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The Future is Functional

Functional Architect making sense of industry chaos.

“What do you actually do?” is a question I often encounter when I introduce myself as a Functional Architect. Is it a Business Analyst, Project Manager, Strategist, UX Designer, or maybe even a Developer? The answer is yes – all of the above and some.


In this article, we’ll explore the role and responsibilities of a Functional Architect, but more importantly we’ll examine the increasing importance of the Functional Architect as industries evolve.


The Functional Architect

A Functional Architect is a role of dichotomies. A role that blends business with technology, creativity with structure, logic with empathy, and strategy with detail. I’ve always categorized the role as consisting of three key domains: Analyst, Strategist, and Technologist.


Analyst.

An essential aspect of this role is the ability to dive into the details of processes, data, and workflows. This includes learning the nuances of system guidelines, business documentation, and the actual steps end-users take. The ability to define and more importantly, understand, both the theoretical framework and the practicality of the execution is critical to any strategic or implementation success.


Strategist.

While an analyst focuses on details, a strategist looks at the broader picture. They understand how the details relate, the overarching goals they support, and how to identify new opportunities and solve for challenges, even those that aren’t clearly defined, that marry business objectives with digital strategies and solutions.


Technologist.

The functional individual isn’t usually a developer or a technical architect and won’t write any lines of code. However, they are knowledgeable about what’s feasible with existing resources, potential integrations, and whether a solution is a straightforward fix or a complex, multistage endeavor. They ask pivotal questions necessary to inform key architectural decisions and work hand-in-hand with pure technical folks to bring solutions to life.


These three domains, though distinct, are fluid within the Functional Architect. This individual, as an analyst, strategist, and technologist, can wield insights from each domain to drive the project toward success.


Bridging the Gap

As the Functional Architect is not restricted to a singular domain or a single role, their true value lies in their comprehensive understanding of a project and its role in a larger digital strategy. They have a clear vision of the broader picture that a project is trying to achieve. They recognize the purpose, network of relationships, objectives, goals, and performance indicators, and can anticipate potential challenges and risks.


This perspective allows them to bridge the gap between project team members —developers, business stakeholders, UX/UI designers, and project managers—translating specialized terminologies, concepts, or goals into a common language and aligning the project team towards a unified goal.


The Impact of AI

The integration of generative AI has greatly enhanced the role of the Functional Architect in our practice.


Today.

The Functional Architect can leverage AI today to drive efficiency in their operational workflows. They can enhance their delivery of prototypes and solution designs, employing AI to fill skill gaps in many areas (like UX,UI design, or simple technical needs), and to structure information in ways that stakeholders or project managers need, providing synthesized information on project status, risks, and more.


Additional opportunities for Functional Architects to leverage AI include:


  • Assist in converting business requirements or process flows into initial user stories.

  • Provide recommendations for refining user stories to enhance their clarity and testability.

  • Identify missing or overlooked elements in acceptance criteria.

  • Synthesize project management tasks to create concise project updates, highlighting potential risks and opportunities for improvement.

  • Act as a virtual analyst to help evaluate solution design concepts, define the feasibility of wireframes or visual designs, and to explore the functionalities of different platforms.

  • AI not only streamlines operational tasks but also becomes an extension of the Functional Architect's expertise.

Tomorrow.

Just as system development evolved from custom coding to declarative configuration, we're on the brink of another transformative shift in how we approach solution development. AI development assistants, or copilots, are set to transform the way we approach development perhaps by directly translating business requirements and story prompts into functional solutions.


With this development evolution looming, the Functional Architect’s role will become far more prominent in project teams. Just as they currently facilitate understanding between developers and stakeholders, they might soon do the same between stakeholders and AI systems.


Instead of just translating the solution design into user stories and acceptance criteria for developers, Functional Architects will become the prompt master. They will translate requirements and business objectives into instructions for AI development assistants to execute. This shift will alter the structure of sprints, redefine developer roles, and transform our understanding of development velocity, further elevating the Functional Architect's importance.


Parting Thoughts

My primary goal in writing this article was to convey the value of the Functional Architect and highlight the role's growing importance in the AI-augmented workplace.


As a Functional Architect myself and someone who takes great joy in hypothesizing about AI's impact in business and technology consulting, I’m excited to see how the future will shape up – and the role that Functional Architects will play along the way.


Interested in learning more about how we can help you operationalize these concepts into your own practice or project? Contact us!




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