20 October 2009

Is it All Just Smoke and Mirrors?

Where does enterprise architecture sit in the grand scheme of organisational change?

I Have Nothing up My Sleeves
One of the most common criticisms levelled at architecture is that it resides in an ivory tower obscured by clouds. Another is that architects are just “making it up as they go along”.

I feel we can quickly dismiss this second criticism, as this is exactly what architects should be doing (or to put a more positive slant on it, making key decisions, and defining strategy in concrete terms). They should, however, ensure that they are “making things up” before people need those things to do their job. Just-in-time architecture is a good thing, but it is only a small step towards just-too-late architecture, which by definition is too late.

There are More Questions than Answers
The first criticism, however, is less easy to dismiss, primarily because in many organisations it is very much the truth, and it is this issue that is key to understanding where architecture sits in the organisation. The activity that is referred to as architecture frequently fails to deliver the key things that it must provide to be of real value, and those things are answers. And now, some brief reminders:
  1. Principles are not answers.
  2. Guidelines are not answers.
  3. Option papers are not answers.
  4. Concepts are not answers.
  5. Answers that have no basis in reality are not answers.
Real architecture is not about vague concepts; it is about concrete reality. It converts the vagaries of strategy into clearly articulated and unambiguous answers that allow the doers to get on and do. One of the key goals of architecture should be to get to the answer as quickly and as simply as is possible.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Real architecture sits firmly between strategy and projects and is essential in bridging the gap. If architecture looks only towards strategy it fails to drive delivery. If architecture looks only towards projects, it fails to inform and challenge strategy. In essence:
  1. Strategy tells you what you need to do.
  2. Architecture tells you how to do it.
  3. Projects have the hardest job of all; doing it.
It is for this final reason that architecture must ensure that it makes this incredibly difficult job just a little easier by removing much of the uncertainty of strategy before a project encounters it. This leads me to my concluding list:
  1. By refining strategy, architecture challenges and refines that strategy, removing the conflicts and ambiguities. It turns ideas into answers.
  2. The to-be architecture allows the business to identify the largest gaps in the delivery of its vision, and this in turn helps to inform priorities.
  3. Architecture is a revitalisation of the age old skill of back-of-a-beer-mat design. If you can’t draw it, it isn’t real.
If architecture does not do these things then it is not worth doing.

The Enterprising Architect

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