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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

THE Essential EA Tool Kit

My first post of the year deals with the essential tools of Enterprise Architecture -  an internal compass, judgment, courage and finesse. I believe these soft tools and the skill to use them are as important as technical acumen to our success as Enterprise Architects.
Imagine, 2010 has come, you are at your desk ready to start the new year off and the first crisis lands squarely in your lap. The architecture lead for a multi-million dollar technology investment plops down in your officle (office/cubicle) and voices a concern - his program has circumvented process and standards, moving into its construction phase without ARB approval. Furthermore, the implementation team is procuring a major software as a service platform without any involvement from technology architects or security. Last, you learn business expectations regarding delivery dates have been set and the software acquisition contract has been signed.
Aside from the obvious process and policy deficiencies that allowed this in the first place, how do you handle the news?  I mention this scenario because it illustrates a point - the most important tools for EAs are often an internal compass (the gut instinct that something 'is not right'), the judgement needed to approach the situation correctly and the courage to act on convictions, regardless of our position in the organization. A final tool, finesse, allows EAs to handle these situations in a way that adds value to the enterprise.
"Architecture faces towards strategy, structure and purpose, towards the abstract.
Design faces towards implementation and practice, towards the concrete...
Architecture without design does nothing: it can too easily remain stuck in an ‘ivory-tower’ world, seeking ever finer and more idealised abstractions.
Design without architecture tends toward point-solutions that are optimised solely for a single task and context, often developed only for the current techniques and technologies, and often with high levels of hidden ‘technical debt’."
The point - as Architects of the Enterprise, we have an obligation to consider strategy and purpose; we are forward looking, considering broader consequences and long-term impacts. We serve as a check and balance to application designers that seek the path of least resistance to solve problems at hand. EAs need an internal compass that 'points North' when the pressure of delivery in upon us.
Here are some passages from a book I'm reading that is partially the inspiration for this posting, Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls -
From Chapter 2 on the Framework for Leadership Judgment -
  • "... the mistake people make in framing crisis judgments is being too short-term... a short-term fix uses up resources and is often not productive in getting toward the ultimate goal... [in pursuing the short-term] you can drift off into activity that is gonna make you feel good, but if that activity is not ultimately accomplishing what your mission is, then it's wasted and you're going to have to go back and do it [the right thing] anyway." [BTW...I call this 'eating donuts', a future blog subject.]
From Chapter 4 on Character and Courage -
  • "... having character as a leader is, if nothing else, the acceptance of consequences and responsibility."
  • "... without strong moral fiber and a sincere desire to put the greater good above personal gain, a leader's judgment will stray too often to the pragmatic and expedient. The hard choices that good judgment requires will not get made."
In absorbing these statements it occurred to me that, in addition to a companss, good judgment and courage to act are essential skills for EAs. Too often, I think we get mesmerized by our own technical depth and skill, forgetting our fundamental charge as ENTERPRISE Architects - to watch out for the enterprise, think strategically, identify situations that 'aren't right', make key judgments about how to handle them and then act with courage and finesse. In addition, we become excessively pragmatic, shying away from the right (but hard thing) by convincing ourselves that it is just not possible and therefore a waste of our time.
I conclude by challenging our profession to think on how we develop soft skills and execute our jobs using essential tools - an internal compass (character), judgment, courage and finesse.
  • Compass - we need to have good gut instincts about what's right and wrong. A good EA does not need a business case or a complex architecture description to recognize situations that could have adverse long term impacts to the enterprise. Developing this sense requires forethought and principals. We need to know in advance where our boundaries are.
  • Judgment - as EAs we are chronically pulled in many directions. A critical skill is identification of the correct  strategy and critical decisions about a situation that will enable a positive resolution. As part of the judgment process we must identify and engage appropriate stakeholders, marshal resources and support executives in making tough decisions.
  • Courage - to paraphrase a further passage from above, 'character without courage' is useless'. As practicing EAs, with working level relationships and 'ears to the ground', we are the first ones to realize a problem. Too often, we find ourselves in the position of 'whistle-blower'. It takes courage to address the problems in a constructive fashion. It also take courage to overcome the 'momentum of the pragmatic' and do the right thing even if its not the most expedient.
  • Finesse - In a lively discussion on LinkedIn's Practicing EA group titled Governance Is About Saying Yes, I assert what may seem like the opposite opinion - that EA is about finding a way to rationalize capitulation. If we dig under the surface conclusion, what I am really saying is that we have need of a compass (to give us instinctual direction), courage (to deal with the situation), and finesse (to figure out how to deliver the desired short-term value our customers are looking for in a way that meets long-term strategy and the company mission.) Quite often finesse involves saying "yes" with accountability for the short term 'technical debt' we carry. I'll post more on this later.
Happy New Year and thanks for your readership and comments.

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Brian has 21 years of engineering and technology leadership including 12 years as an IT professional. As an Enterprise Architect, Brian has been a leader in establishing Enterprise Architecture Practices in both the Financial Services and Defense industries. He has led the development and implementation of information management strategies, established architecture governance processes, and led multimillion dollar, multiyear program teams. In addition, Brian has extensive experience with web interoperability and data exchange standards established by the W3C and OASIS.