Project Description

I walk into the meeting room noticing as I do, that as often is the case when I do an enterprise architecture assessment, I am the only one in a jacket. Oh, I don’t care what anyone wears, but I note the team taking me in and weighing my motives, skills and capabilities, all of which I anticipate. Mom always told me to dress 1 level better than your audience, and that lesson has served me well. Not because of the superficial¬†but because relationships are important and how you present yourself sets the tone. Like many architecture teams, this one presents itself as… defeated. I make a not to ask what has been challenging them most. A little later on I fill out the answer, without having to ask the question.

We go through a round of introductions, Hi I am the director of enterprise architecture, reporting to the VP of Application Development. Hi, I am the information architect, I have worked in IT for 25 years. Hi, I am new to the team, I have been working as a programmer and developed our continuous integration build environment. I got invited to be the new enterprise solution architect. And then it’s my turn. Fortunately they invited me here, so I say, “Hi Im Paul, I want to hear about you. Can you tell me what you are the most proud of from the last 6 months of your work?”

The team, expecting to do a little song and dance about projects and their organization structure, and the goal of EA, starts to beam a little. I get excited, I love to see that spark¬†in a teams eyes. “Ah yes, well we’ve had an amazing 6 months, though of course we are still not done, but I want to tell you we have created a meta-model for our enterprise to which all of our architectures must conform. We have even developed two such comprehensive models and documented an entire department. Here let me show you…” I sit for the next 30 minutes as a notation meta-model is described to me in painstaking detail while the team excitedly discusses and (still debating) describes the relationship between a view, viewpoint and description and how they’ve modified that to include their industry specific meta-model.

At this point, I surprise them again. “So you’ve been having a lot of fun with these models, cool. Now tell me what actual architecture work have you done?” A bit of confused silence. “Let me ask you a different question. Are there any important technical or business changes impacting your company?” “Oh that’s what you mean, that is a project thing. Yes we’ve been partially involved in reviewing the models for a new project to reduced the time by which we get our products to market but we are postponing that right now so we can finish the architecture and make sure to do it right.”

Ahhhh, I sigh loudly, the frown on my face confusing the team further. I ask them, when was the last time you folks left your cubicles and meeting rooms?

And then, as so many times before, I start telling them about what it means to drive innovation and value instead of creating yet another stack of intricate documents. What a bright and shiny meta-model they had…

This story, as you may be able to tell, is not unique in any way. In fact, it has begun looking like the de-facto standard for EA engagement. Beautiful shiny models, documents and power points, crafted with months of effort. All of which is completely and utterly useless. Oh, don’t get me wrong, there is more value in an effective model/design than I can describe to a non-architect. We need them to think, to plan and to clarify decisions, but they don’t and won’t transform your business, nor will we ever get credit for creating the best diagram.

Architecture you see isn’t what happens in a cubicle or office. Architecture happens in the field, the operating room, the sales floor. Architecture is business technology innovation turned to strategy and then executed in reality. Architecture is reducing the time it takes to produce a barrel of oil, decreasing mortality rates in the hospital, increasing product margin. Anything else is a waste of your salary.

If your architecture team is spending less than 20% of it’s time with customers, sales people, product development, product designers, and company leaders, they are letting you down and it’s time to start asking some tough questions. The average architect needs to innovate and to innovate you have to see what the problems are, brainstorm with others on ideas, discuss strategies and look for ways technology can transform the problem into a new market.

Recently, I got to watch a heart surgery first hand. I spent my time watching everyone in that room. The paths the nurses and doctors took, the ways they were supplied, the details of how waste was collected, the medical tech in the room. And let me tell you, the operating theater of the future is a powerful thing. So many opportunities to innovate and to lead, it’s almost easy. The doctors gathered around afterwards and we joked and discussed what kind of tech excites them (miniaturization of primary care devices such as the anesthesia machine, the heart bypass pumps, etc). They were excited, they were thrilled, they were eager to setup a follow up meeting. They understood architecture and it’s benefit immediately.

Get your EA team out of their cubicles and start transforming your enterprise.