How do we make EA make sense?

Those notions of ‘whole-enterprise architecture’ that I’ve been describing in the ‘no-plan Plan‘ series of posts make solid sense to a fair few people – particularly those who’ve some experience of systems-thinking, design-thinking and the like. But it’s painfully clear that it doesn’t seem to make much sense to anyone else: and I must admit I’m struggling a bit with this…

How do we bring those different worlds together, so that we can put these ideas to practical use?

How do we make it make sense?

Okay, so part of the problem is the age-old clash between theory and practice. Practice needs theory; theory needs practice; that point seems fairly well accepted, I think? Yet there’s that old joke (from Yogi Berra?) that “In theory, there’s no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.” Which means that practitioners tend naturally to be somewhat wary of too much theory. And there’s the ‘time-compression’ problem as wel: right out the rough edge of real-time, people simply don’t have time to stop and think about theory. Yet the fact that they don’t look enough to theory may itself be a key reason why they don’t have the time…

Chicken and egg: which comes first – theory or practice? Yes… therefore no… sometimes…? How do we get out of that loop?

There’s also the “in a perfect world” excuse, as my colleague Marcus [not his real name] was bewailing the other day:

It’s just chaos out there, doing everything the hard way. But if I suggest anything to cut down on the chaos, even something really simple like using scripts in a spreadsheet, so that they could get a chance to get started, it’s always the same response: “yes, Marcus, in a perfect world, but…”, “that might work in a perfect world, but…”, “we could do that in a perfect world, Marcus, but in the real world…”.

What’s worrying was that this was the architects – the people who were supposed to understand IT-architecture. Worse, he said, they were hardly using any of their architecture tools to clean up the architecture: in fact, of the thousand licences for a high-end EA toolset that their corporation had paid for, they were actually using just six.

Sure, many people are running on extreme overload most of the time; but with these guys, and many others like them that I’ve dealt with in so many different disciplines over the years, I sometimes feel a bit like that line from the old Jethro Tull song, that “Your wise men don’t know / how it feels / to be thick / as a brick”. These guys are all really smart, and I’m acutely aware that in most ways I’m the one who’s “thick / as a brick”, the one who doesn’t fit in, who doesn’t think the same way as everyone else; yet what the heck is going on here? It just doesn’t make sense.

I remember a string of conversations here about value in business, and about why we couldn’t use money as the only measure of value within an enterprise-architecture: but that went straight down like a lead-balloon too. Likewise just about all of those themes in the ‘no-plan Plan’; likewise many other what seem to me fairly straightforward points such as the one about ‘people are not assets’. It’s really clear that these notions just don’t make sense to most people in business and elsewhere. And as for some of the more way-out themes – such as an end to most current management-models, an end to money, and end to ‘rights’ or, ultimately, an end to possession itself –  that, in a futures-sense, I see as shifts that will and must be inevitable in the longer term… well, to most people that seems like all of that’s just on another planet. Cloud-cuckoo land. Forget it.

Or, perhaps, is it just too scary? – too far out of comfort-zones for people who must be able to purport being ‘in control’ at all times? I just don’t know. As Peter T pointed out in a recent comment here, even simple factual implications from a decent SCM [software configuration-management system] were deemed all but too fear-laden to face: so how the heck are most business-folks gonna face a mythquake that is – for most people, it seems – literally of almost unimaginable proportions?

And even though what we’re doing is ‘enterprise architecture’ in the most literal sense of those words, we can’t even use that term any more, because it’s been too ‘poisoned’ by Open Group and their ilk: their consistent misuse of the term has made things so bad for all of us – themselves included – that no one in business would trust us if we used the ‘A’-word at all. Which leaves us in a bit of a quandary even as to what we can call what we do…

It doesn’t make sense. And it needs to. Urgently. That part at least does make all too much sense…

Anyway, the quick summary of what we need to ‘make sense’ would seem to be much as per that initial post on ‘the plan that is no-plan‘:

  • it’s about the architecture of the enterprise as a whole – how everything works together towards some overall aim
  • it’s about the underlying ‘why’ of the overall enterprise, and how that links to the ‘how’ and ‘with-what’ and so on that make everything happen
  • it’s about both structure and story, in the broadest sense of each
  • it’s planning for and working with change, with inherent-uncertainty, rather than trying to fight against it
  • it’s about identifying and managing hidden costs and risks – and hidden opportunities too
  • it includes a strong focus on where people fit within the overall enterprise
  • it’s about defining and using toolsets, visualisations, dashboards and other techniques to help people make sense of what’s happening within the enterprise, and in making decisions about how to keep the enterprise on track
  • it’s about bringing all of these themes down into really practical, concrete, everyday expression, enhancing effectiveness through the enterprise

All straightforward and obvious – to me, at least. Also straightforward and obvious – to me at least – is that lack of awareness and integration of these themes is a large part of why there’s so much stress at work and elsewhere. Yet it’s also obvious that most of this just doesn’t make sense to most people. And the really serious ‘really big picture’ problems really don’t make sense to most people – so much so that even talking about them at all usually gets me labelled as crazy or worse. But if we don’t do something about those themes, a lot sooner than just Real Soon Now, we’re in deep trouble. (Okay, we’re in deep trouble already, frankly, hence this would be even worse Deep Trouble from which there really is no way out…) Yet if it doesn’t make sense, then no-one is going to do anything at all – until it’s too late even if it does finally make sense.

Really struggling with this feeling of “thick as a brick”, the lost toad-in-the-road, ‘the crazy ones’. When something that makes obvious sense doesn’t make sense to anyone else, how do we make it make sense? Or should we even try?

A real serious challenge here, in almost every different sense. Oh well.

2 Comments on “How do we make EA make sense?

  1. Dear Tom,

    Although I’m fairly new to the job of being an architect, I do feel that much of what you are saying makes sense. Sometimes its just a matter of repeating the same message untill it becomes clear to others, call it the power of repetition.

    Kind regards, Bart den Dulk

    • Thanks Bart – perhaps the main point about repetition is to see if it delivers repeatable and reliable results in practice! 🙂

      Again, hope it is useful for you, anyway.

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