The 'anti-want' for enterprise-architecture

Over on LinkedIn, a great throwaway line from Nic Harvard:

@Nic: “What EA is, is a need. Not even a want”

There is indeed a huge need for enterprise-architecture (‘EA’). That fact becomes obvious as soon as we take anything more than the most cursory glance at just about any organisation.

But it’s not that there’s “not even a want”.

Instead, there’s a huge anti-want‘ for enterprise-architecture. For example:

  • EA may require two development-teams to work together to resolve an interoperability issue – but each team is convinced that they alone have the ‘right answer’.
  • Someone is emotionally invested in a specific skillset and way of working, they know they’re good at what they do at present: doing things a different way may be better for everyone else, but is perceived as a personal threat to self.
  • Someone’s bonus depends on achieving a delivery-date, whether or not the ‘solution’ actually works: taking an ‘EA moment’ to stop and think whether it works, or works with anything else, is a threat to that bonus.
  • Someone’s bonus is based on the way things work now: any change is a threat to that bonus.
  • Someone’s personal authority – “insubordination!” – is challenged by an EA requirement to bridge across their silos.
  • Someone believes that their livelihood is threatened by a ‘new way of working’ (e.g. automated ‘business process reengineering’) that would only benefit others.

And yes, we can all add plenty more examples to that list: the extent of ‘anti-want’ is almost endless… 🙁

(It’s not just EA, by the way: as I know from first-hand experience, much the same applies to other related disciplines such as futures/strategic-foresight.)

Doing an EA analysis and developing the initial road-map is hard work, no doubt about it. But in reality that’s actually the easy part of EA: the hard part is dealing with the ‘anti-want’.

Hence the real importance of all those all-but-ignored soft-skills in EA – negotiating with care around all those minefields of ‘anti-want’.

I guess I ought to add a personal comment to this.

I would have to admit that, especially in some people’s eyes, my soft-skills are not the best. Not by a long shot. 🙁 Amongst other things, I’ve definitely reached the ‘grumpy old man’ stage where I’m less and less willing to sit back and smile at incompetence or overblown ego. Which does limit the work I can now do directly within organisations, because most organisations are indeed riddled with incompetence and overblown ego… much of it unfortunately much-rewarded.

An example comes to mind: a ‘rising star’ at one client, the current darling of the executive. Somewhen in my first week there, he called us in for a presentation of his proposed ‘new way of working’: “I don’t have to align to your architecture”, he said, “you have to align to me!”. I looked on in horror as he powered his way through a Powerpoint that had glaring errors and arbitrary assumptions on every page. “We can get rid of a thousand jobs here”, he said, with an airy wave of his hand; “another three thousand there. They can all be replaced by machines.” Quite apart from the human cost – which apparently hadn’t figured anywhere in any of his calculations – we knew that most of the machines he’d proposed to use didn’t even exist other than as vendor-vaporware, and the rest were hopelessly unreliable in real-world practice. By the end of this farrago I was close to boiling-point, and fortunately was rescued just in time by a colleague of calmer disposition – one of the full-time EA team there – who admitted afterwards that he himself wanted to “lay that arrogant puppy over my knee and give him a good whack to bring him to his senses”. My colleague was a better man than I am: I don’t handle incompetence well…

Which is why I work mostly as a ‘consultant to consultants’, on theory, methodology and practice-refresh. Most of my live work with clients over the past few years has been in support of other EA teams, other facilitators, working mainly from the sidelines, watching what’s going on, watching the issues as they arise, providing quiet real-time feedback to help them keep everything on track. I do also do client-presentations, of course, but it’s usually to set things up for another facilitator to take over the show. That’s what I do.

I’ll admit that I’m almost fanatical about rigour in all aspects of the discipline, whether objective or subjective (the latter being one of the reasons why rigorous self-honesty is so important). That level of rigour is hard work (and hard on me too, by the way). But the reason why I’m so fanatical about it is that it’s the only way that works – and that remains true whether people like it or not. That’s why I like working with EAs and related disciplines: most of them/us do understand the need for that rigour, no matter how challenging it may be.

The physics definition of ‘power’ is (roughly speaking) ‘the ability to do work’; unfortunately most social definitions of power are closer to ‘the ability to avoid work’. That’s what drives the ‘anti-want’, and that’s why things so often get into such a mess: most people seem to prefer to avoid the rigour needed to make things work, even though it doesn’t work. That to me is one of the most difficult challenges we face in EA – in our clients, and in ourselves.

Oh well.

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