5 November 2009

I Don’t Like Architects

The title of this article may seem strange, coming as it does from someone who declares himself to be an Enterprise Architect (EA). Let me explain...

Bad EA = EA Bad?
One of the greatest frustrations as an EA is that my first meeting with most people in the work environment is one of distrust and open criticism. Before I can make any progress, I first have to answer one or more of the following questions:
  1. What is EA?
  2. What's in it for me?
  3. Why is it going to work this time when it hasn’t before?
  4. Why waste time with EA when we could be getting on with the real work?
  5. Why do you architects insist on slowing things down?
The first two questions are no problem at all. They get to the heart of the issue, as the questioner is recognising (1) that they need to understand EA before they can judge it, and (2) that EA should be contributing to what they are doing and I as an EA should be able to justify what that contribution is.

It is the remaining questions that frustrate me; not because they are being asked, but because the person I am speaking to has had to experience EA in a way that leads them to ask these questions.

Is EA fundamentally flawed as an approach, and if so does it need to be rethought or renamed? Absolutely not.

Is EA an academic concept that is simply not pragmatic enough, in the day-to-day pressures of modern business, to be of practical use? Again, absolutely not.

Good EA is a simple and effective tool that forms an essential step in the journey, and what is more it accelerates the journey rather than slowing it down. Why then is EA viewed with such scepticism and disrespect?

Seeing is Believing
For me, this is a people problem, not a process problem, and it is the same problem that “Big IT” suffers from.

People have a tendency to gravitate towards “the next big thing” and for a while this was IT. (In my father’s day it was the newly emerging field of electronics). Everyone and their dog was suddenly in (or trying to be in) IT regardless of aptitude or experience. This in itself was not a problem, but companies then employed these people in the bizarre belief that it was something anyone could do (an attitude they would never apply to their own profession).

The result was runaway inefficiency, with the many who claimed to be able to do IT getting in the way of the few who could really do it. Management then looked at the resulting decrease in productivity and decided that more people were required. Finding the necessary resource to be scarce they became even more sure that the solution was to hire even more non-IT people in the hope that they would become effective over time.

When increased resource didn’t help, the focus then shifted to greater analysis and design, increased testing, and increased release management to try to overcome the poor quality of the systems being produced. The result? Even greater inefficiency, and the widespread (and mistaken) belief that IT was by nature big, expensive and time consuming.

Then came EA and architecture in general. Jobs advertised under the name of architecture carried higher price tags than the traditional designer, developer & analyst roles seemed to carry. Naturally everyone started to call themselves architects, regardless of activity or ability...

...and this is why I don’t like architects (or to be more accurate bad architects). The majority of people who claim to be architects are quite simply no good at it. They may be excellent at what they used to do, but what they are now doing is not architecture. By claiming to be architects they simply devalue it by either doing it badly and making it look bad, or by doing something that is already being done elsewhere and making it look redundant.

These are the people I do not like. They make my job twice as hard, and force me to start from a position of disrespect in my interactions with new contacts. I dislike them as much as I dislike bad leaders, bad public speakers, bad programmers and bad politicians.

The Moral of this Story
In conclusion, when you discuss the problems of architecture, think carefully about whether what you are really discussing is the problem with the people claiming to be architects. After all, the fact that you have experience of one or more bad plumbers, does not imply you can live without plumbing.

A Message to Architects: Consider the five questions at the start of this article. If you cannot answer all five to at least the partial satisfaction of the questioner, then perhaps you are one of those Architects to whom I am less than enamoured.

A Message to Leaders: You select your architects. If they prove to be ineffective, consider the possibility that the problem lies in your selection of architect rather than the validity of the activity itself.

A Message to Innovators: Defend your ground. Given the current (justified) enthusiasm for innovation, I am sure you will soon find yourself surrounded by would-be innovators keen to jump on the bandwagon, and devalue the perception of your expertise and value.

The Enterprising Architect

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