The Enterprise Family

While I’m sure the last thing we need is another analogy for enterprise architecture, a colleague of mine came up with one that really resonated with me. We were discussing principles, which many believe should represent the shared, unchanging values of the organization, in the context of enterprise architecture and governance. That’s when he came up with this analogy.

Enterprise architects need to work with the enterprise as if it were a family. If you look at a family, especially one with kids, they have their moments, but over time, they all start to embody a set of shared values.

Needless to say, I really liked this analogy. As a parent of three young children, I know exactly what he’s talking about. Now, this isn’t to say that enterprise architects are the parents of the organization, but we do need to be members of the family, more likely to be the wise elders, rather than the crazy uncle or creepy aunt.

What really works with this is that families make mistakes. They’re in a constant state of learning and evolving. Sometimes, as a parent, our goal is to do the exact opposite of something our parents did. Sometimes we want to do exactly the same thing. Most importantly, there are a set of values that we want to install in our children. The easiest path to this is to be an example of those values. We get in trouble when as parents, we contradict those values. The kids will have their moments, because they’re still learning. The same holds true in an enterprise. Individual projects may contradict the values, but it needs to be seen as a learning opportunity rather than strictly a compliance and punishment issue. When the leaders contradict the values or the values are simply unclear, the entire organization is at risk of being dysfunctional.

The role of enterprise architecture is one of ensuring that the enterprise is one big happy family. Sometimes we have to make a sacrifice for one member of the family. Johnny is heading off to college, so perhaps family vacations or other discretionary spending gets cut. While this is really of immediate benefit to Johnny, the decision embodies the family’s values of education. Sometimes Johnny’s little brother Tommy has to wear Johnny’s hand-me-downs. Sometimes we have projects that are of high priority and they get the focus. Other projects may have to reuse things created by other projects. Enterprise architecture needs to be the support for those decisions.

Update: In the twitter conversation that has followed this post, the roles of family therapist and parental guidance have come up. This also came up in my original conversation with my colleague. In my opinion, parental guidance, at least regarding architecture, should be filled by EA and it must be an employee. An outside consultant will never embody the values of the organization, they aren’t a family member. A family therapist, on the other hand, can be provided by a consultant or by an employee. The therapist’s job isn’t to tell you what your values are, their job is to help you identify your own values, and help you identify things where your actions are inconsistent with those values. Normally, if the parents are doing their job, therapy isn’t needed. Parents set expectations up front, and keep an eye out for behaviors that don’t embody the values. If behaviors need correcting, they get corrected through a variety of techniques, whether a carrot or a stick.

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