Where’s the best place for enterprise-architecture?

What’s the best kind of place to do enterprise-architecture and similar work? What are the best environments, for which parts of the work? And why?

This was a fun set of questions that came up in my Twitterstream earlier this week. We’d started from the age-old problem of enterprise-architecture toolsets being used as a substitute for thinking and exploring:

  • RiczWest: When, oh when are people going to learn that “having the right tool” does NOT give you an Enterprise Architecture! #entarch
  • ufarrochil: Too right about the tool alone not giving #entarch. SO many more aspects to it and I work with a leading tool vendor!
  • ScottDavis: my TOGAF trainer stated ‘a fool with a tool is still a fool’.
  • ufarrochil: Yep. You can have the finest Gartner-leading tool but if you’re fundamentally stupid you’ll never have #entarch
  • RiczWest: “my TOGAF trainer stated ‘a fool with a tool is still a fool’.” | Maybe we had same trainer! 😉

And then, yes, (my fault! 🙂 ), we got happily sidetracked:

  • tetradian: often the most valuable #entarch tool is pencil and paper (preferably in a good cafe 🙂 )
  • ufarrochil: Cafe? Surely you mean “pub”?
  • ScottDavis: pubs are for extreme EA
  • tetradian: pubs tend to be for drinking, not thinking? 🙂 (and more likely the drawings get wet, too… 🙁 )

But yes, it’s got me thinking about this: where do I do my enterprise-architecture work? It’s not just at a desk, or a whiteboard: there’s a lot more to it than that…

First part is what we might mean by ‘enterprise-architecture work’ anyway. For me it’s a lot of different things, all weaving together:

  • think about things (gosh-there’s-a-surprise… 😉 ) – in particular, about how things (and people, of course) connect up with each other, work together, support each other
  • talking with others about ideas, and working with them to put those ideas into practice
  • working with others to help them find their own ideas, and put those into practice
  • acting as ‘translator’ between different groups of people, to get them to build shared ideas and practices together

So where’s the best place for each of these activities? For me it’s somewhat as follows:

  • home-office (whiteboard, notepad, computer): think about things, or write about things
  • quiet cafe (on my own): getting unstuck in thinking about things, or sort out a bigger picture
  • wandering around in town (also usually but not always on my own): ditto about getting unstuck or bigger-picture, or creating space for serendipity
  • cafe or pub-lunch (with one or maybe two colleagues): chew over ideas and overall direction
  • office-cafe (or sometimes a quieter bar): discuss ideas with a team, or get two or more groups talking with each other
  • breakout-room (whiteboard etc): brainstorm models, get a group to ‘think sidewise’ about their context (often as a follow-up to a cafe get-together)
  • ‘unconference’ and/or networking session at conference: getting-to-know, connecting virtual to face-to-face, basic serendipity and idea-sharing
  • random conversation (in the street, in a cafe, on a bus or train or plane): core serendipity, building broader picture

And there are all the ‘virtual’ places, of course: Twitter, G+, LinkedIn, this blog, and so on. (Except I must admit I’ve largely given up on LinkedIn groups these days: too many timewasters with more ego than knowledge or sense… 🙁 )

So, what are your places, both ‘real’ and virtual? What kind of place works best for you, for what purpose, and in what way? Perhaps even more important, what kinds of places don’t work for you, and why?

Over to you for your comments and experiences, perhaps?

Image credit: Johannes explaining the world, by Igor Schwarzmann on Flickr, under a Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 licence.


17 Comments on “Where’s the best place for enterprise-architecture?

  1. I would like to add ‘under the shower’ and ‘in bed’ (usually not on my own, but not with colleagues!). That’s the place where quite often things fall into place, unexpected insights occur, etc. I keep a notepad and pencil at hand on the night table in case my unconscious brain starts shouting for attention.

    • Paul – “the shower”: yes, of course! Way too many ideas happen there, and I have to hold on to them somehow until I get out of there, ‘cos I ain’t got no way to record it when it when I’m there!

      Ditto re “notepad and pencil” beside the bed, but happens rather less often for me.

  2. Even though EA is a ‘big-picture’ activity, I believe that it’s vital for EA people to have some sort of experiential appreciation of what goes on, and what goes wrong in the business today, and not rely on conversations with subject matter experts. That means going out and observing for yourself what people are doing in the workplace, or sampling customer service helpdesk conversations, etc.

  3. I agree about all the places you folks have mentioned but I have one additional: When I am out for running I get a lot of great ideas! However the key is not to run too fast because then another scenario kicks in: “Wolfgang, you need to survice this running session” 🙂

    • “When I am out for running I get a lot of great ideas!”

      I try always to have a small notebook and pen with me wherever I go, because I never know when an idea will strike. (Poincaré said that one of his most important mathematical ideas came to him when he had his foot on the step of a bus.) With a non-memory like mine, I need to get the idea down right away, or it’ll be lost, probably forever. A bit more difficult when running, I guess, but the voice-recorder in most modern phones would probably do the job?

      “Wolfgang, you need to survive this running session”

      At my age / lack-of-fitness it’s more like “Tom, you need to survive this walking session”… 🙁 Would you do some running for me, please? – I need the exercise! 🙂

        • Would be a good start – I probably have at least 10kg to work off… 🙁

          Now, how actually are we gonna do this? Transmit it via what app? What do you mean, it’s a different operating-system? Don’t even have the technology to do it?? What’s wrong with this world??? Waaaaahhh!!! 🙁 🙂

          • Ahem. Normal Service Shall Be Resumed.

            :shakes-head: :reassembles-semblance-of-sanity:

            Now, where were we? – oh yes, the cafe… yes, I will have that extra Danish pastry, thank you, very kind… 🙂

  4. Tom,
    Putting on the Lean lens, the best place to look for ideas, relationships/connections between resources, boundary conditions, work standards, people skills/capabilities etc – all the ingredients within EA – is the Gemba or the place where the actual transformation takes place (value-adding and non-value adding activities occur).
    Even when we think that we understand a concept/process/capability like the back of our hand, an hour’s observation (or 15-20 iterations of a regular, repetitive work) + open questioning of the actual activity on the floor/place/desk/cell where work gets done is enough to reveal the true nature of the organization’s capabilities.
    Please do note that this is not akin to “Managing by walking around”.


    • Uh, I did mean ‘place’ more in a physical or online sense…! 🙂

      But yes, agreed – though I’d say ‘heart and soul, 24/7’ as well as ‘in my head’: thinking is important, obviously, yet so is feeling and sensing and the ‘being-with-people’ bit too.

  5. All of the above mentioned places are great spots for thinking, but also Conferences and seminars.
    Sometimes there are a few words or a sentence that trigger ideas and concepts, which may be unrelated to the actual talk.
    And yes I have the notebook to capture my ideas as usually my brain is going to fast for me to remember later.

    • Hi Liz

      “Sometimes there are a few words or a sentence that trigger ideas and concepts, which may be unrelated to the actual talk.”

      Yes, exactly – a very important point that too many conference-organisers seem to miss… (It’s actually a variant of customer-journey’: meaning and value are ultimately defined/determined by the conference-attendees themselves, not by the conference-organiser… 🙂 )

  6. BOED has been the source of so much of humanities leaps forward, but as Sally, Wolfgang, Liz and Shiva imply – its all about getting out there and bringing back what you learn into context.

  7. I listen to my kids (8, 6, 4, 2). Words of wisdom, pity enough forgotten at later stages of the so called education. And I observe nature, art, movies, whatever and see if it triggers something. Quote often it does. Sometimes (not often enough) I even find the time to blog post it. 🙂

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