Grave Mistakes Enterprise Architects Should Avoid

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However much we try to deny it, it seems the good old days for EA are almost over! If you doubt, then try looking around for an EA practice that isn’t struggling for survival; I bet a handful if none at all! Just before the recent recession, EA practices thrived very well; the concept was well understood, everyone was singing the praise; almost all mature organizations had established the practice; its practitioners were in demand;  the practice almost never got questioned; its promises were convincing; it seemed to have been well integrated into organizations; few decisions would be taken without its engagement; funding its charter was never a problem; it seemed to have had an iron fist control over most project decisions; and most of all, business was utterly convinced this was the missing link between strategy and execution.. At the same time, some critics were increasingly raising the alarm by questioning the actual returns on investments (ROI).. they were not convinced with the promises it had in stock; they questioned whether these promises were realistic and achievable; some argued the practice was just another hype created by smart marketers? Well, I will leave you to decide…

All said however, the real acid test needs to be overcome; EA practices must reap the promised value like standardization, rationalization, transformation, reuse, cost-savings, profitability, rejuvenation etc. Unfortunately only a handful will survive this test; as a ripple effect, unless major pitfalls are avoided, I predict more and more EA practices will soon be closing down… But why and whom should we blame for this? Well, I believe the answer lies within the execution of the practice and the maturity of its practitioners… or is it? Without much renunciation, most of us have learnt a great deal of lessons after the recent slump. I have dedicated this blog to highlight some of the grave mistakes EAs should avoid.

  1. Executing without Scope: Executing your EA practice without a clear scope is akin to delivering unwanted products and services. Often than not, this leads to delivery of numerous piece-meal outcomes that seldom contribute to measurable results and fail to add value to business. Apparently, you are likely to be in this situation if you are struggling to gain stakeholder buy-in. Although EA is a platform with many possibilities, it is always good practice to define a clear scope that articulates your EA accountabilities and provides clarity on the expected EA contributions. Before embarking in the journey, take time to define and communicate your EA charter.
  2. Communicating without Buy-In: Many EA practitioners think awareness sessions are adequate to gain stakeholder buy-in and commitment. Awareness sessions do not guarantee cooperation as they only serve to market and inform stakeholders regarding what you intend to do. EA Practitioners should communicate value by example, gain formal agreements, and define proper engagement model upfront. Like any other business, the practice should define products and services upfront based on stakeholder interest and seek formal agreement regarding products and services that need to be delivered; without this in place, you are doomed to fail along the way.
  3. Overlapping without Dialogue: EA practices should study organization dynamics to identify functional gaps they will fill without creating overlaps. Overselling EA is risky as it could be perceived as a threat by existing functions. Many architects give a wrong impression when they fail to identify and negotiate boundaries with other functions. EA does not replace but rather augments and support existing functions. Failing to do so is a recipe for resistance and rejection.
  4. Engaging without Results: EA practitioners must produce tangible results in all their engagements. A tendency of engaging without solid contribution is perceived as wasted effort which could lead to EA practitioners getting branded as spectating slackers. EAs are expensive resources whose time and effort should be wisely utilized to create tangible value. Unnecessary engagement creates disagreements and disruptions in business operations. Bottom line, EA should be careful not to indulge in activities that have no relevance to EA scope.
  5. Adopting without Relevance: A grave mistake many EA practices commit is strict adoption of industry frameworks or methods like TOGAF and Zachman. These frameworks were developed as guidelines to the architecture community. EA practices must selectively pick what is relevant to their organization based on their own scope and culture. Attempting to implement an entire framework or method is risky as it could easily lead to analysis-paralysis and stakeholder disengagement.
  6. Implementing without Agility: Businesses operate in rough waters that call for decision-making flexibilities. The window of opportunity must be exploited to reap maximum possible value. Traditional EA practices tend to follow a water-fall model of architecting as-is then the to-be and finally identify gaps and proposing roadmaps. Sometimes this may not be pragmatic as certain initiatives or projects may call for a simpler and quicker approach like iterative model. EAs must be agile and pragmatic; sometime rules must be broken and focus be given to realistic and practical steps that help produce quick outcomes.
  7. Practicing without Skills: To be effective, EAs require certain competencies and experiences. Since EAs often interact with a cross-functional group of difficult stakeholders, they need to be armed with excellent domain knowledge, necessary leadership qualities, required technical skills, and good personality traits. Domain knowledge is relevant when suggesting optimal business operating models while technical skills are relevant when identifying and designing corresponding technical solutions. Some EA practices blunder by hiring staff lacking these core competencies and experiences. EAs without these competencies and experiences struggle to make an impact so it is advisable to select and bring onboard resources capable of dealing with this tough and challenging role.
  8. Architecting without Realization: Some EAs prefer working on high-level enterprise architecture and leaving the detailed solution architecture to technical teams mainly because they prefer keeping focus on enterprise related value. Although a conceptual architecture is equally useful, it is not sufficient when it comes to actual realization of the final solution. A high-level conceptual architecture may be a good artifact for justifying certain architecture principles and patterns but it surely does not help much when realizing the final outcome during a project. EAs must roll-up their sleeves and delve into much more details during the projects; they need to be actively engaged in producing or reviewing detailed solution architectures to ensure the final outcome indeed realizes the anticipated value.
  9. Governing without Authority: Governance is perhaps the most neglected aspect of EA. While it is critical for EAs to govern realization of architecture in projects, it is equally important that it be granted sufficient authority to do so. EA should not claim this authority but rather gain it from stakeholders. In addition, governance should be enforced through dialogue and not by policing as this could lead to outright rejection of EA involvement. Remember, EA is not a bully but a partner is translating and realizing strategy.
  10. Reporting without Measures: Like any other business, EA performance results must be measured and communicated. Where it is poor, opportunity for improvements must be identified and planned. EAs should frequently measure and report progress in order to keep sponsors informed and committed. It is good practice to define SMART performance measures that contribute to overall business strategy. Remember, without measures, it is almost impossible to justify existence and get buy-in for budget and growth.

So what opinion do you have regarding the grave EA mistakes that should be avoided? What recommendations do you have for rejuvenating struggling or failing EA practices? How should EA practices position themselves to tackle future recessions and challenges? Please feel free to share your invaluable thoughts with us. Until next time, I will pen off here…

Author: Fahmy Al-Amoody

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1 Comment

  1. Great article and very truthfully written Fahmy. I can or at least try to feel the pain you have explained when it comes to the failure of EA.

    During the years, EA has been given lot of limelight by almost all the big organizations, be it technology, consultancy or federal. Most of the organization’s burden has been put or at least been recommended to be put on EA and then the organization waits in the waiting room for results, as if EA was in a labor room, consuming the 9 months and now ready to pop up best of the best breed solutions.

    On the contrast, I see a very little attention been given on the other intellectual aspects of the organization. How about CIO, CEOs, COOs , CFOs and Cnn(s), shouldn’t they be qualified enough to understand the business in an architectural or let’s say just a plain diagram ? Why is it that the whole organization only tends to rely on EA to get everything done and even the simplest education has to be given on understanding business and relating the external attributes to make business decision ?

    In today’s world the failure of EA is not because of EA itself, it’s also due to the lack of common understanding of the business by the other highly paid individuals of the organization.

    In most of the organization where EA has its presence, the 3rd law of newton rightly exists which says

    “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

    The opposition is so strong that EA is bound to fail, regardless of what ever qualified architects you hire or regardless of what ever frameworks you like to implement

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