In the networking world many are taught the Open Systems Interconnection model or OSI model of networking. The OSI model is described as a layered approach of how data travels in the network. The layers taught in any networking class are, starting from the bottom and working your way up:
Data Link Layer
However, for years I have always heard the joke about Layer 8. Now although the OSI has no official designation of such a layer, it has been my experience that such a layer may exist! In fact, Cisco even addresses this “layer” in their CCDA certification although they do not refer to it as a Layer of the OSI, which they are correct.
In the CCDA, it is taught that in order to make a good design you need to know what the business and technological requirements are and you have to live within the business and technological constraints. Think about that for a minute. You have to design a network to deliver who knows what and you have to do it with certain constraints, usually a limited time line or budget. Have you ever found yourself in a meeting where a customer wants what is technologically impossible, against their company policy or so expense that not even all the money in the world could afford what they want? I have… often. To make matters worse the customer may have multiple people present the business and technological constraints and goals and they may conflict with another person’s goals and constraints within the same organization. Then comes the process of debating, negotiating, hashing out the details to find some kind of compromise and to find a solution that will meet all of the goals and be achievable within the constraints that exist. It is this process that I refer to as the Layer 8.
If you have not had this experience, consider yourself fortunate. However as unpleasant as such a situation may be, there are some good learning opportunities for both the design engineer and the customer. In fact, during this political process as I choose to call it, I have learned a great many things that have been beneficial to help me increase my understanding and help the customer increase theirs!
· Education and understanding is key when going through the “Layer 8” or “political” process. During such meetings I have come to realize that more often than not, the customer doesn’t even know what they want themselves! They just want a solution to work and to be as convenient and easy as possible and they want it for next to nothing. Listen, really listen to your customer and restate what they are telling you to make sure you understand the feedback they are giving you. They may be surprised at what you understand from then.
· Ask who, what, when where, why and how questions. This will be extreamly helpful in getting the customer to really think deeper and consider the outcome.
· Explain in basic principles how technology works. Some people really don’t want to know the deep details, however, give your customer enough understanding to help them make an informed decision. It is been amazing to hear customers” gratitude for explaining technology to them.
· Give people options. My kids really don’t care for being told what do to or how to do it. Customers can be the same way. Instead of dictating to them what they should be doing (even if you are right), give them options and explain the pros and cons of each option. Remember it is ultimately their decision, not yours. Help then to make decision via the process of elimination. Objectivity is a must!
· Control emotions! I cannot stress this enough. It can make or break a deal, get you promoted or fired! It is difficult, but it can be done. People are passionate creatures and that is ok, as long as the passion is controlled. If it gets out of hand, you may find yourself having a Darth Vader conversion moment and that is not going to help yours or your customers situation.
· Document! The old saying “the customer is always right” rings true, even when they are wrong. We all make decision, some good and some bad. All those decisions have some kind of consequence, some good, some bad. When participating in the Layer 8/political process, acknowledge ownership where it is due. This is a joint effort and there must be joint responsibility. Documentation is the key to not only hold people responsible but serves as a reminder of what is discussed, agreed upon and finally decided. Documentation helps serve as a reminder to everyone. I can’t remember everything that is discussed in a meeting, but having good notes and documentation sure helps remind me of things and helps to keep me in check.
The Layer 8/political process isn’t for everyone. Some love it, others hate it. I love to see customers enlightened as I explain technology to them on their terms. I really don’t care to be the mediator of a heated debate. Oh how glad I would be if I had the Enterprise transporters to get me out of those situations! Unfortunately, that isn’t an option so the mentioned points are the things that have helped me get through the Layer 8/political process. For a designer, there is much more than technology skills that are needed. Good personal and communication and negoation skills or "soft skills" are an absolute must to survive this process.