"There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root." – Thoreau
I had the occasion today to have a long chat with a senior architect about Enterprise Architecture. The conversation turned to the “underlying problem” that EA is supposed to solve. In other words, if we use terms like “alignment” or “simplification,” what is the problem that causes misalignment and complexity?
To paraphrase Thoreau, I asked “what is the root of the evil we are striking at?”
The answer was simple, and glaringly obvious. Communication.
- When a leader communicates, no one under that leader wants to admit that they cannot (or did not) completely understand every word.
- When a project is planned, few people want to admit that the project is (or will be) incapable of producing the desired effect. This is especially true if their leader is the one who thought the project up.
As long as communication is flowing in one direction, from a leader to his direct report, then it is easy for the next person down the line to “drift” a little, performing work that may or may not produce the result that the leader expected. Such a system needs to be controlled in order to prevent that drift.
It would be like manufacturing a product on an assembly line without ever checking, along the way, that the intermediate parts are meeting quality control checks. When a part consistently fails a quality control check, you would go back up the line to find the systemic causes of the defect, fix the root cause, verify the result, and continue with manufacturing. This “quality feedback loop” is essential to producing a good product on a consistent basis by building quality into a product rather than trying to insert quality through massive inspection regimens.
The assembly line that EA addresses is the line that starts at strategy and ends at execution.
There is no question that being able to execute on good strategies is a required competency of a successful company. Execution is everything. And what is the mechanism that controls the quality of that execution, reducing defects and building quality into it along the way? Enterprise Architecture.
I’m going to jump to another metaphor here… this one is more visual. This is the metaphor that was going through my head during the conversation.
The chain metaphor
Let’s apply this metaphor to the way a business operates. The chain in question is the chain of planning activities that starts with the formulation of strategies and culminates in a series of key changes in the way a business operates. The desired outcome of these changes, all summed up, is the realization of that business strategy.
Enterprise Architecture is in the unique position of addressing these “open” links by creating a quality feedback loop at every step of the way. Using Enterprise Architecture, Business Architecture, and Solution Architecture, the chain becomes stronger, more flexible, and less expensive to own.
This role of Enterprise Architecture is interesting, and completely distinct from that of other roles in the company. Just as a developer who tests his own code is prone to bugs, and a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client, a business executive who both articulates strategy and tries to rationalize the subsequent goals is betting against himself.
Enterprise architecture does not create the strategy. But it is essential for helping to insure that execution follows effectively from it.
One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. Which road do I take? she asked. Where do you want to go? was his response. I don’t know, Alice answered. Then, said the cat, it doesn’t matter.—Lewis Carroll