work for that person since he doesn’t fully understand the ins and outs of this complicated job position. Brace yourself, you’re up for some serious turnover of expensive staff who take a while to understand the complicated tasks and resigned short afterwards.
    What can you do as an Architect to help the situation?  This will be for the next blog post!

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