Deciding “Yes” on EA

On the Forrester Enterprise Architecture Community site, Randy Heffner asked the question, “What should EA do for business agility?” In my two responses in the discussion, I emphasized that EA is all about decision support. Yes, you may create a future state roadmap, but what the organization winds up with is completely dependent on what projects the organization decides to execute, and then on how those efforts are executed. EA influences those decisions, but we’re not the ones making them.

So why is this post titled, “Deciding ‘Yes’ on EA”? In that same discussion, William El Kaim added the following:

Let me be real provocative, and state: EA is dead … It has been killed by architect themselves leaving in their ivory tower and their beautiful EA drawing tool that nobody uses and that contains outdated data when they are published.

You can read the rest of what William had to say on the Forrester site, but I don’t think it’s anything any of us practicing EA’s haven’t heard before. But there’s a very important point in William’s statement. If nobody uses what EA produces but EA themselves, that’s a big problem. Put simply, if we provide poor decision support, the organization will ultimately decide against EA.

Like most things in this world, there are far more ways to fail than there are to succeed. So what are some best practices for providing excellent decision support so that the organization will decide “yes” on EA?

  1. Figure out who makes the decisions. Sounds simple, right? Not quite. I’d love to see a Forrester or Gartner survey on this one, but I’m willing to clarity and consistency on the decision making process is not a strength for most organizations. Regardless of the state of your decision making process, if you don’t have access to the people making the decisions, you have little to no chance of influencing them.
  2. Figure out how they make their decisions. Note that I didn’t add, “and make them better.” Remember that they’re the one making the decisions, not you. Your role is to give them added information so that they can make the best decisions possible. In some cases, the whole reason for having the discussion may be so you can learn and incorporate that decision maker’s information into your guidance for other decision makers.
  3. Make your information relevant to them. Don’t give them a bunch of models that are only meaningful to another EA. In the case of upward decisions, this usually means that the architecture implications have to have financial ties, or clearly alignment with business objectives. I’ve had success using capabilities in these discussions, and I think the current research would back that up. You must tailor your information to their needs. If they don’t understand it, it’s your problem, not theirs. They’re making the decision, not you.
  4. Emphasize added insight, not oversight. This is very important for interactions with project teams. All too often, EA is positioned as the enforcer. Come before the review board and we shall assess your worthiness. I’m sorry, but a guy who spends 80% of his time writing code each day should be far more aware of the latest frameworks than the average EA. The role of the EA is bring enterprise and/or domain perspective to the effort. As soon as the project gets established, the project blinders go up, and it’s the job of EA to remove those blinders and add enterprise insight into the effort.
  5. Don’t rely solely on artifacts, and where you must, make sure they are easily digestible. While many factors in an organization lead us toward email-based interactions of documents, try to have a face-to-face conversation about the guidance whenever possible. At a minimum, by walking someone through it, you at least knowing they’re actually reading some part of it. When you create the artifacts, get them to the point.
  6. Be cautious about consulting models for EA.A consulting model for EA is great, right? When someone needs more information to make a decision, what do they do? They hire a consultant. So EA should be internal consultants, right? Well, not really. That may work in the short term, but it is a “I’m here when you need me” model, when you really want to always be a part of the process. Don’t turn down the consulting approach, as it can get your foot in the door, but make sure you turn it to something more systemic.

What other best practices (or worst practices) do you recommend in firmly establishing EA as a valuable resource in the decision making processes in the organization?

Leave a Reply


This blog represents my own personal views, and not those of my employer or any third party. Any use of the material in articles, whitepapers, blogs, etc. must be attributed to me alone without any reference to my employer. Use of my employers name is NOT authorized.