Mind the AQAL

Herbert Schuurmans

Changing to a new architecture can be a real pain. In particular if it changes from an unstructured architecture to an IT driven SOA. My current assignment “implementing an ESB” is just that. The process is slow, it is difficult to get something done and there seems to be quite a lot of resistance. I have given it a lot of thought why we can’t just build the damn thing. Our team has enough technical skills, we know what we want and how to get there. But apparently that is not enough to make it a success. Why is that?

I realized what is going on after someone explained the AQAL model (All Quadrants – All levels) to me. It is one of many organizational models, but I like this one.  Why? It gives me a whole new way of looking at an organization.

The internal, individual quadrant (upper left) describes the inner person. Not the digestive processes but the personal values & principles someone has, his assumptions and intentions. The external, individual quadrant (upper right) describes the outside of a person: his behavior, work or knowledge. So a person can promise (upper right) to write a blog. But, for some reason he doesn’t (upper left).  Both sides should be more or less in balance.
The bottom (collective) half is for a group (team, company). Again, on the internal side are the collective values & principles. On the external side are the things you can see and touch like a logo, documents or technology. Some of a company’s values & principles are written down: e.g. visitors need to identify themselves. Others are very difficult to retrieve: “that’s how we do things around here!”

Introducing a new architecture (especially a SOA) is not just unrolling a new piece of technology. It is a cultural shift. This means that people’s work changes: operators have to use other tools, testers have to change their procedures, business analysts have to think in services. However, in our team we concentrate totally on the external. We write documents, implement our home made reference architecture and sometimes give a workshop. We hardly pay attention to collaboration with other teams, individual frustrations or doubts someone might have (inside or outside the team).
That’s the reason why most of my IT colleagues don’t care too much. When I talk to them they seem to be interested. But at the same time they think “the ESB” is a remote project that doesn’t affect their work, project managers see it as a risk, and “the business” thinks it is just an IT thingy.

It turns out for a group to change successfully, attention should be paid to all 4 quadrants. One or two quadrants can be more important than the others. Where there is change, there can be resistance. Those involved might see a change as a risk or they don’t see the advantages of a change as you do. Just focusing on the external side of the model is therefore not enough. Paying attention to the internal side is essential.

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