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Podcasts

Armani Black at Accenture leads on incremental agility and actively stands for diversity

Armani Black, Technology Consulting Manager at Accenture, expertly contributes to and manages her team’s testing excellence. Driving an Agile framework with regular retrospectives, Armani acknowledges the power of adapting to client needs, and shares her know-how testing mission-critical apps such as Workday. Discover how you can improve diversity in tech and beyond with Armani’s open advice. The transcript below has been edited lightly for clarity and brevity.


Podcast Transcription

Emma: Hello listeners, I’ve got another stellar guest with me. I’m thrilled to be joined by Armani Black, Technology Consulting Manager at Accenture, one of our partners here at Tricentis. I connected with Armani after one of our Customer Success Managers, Matt Angerer, called you a fast-rising star. This is the second episode of our Ladies who Lead series, where I’ll be chatting with women who have excelled and have achieved the exceptional and top-level positions in software technology.

Armani, you’ve spent the last 5+ years at Accenture, where you’ve propelled through the ranks, leading testing teams working on digital critical initiatives such as SAP and Workday. Now you’re casting your net wider as a Technology Consulting Manager. Accenture is a Fortune 500 company, making 50 billion+ a year, and providing a plethora of critical technology services across all industries such as AI, security, cloud, tech innovation, and beyond. In your managerial role today, I understand you’re aligned to transformation and excellence within the health and public service practice.

Healthcare management is a domain that you’re super passionate about and knowledgeable on; how has this kind of pairing of expertise and passion fed into your leadership and your team’s outputs?

Armani: How it started for me: when I was doing my undergrad, I did student teaching with young kids. I noticed that most of the kids that I was working with had something going on, whether it was within their own family or within themselves, that had to relate to healthcare. I thought to myself: how can I ask you to show up and be an awesome student, if you have so many things going on that are beyond your control? What I started thinking about is that I want to be in an industry that is more proactive than reactive.

“I really believe that healthcare allows for young students, as well as others, to really able to take that first hurdle away, for them to be able to show up as their full selves—in school, work—what have you. That’s why I navigated from teaching to technology and healthcare, because I wanted to be really be on the front end of it. And I believe I really bring that passion to my team.”

Armani: They’ll probably say to you that they can still see the teacher in me because I love icebreakers; I love to get to know them. In a way, I’m truly introverted, because I’m not a fan of small talk that doesn’t lead to much. I really just want to know how they are as an individual. That really helps us, because once I understand who you are, I can really understand how you show up to the team and what we can really accomplish together. And I think that feeds into the leadership style of really building out our project plan together, make sure everyone has inputs. They feel heard, they feel that they contribute, and we all are motivated to really achieve those goals together.

Emma: You are clearly a team motivator and a self-motivator. You just recently passed your MBA in Healthcare Management, which is awesome. As you said, healthcare really does affect every one of us. Its impact is huge, so it does speak to everyone too, and completely underlines everything that you then feed into your team.

Armani: Yeah, especially in a virtual world, because I became a manager of a team during the pandemic. I wanted the team to know that regardless of where you are—because I have a global team, spread across India, the UK, and in the U.S—wherever you are, virtually as well as physically, you’re still a part of this team. I want to make sure that everyone is aware of who I am as a manager, but also as a contributor to the team too.

Emma: Exactly, be super present and clear on what you’re working with and how people can contribute. I was also really interested to hear that you lead the Testing Center of Excellence at Accenture, and obviously transformation is so clearly tied to quality.

How do you manage the Testing Center of Excellence to achieve your goals?

Armani: Whenever we come in with the client, we always spend weeks, if not months, just really understanding who the client is and assessing them.

“Answering that main question: what keeps you up at night? What problem am I here to solve? As you mentioned earlier, I’m working on Workday. So, how can Workday solve the problem? Or, how can this really be integrated with all of the other systems that the client is working on? That’s what I bring to the client.”

From that assessment, we really start bringing out the main pillars of work, and then run work streams, putting them into bitesize work items or work tasks that we put into two-week sprints. So that’s really how we’re able to achieve our goal.

And a rather fast manner is really being able to fail fast if we’re going to fail, and to do a sprint retrospective and say: What can we change? How can we do this better, so that next time we’re able to approach the work items and the word tasks a little bit more effectively. That’s why we’ve been able to achieve our goals.

Emma: Yeah, looking at these pain points, and relaying those to each individual situation. It’s interesting that you mention Workday. This is definitely amongst the critical applications that our clients are working with, such as SAP; there’s a long line of them which need our attention.

Are there any best practices that have emerged from your time working with Workday and SAP specifically?

Armani: For me, a best practice that I’ve witnessed over time is really being able to gradually roll out or introduce Workday—or any of these—because SAP definitely has multiple modules. I’ve never been a fan of Big Bang implementation, because for one, it slows down the ability to really see a return on it until it’s all the way finished, or you’re able to see incremental returns. Ultimately, it helps with change management.

There are certain systems where your employees or customers may be able to really go along that journey with you as you’re implementing it, so that they’re able to understand what those changes are and how that feature works. That’s been my main advice with implementation and ultimately testing, so I’m testing it to really fit what the customer has in mind.

“As techies, we want to show all the bells and whistles [of software]: it can do this, and it can do that. But if the client never said that was an issue, or that was something they really want to tackle, then you’re really missing the mark, and you’re investing in so much time, effort, and resources into something that doesn’t necessarily generate benefit for the client.“

Armani: So I think it really goes back to your last question; my answer is really understanding the client and bringing them along that journey with you, allowing them to test with you.

Emma: You have an array of things that you’re doing both inside and outside of Accenture; you are a former VP of the Black, Hispanic and Indian Association. That’s a group committed to enhancing the experience of underrepresented students of color by increasing recruitment and expanding professional development opportunities.

Could you dig a little deeper actually into how the Black, Hispanic and Indian Association helps make better representation a reality?

Armani: Yes, I want to really start with building confidence around people that look like me—people of color—is ultimately how we’re able to transform what those opportunities look like. So there’s no one way. I know there are a lot of organizations doing the same thing; what works for the Black, Hispanic and Indian Association is really being able to help with prep sessions.

So, if there’s a networking event or a career fair that’s happening, in a month or so we will hold prep sessions or mock interviews. Everyone’s able to really clearly benefit from helping each other, sharing tips and tricks, and really being confident and understanding that you deserve to be there just like anyone else.

“To diminish your light really takes away from your true skill, so just show up as your true self.“

Armani: The organization is really committed to the city, as it’s tied to Johns Hopkins and Baltimore, so it’s really connected to Baltimore city as a whole. Baltimore is definitely a city that benefits from a lot of these organizations being involved with youth and providing different opportunities, so that youth are able to see that there are different routes to take, whether that’s grad school, or any other profession.

We’re just there along every step of the way; it’s been fun. I was a teacher before, so it’s really nice connecting with youth, helping them really decide what they want to do post-school. I really enjoy being a part of it.

Emma: This next question always presents some head scratching.

In 10 words or less, what’s your best piece of advice for women aspiring to technology leadership roles?

Armani: The first one is don’t wait until you possess all of the different qualities that are on a job description to apply for a job; always aim higher. The second one is negotiate, negotiate, negotiate.

I’ll dive into those a little bit, because I did some research and saw that our male counterparts are known for their confidence and for being able to really apply for roles that they may not even be qualified for. They may just have a gut instinct, know someone, or are really able to show up. Research shows that women wait until we have all of the qualifications—maybe even more—to show why we deserve a job that we’re applying for.

“What I truly have done at Accenture, and other roles, is just go for it. Whether I had everything on that job description, or whether I looked like the person that was in that role previously, you never know what you’re able to bring to the table. As long as you stay true to yourself, and in that interview explain what assets and attributes and skills you have for that role, you just never know. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, and I don’t need us missing any shots as women; I want us to make sure that we’re able to really climb that ladder. So just go for it; don’t overthink it.“

Armani: My second advice is: negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. It’s very clear in the U.S—I’m not sure how it is in other countries—that women are not paid on the same scale as men. Some believe that is due to the fact that women don’t necessarily negotiate; I don’t believe it, but where we live in a world where we have to go by the stats.

“To debunk that myth or to overcome that hurdle, I would say just negotiate. See what you would be willing to offer, and even if [the return] isn’t not a monetary like salary, ultimately you want to be able to be comfortable in that role. If it’s not monetary, it can be paid time off, the work structure, or it can be other things that would benefit you as an individual. Really be able to show up as your true self, because you don’t want to be at the job second guessing whether you’ve settled for less.“

Armani: Yes, I love the line debunking that myth, because the pay gap is a systemic issue unfortunately that doesn’t just lie in the U.S, and it’s pretty much worldwide. So as you say, a way to close that gap is to be proactive and not be afraid of seeing your limitations before you’ve even applied for the role. Project yourself into it and see how you could perform, and really focus on those strengths. That’s awesome advice.

If you could get your magic wand and change just one thing about the application world today, what would that be?

Torsten: There are a lot of things. Digital transformations change the company culture. Be patient and establish a learning mindset with a positive work culture; that’s my advice.

Emma: Brilliant. When Speaking with Adam Arakelian, Senior Director of Engineering at Dell, he shared that his DevOps mindset is also related to that. He sees it as a philosophy, it’s not that you just do Agile DevOps as a tool. It has to be embraced and be embedded into the culture in order to work, so it’s awesome to hear that you have a very similar outlook there.

If you could wave a magic wand, what would you change about the application development world today?

Armani: I am a person that really loves to see the end-to-end cycle. From assessment all the way to implementation, I’m really able to do so.

One thing I would change about application development is with the vendor: if we’re able to really go through the application development process with them, it would be beneficial. You can really give real time feedback on how the application operates; any changes that you would make, and really how to customize it to the client’s needs. I really appreciate that about how some vendors work. I would love for that to be an overall best practice, for all vendors: to walk that tightrope, like we as consultants do with our clients.

And also having focus groups, which I’m sure clients have, but I haven’t been involved with them so far.

“I would really love to be a part of focus groups on how to build the app in the future, or how to change it. The more opinions or diversity across inputs you have, you really make sure that the application is beneficial to all instead of one certain client. You’re really able to make sure that it can be used universally or globally.“

Emma: Sure, because the more users or customers you have involved in that process, the better the output.

Armani: Have that group really be representative of everyone that uses it, not just your diamond clients or your major clients. I know that the bottom line that you know, that’s important too, but we all use it, so let us all be a part of that development process with you.

Outro

Armani sets such an incredible example as to how to actively stand for better representation of groups that society often unjustly discriminates against.

Hear more from Armani in a webinar alongside other women leaders on April 26, championing women in tech and their achievements in driving digital transformations. Stay informed on the events page.

Check out the latest podcast episodes for more insights from thought leaders like Armani.