Be an Enterprise Activist, not Archivist

Yesterday afternoon, I was involved with a discussion around EA 201x. The conversation began at a lunch meeting I had with Mike Rollings (@mikerollings) of Burton Group/Gartner, and continued on with Brenda Michelson (@bmichelson) of Elemental Links and fellow EA Chris Bird (@seabird20), among others. Near the end of the conversation, Chris asked the question, “Are Enterprise Architects really Enterprise Archivists?” Brenda responded that we really need Enterprise Activists focused on action, delivery, ideation, and evangelism.

The more I thought about this, the more I love the picture that is painted by this. An archivist is essentially a librarian, and unfortunately, there are probably many EA teams that fall into this category. I’m sure there are probably many CIO’s who also think this is exactly what EA should be doing: managing the list of approved technologies, standards, etc. That is a necessary activity, but is it really what your EA team should have as its primary purpose?

Now, think about the activist. Put aside any negative connotations associated with political activists and judicial activist, and focus on the pure definition, which is someone who engages in activism. Merriam-Webster defines activism as “a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue.” So, enterprise activism, or enterprise architecture activism, should be direct, vigorous action in support of the architecture of the enterprise. Anyone who has worked in big IT also knows that there’s no shortage of politics and tension between enterprise views versus project views, strategic views versus tactical views, so I think it fits the “controversial” term as well.

Brenda’s comments about seeing action, delivery, ideation, and evangelism hits the mark.

  • Action: The action is engagement. Talk to the people that have the ability to make change happen. Using the activism analogy, the EA is the lobbyist. Engage the stakeholders, and make your case.
  • Delivery: Deliver the strategic architecture, and then work with the project teams to make sure the architecture is realized properly. If you’re only cataloging what other people have done, you’re an archivist.
  • Ideation: Think about the future. James McGovern (@mcgoverntheory), a fellow EA, had posted once that EA’s need to have time to think. This is where the ideas come from, and then can get turned into the strategic architecture. They’re not the exclusive source of ideas, but EA’s are supposed to be your senior level thinkers, so innovative ideas should be expected of them.
  • Evangelism: How can you be an activist without being active? Make the cause known. If the cause isn’t heard, work to understand why, and tweak the message accordingly.

Just writing this up actually has cause me to think about some things that I can improve on in my own role as an Enterprise Activist. While I doubt we’ll see this as a job title anytime soon, I think it’s the right vision, can help others understand the role, and can be a powerful motivator for the team.

10 Responses to “Be an Enterprise Activist, not Archivist”

  • Todd,

    Thanks for the post and a recap of the discussions you had. I like the ideas presented and they reflect what we have tried to accomplish with our EA practice. One of the benefits of a small and minimally funded EA practice is that you must focus on the high value activities. Being an archivist is not even an option.

    While I like the term “activist”, I am also cautious about using it broadly within our organizations. I would really be disappointed if others saw it as another gimmicky label. Think back a few years ago, when IT thought leaders added “evangelist” to their titles or even the “black belt” or “… master” labels.

    Let’s keep the focus on Brenda’s ideas of action, delivery, ideation and evangelism.

    All the best, Leo

  • Todd,

    I like the distinction you are making – it fits with some of the thinking I have been doing around the disappointing habits that I see within some EA teams – they are followers not leaders; they are repositories not creators. The hard question is how do you become an activist within your own organisation – especially if it is an organisation hostile to innovation.


  • Great question Doug. To be perfectly honest, being a better activist is something I am continually trying to improve. Having an idea is one thing, but getting it to the right people is another. My recommendation is to keep pushing yourself to have the conversations. Now to the caveat you mentioned- we need to appeal to what the business needs. It doesn’t have to be an innovation discussion, it has to be a discussion about meeting and exceeding the business objectives. If the business doesn’t recognize the problems in the organization and architecture that may put those objectives in jeopardy, it doesn’t matter what you suggest, it’s going to be a tough sell. You have to get recognition that there is a problem to solve and then you can show them your solution.

  • […] Biske posted a summary of a conversation he had with Mike Rollings,  Brenda Michelson, Chris Bird and others. They were discussing the […]

  • Hi Todd, Great input … but …
    As activism is “in support of or opposition to” it is only half of the story when you write that Enterprise Architecture Activism should be [..] “in support of the architecture of the enterprise”. I believe the ‘other half’ (opposition to) could well be indispensable! Think about the Court Jester and the aspect of their duties “to criticise their master”. I believe the word Activist does cover the better role of the Architect, but only when both support and opposition remain within the meaning of the word. I strongly believe the Architect has a leadership position, and the paradox is that one can only occupy that leadership space … as a (complete) activist.

  • @ Paul – Spot on! To be an effective activist, you need to be willing to question everything…not just the “master”, but also your own assumptions and past actions.

    @ Todd – Thanks for capturing this discussion. Saves me a post.

    @ Fellow & Aspiring Activists – A big thing on Activist over Archivist is the Activist is Forward Focused, while Archivist is Historian.

    As EAs, we need to be forward thinking (and moving) with an appreciation for (but not enslaved to) our history (business, technology, process and skills).

    – Brenda (EA Activist)

  • Handy technique for questoning is one-downsmanship. The opposite of one-upmanship. If you want an answer pose something that may fit, sit back and wait correction. There’s nothing like playing into everyone’s (else’s) urge to be right!
    It’s a key part of activism. You don’t convince by being “right”. If that were so…..We convince by creating common stories, common visions of “realty”
    Being armed with the archives plays into “fact based” thinking. Doesn’t play into innovation. Story telling matters fr activists. Dictation matters to archivists.

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  • […] of doing it. He makes a few references to ‘descriptions’ of an enterprise. But as Todd Biske pointed out, the relevance of Enterprise Architecture is determined by the whether the Architects […]

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