Going from just good enough to being great

4 September 2012

I recently saw a Forrester blog entry from George Colony at: http://blogs.forrester.com/george_colony/12-08-27-enterprise_architects_for_dummies_ceos

And recently I’ve been reading an interesting book called Good to Great by James Collins. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_to_Great

The Forrester blog talks about succeeding with realizing the business strategy by involving enterprise architects, whereas the Good to Great book doesn’t mention enterprise architects but just talks about needing the best people to achieve great things.

It raises the question ‘Does an organisation need enterprise architects to achieve greatness?’, and ‘What does an enterprise architect need to do to be great themselves?’.

An Enterprise architect will certainly bring a logical enterprise-wide view of strategic change, usually cutting across organisation boundaries. They will look at the strategic design of the enterprise vision in terms of interconnecting business capabilities, where a business capability is a similar concept to a ‘system’ as described in system thinking and the viable system model. They will help with the business thinking.

But is this how senior executives see strategic change?

I’ve experienced organisation restructuring close up at a large number of organisations over recent years and in all cases, the enterprise architects were not involved at all. The re-structuring tends to be done along business functional lines. Nothing wrong with that perhaps, but it does tend to bake in the old silo boundaries and restrict cross functional reuse of business capabilities.

Is this good or great, or merely good enough?

How do senior executives see enterprise architects?

Enterprise architects work with the executives, senior business stakeholders and heads of all the business functions to build a holistic enterprise architecture vision model that links the enterprise’s mission, business strategies and priorities to the current and future needs in an efficient and viable fashion.

For enterprise architects it’s typically not sufficient to merely produce a good vision and good roadmap, but the focus should be on producing a great one that is robust and viable way into the future.

Quick and dirty is not a great approach and is often a waste of money from a long term enterprise perspective.

There will inevitably be a sort of creative tension between the various lines of business and enterprise architecture. Part of the reason for this this is that the lines of business invariably take a top down view and the enterprise architects are naturally working across functional silos. There is often a sort of conflict of overlapping RACIs, a clash of who appears to be responsible for making a decision. Generally that is easy, it’s the business strategy owned by the business that makes the decisions.

But as George Colony observes in his blog, it’s the enterprise architects that span both the business and technical domains and act as ‘an internal trusted advisor who marries the best interests of the business with long-term technology strategy’.

An analogy is within the realm of politics, where the politicians take the decisions helped and supported by their advisors. Also like politics, the lines of business are often challenging each other and pandering to popularity polls.

This raises another thought, should an enterprise architect be popular or be professional? Can they be both at the same time? Should an enterprise architect indeed be a kind of politician following the whims of the time, or should they be seen to be standing up for doing the right things for the future?

Tactical short term changes are invariably much easier to build a business case and obtain investment for than multi-year long term strategic changes will ever be. Should an enterprise architect just focus on short term fixes, or do their job and focus on strategic change. Like a politician, should an enterprise architect aim to be liked and popular, or respected for their work furthering the best interests of the enterprise?

It’s rather like a politician who can only achieve changes within a single parliament, and therefore shies away from embarking on initiatives that will take a long time and multiple parliaments to achieve. Should an enterprise architect just be popular and play politics? Does this make an enterprise architect great? In fact, what does make a great enterprise architect? Ideally 40% of our job is communication. Maybe communication really means playing to the populous crowds? Does promising bread and circuses make things great?

James Collins says that good to great companies follow the principle of “First Who, Then What” and hire good people. Collins talks about good CEO’s typically have much humility. So maybe a great enterprise architect should also be humble? Perhaps a great enterprise architect is one who makes great decisions? But then if it is only the lines of business who make the decisions, what then? Often the enterprise architect is not in the position to make enterprise level decisions, only recommendations.

To be great enterprise architects should be focused on being neutral and not taking sides, working faithfully for the enterprise as a trusted advisor, taking the enterprise in whatever direction it chooses to go at whatever speed it wants to go, realizing the collective enterprise vision. In turn, the enterprise needs to treat enterprise architects as true trusted advisors and not just delivery agents. Enterprise architects should follow a set of principles, be honourable, forthright and avoid compromise, keeping the organisation honest. Maybe in doing that they won’t always be popular but they will be doing their job.

It has been said that ‘business leaders rarely succeed in marrying empirical rigor and creative thinking’, so it is the enterprise architects task to help them do this better and achieve a great enterprise and not just one that is just good enough. Just good enough is never good enough.

In my opinion, without enterprise architects, an enterprise cannot easily become great and may only achieve greatness through simple luck.

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3 Responses to “Going from just good enough to being great”

  1. ronbeernink Says:

    Great post! I would add that, to be a great enterprise architect, one needs to be an effective influencer / communicator at the executive + senior management levels of the organisation. Not a skill easily learned, and for most most EAs not a natural comfort zone. Not easy either with the business typically seeing EA as part of the IT department.


    • Yes, I agree with your comment completely!

      It’s funny though how one can be so very effective with some executives and not with others.

      I think some executives feel very threatened by enterprise architects. Probably because they are not used to them as a role that they have to engage with and don’t realise how enterprise architects can help them and the enterprise become great.
      Some would say it’s a result of their Taylorist training.
      See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_management


  2. “I’ve experienced organisation restructuring close up at a large number of organisations over recent years and in all cases, the enterprise architects were not involved at all. ” – Key point!

    The very beginnings of a major strategic change usually come from the CEO talking with one of their C-level direct reports (CIO, CAO whatever…). At some point, other people get involved. How soon the Enterprise Architect gets involved is the crux of the issue. Usually, they get involved after SOME decisions have already been made and perhaps written in an e-mail or discussed in a meeting. The EA then becomes a facilitator to make explicit via documentation for decisions that have already been made (e.g. goals, high level actions, high level processes, large systems in scope etc…).

    Since the big decisions have already been made (even if in an incomplete silo’d matter), the C-level people see the Enterprise Architect work as a somewhat unnecessary “documenter” of sorts.

    Then the way to really add value is to be flesh out business process views along with some high level logical app and data flows. But this work is seen as the beginnings of project work. Therefore, really C-level people see EA as a senior project manager of sorts. They miss the point of EA and how soon it should be begin – as you said, “enterprise architects were not involved at all”


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