Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Talking to customers of Enterprise Architecture services

Today, the wonderfully clever Kevin Smith of PEAF fame began a discussion in the Australasian Architecture Network LinkedIn Group.

If I understood Kevin correctly, the general ideas of the discussion were that EA practitioners should be looking at "taking the architecture [conversation] up the food chain (out of project land and IT and into management)." I broadly agree with the view that EA should be part of the organisational management conversation but I would say it slightly differently. I would say that we should "push the conversation up to management AS WELL AS into project land and IT" and indeed onto all relevant parts of your business.

Kevin makes an insightful comparison between Deming & TQM, against Zachman and EA. Kevin "advocate[s] that anyone involved in EA should adopt this approach for explaining EA in order to get organisations to adopt it." It is an adept comparison of methodology but I do not agree that it is a good way to explain EA to management.

I simply think that it is an unnecessarily complicated approach to the task. Indeed, this over-complication is something that we EA practitioners can often been guilty of. It is understandable that we tend toward highly evolved language because we need precise semantic meanings to communicate with each other and with technical experts. So we tend to use specific and highbrow language but (and I have no doubt that Kevin would agree with this) we should really be striving to use language that best communicates our meaning to the person we are speaking to. I also believe that EA can be described to most people in very simple terms.

Is it not enough to explain EA to executives by saying, "EA (verb) is a decision support tool. The enterprise architecture (noun) provides an evidence-basis to support decision-making. EA can help executives make decisions about strategy and it can help implementers make decisions about how to implement."?

When EA practitioners say "domain modelling", can we not explain it to most stakeholders as "a way to put things into categories so that we can sort them and identify where there is either too much or too little of each type of thing. This can also help us understand the costs and risks for each category."?

When EA practitioners say "reference architecture", can we not explain it to most stakeholders as "a system for sorting things, like the Dewey Decimal System used in a library to help you sort types of books."?

When EA practitioners say "alignment mapping", can we not explain it to most stakeholders as "a way of showing how things connect, like the parts list and assembly instructions in an IKEA product."?

In these days, where optimizing customer experience is essential for success, EA practitioners really need to think, "how can we optimise the experience of the customers of the EA services that we provide."
Famed architect Vitruvius’ wrote in his book “De Architectura” way back in 15 BC that all architecture must be 3 things: “useful, solid, beautiful.” Simple forms of communication lead to each of these 3 fundamental goals.

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Nick Malik said...

One problem Alexander: you state "EA can help executives make decisions about strategy and it can help implementers make decisions about how to implement"

Business executives don't want our help.

If you are in your car, driving down the street and come to a stop at a traffic light, how would you feel if someone came up to the driver's side window and knocked on it? Perhaps a bit upset... maybe threatened? What if he shouted, to be heard through the glass, that he's a "terrific driver" and that he wants to help you drive home. Just move over and let him in!

The light turns green. What do you do?

That is how most executives feel when an EA comes to them and says "we are engineers and we are here to help engineer your company. You clearly need help with your strategy!"

While I agree with your post: simplicity is required, I would caution that simplicity is a long way from being sufficient.

--- Nick

Mark Lane said...

While I do get asked to work with business executives on business/technology roadmaps, business/technology scenario planning, maturity assessment (capability/services), business/ technology strategic planning, it’s not because I’m from EA, it’s because I am Mr. Lane who pays attention to relationship management and knows his place in the world and can speak somewhat intelligently and rationally to both relevant business and technology topic areas.
Its takes years of soft skill tuning in the area of relationships, influence and motivation and very importantly, when to speak up and when to shut up ;-)
Guiding executives and business folks through the “process” sounds insignificant but when done with knowledge, good faith, and trust ( the good ole fashion way); we gain respect and demonstrate we have skin in the game not just flappy-lips blowing in the wind, etc, …..we depend less on our corporate title and more on the relationships that we have built and are continuously building.

Frederic said...

Your blog is really insightful, 100% agree again. Nothing to say.

Joshua Millsapps said...

I have done some writing around what it takes to get to a successful program with regard to real business value and services from EA at http://mbaoutcome.blogspot.com/2012/08/enterprise-architecture-and-road-to.html
Essentially, with the idea that EA is supposed to provide you with real intelligence from which you can run your business. I'd love to get your thoughts.

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