Selling EA – 1: What do EA clients want?

How do we ‘sell’ enterprise-architecture? To whom? For how much? And why? – where’s the value, for them, and for us?

This started as just a bit of ‘thinking aloud’ about work, and my own place within it – though I’d guess it should be relevant for quite a lot of enterprise-architects, strategists and others.

I’ll split it into four parts:

  1. What do our clients want from us? – which is what we’ll explore in this part
  2. What’s the value-proposition for EA? – the ‘why’ for EA, from others’ perspective
  3. What do we do, and how do we do it? – the straightforward practical questions
  4. What’s it worth? – both in terms of delivered value, and the kind of price we should charge

But first, what’s the problem here? What’s going on? – or not going on, perhaps? Probably useful to establish that point first…

What’s the problem?

In a sense, this is revisiting some of the same ground – and same challenges – as in a previous post some six or seven months back. Then, as now, the challenge for me is that, whilst I do believe I’m doing useful work in enterprise-architecture and the like – and a lot of people do tell me that, as far as they’re concerned, I am doing useful work – the catch is that much if not most of it is right out at the leading-edge of enterprise-architecture practice. To be blunt, most of it is still perhaps five years ahead of the mainstream of EA, and maybe ten years or more ahead of where the IT-obsessives are still trying to hold us back.

And although I’m somewhat out on the extremes of EA, I know I’m not the only one’s working on this, or whose heart and thoughts are really out in this much larger space, that really important question – or important to us, anyway! – of Where is enterprise-architecture headed? Where should it go? How should it develop over the coming years, so as to give best value to our clients, and also to the discipline as a whole?

The catch is that whilst someone has to do that future-oriented work – because otherwise the field stagnates and dies – it can also be a really, really bad place to be, both professionally and personally, because it’s exactly where the money most isn’t:

And the other aspect is that many people (maybe most?) seem unable or unwilling to think in terms of systems, in terms of wholes, and hence are willing only to pay for work that has a visible and direct linkage to outcomes – which, again, doesn’t apply to futures-work, or ‘in-the-gaps-between-the-boxes’ work, without which those nice easily-understood direct-linkages won’t happen. So, again, really hard to explain the real value of the work that we do, because people can’t see it, therefore don’t believe it: Gooch’s Paradox again…

What I’m seeing, again and again, is that the only kind of ‘futures’ that most business-folk can see or comprehend or acknowledge is near-future – the Preparation realm, in the short-term / short-cut version of the Five Elements model above:

And they’re willing to pay for that – oh yes indeed. Often pay a lot for it, too.

So perhaps we could reframe what it is that we do, to purport that it’s actually about near-future, not deep-future…? Kind of ‘stealth-futures’, perhaps?

Hence for me, and quite a few other ‘toolmaker’ folks like me that I know, it’s been an almost constant struggle to find ways to line up what we do (or are good at doing, anyway) with what people seem to think they want – not least because that’s probably the only way we’ll get paid much, if at all, for the vast of amount of work that we actually do. We need a better way of doing our ‘sales-pitch’ than we’ve doing so far, that’s for sure…

So yeah, this kind of straightforward reframe – the kind that every marketer would do, for a more ‘client-centric’ view of their business-scape – might well be one workable way out of this apparent impasse. And also, incidentally, quite a good proof, in its own right, of the value of our tools and techniques as applied to real, everyday business-problems – because we have those same business-problems too.

So let’s do it, yes?

Hence first – and somewhat recursively, as we’ll see in a moment – a practical question…

What do EA clients want?

What paying-folks in business and elsewhere want from enterprise-architecture and suchlike is very rarely about theory or anything of that kind – on frameworks, reference-models, schemas and so on. Nope. What they want from us is practical answers to practical business-questions – almost nothing more than that.

Some of those questions might be framed more in terms of What? or Why? – for example:

  • What do we do about complexity?
  • What do we do about the stuff we can’t control?
  • What can and can’t we automate?
  • Why can’t we get our strategy to be followed?
  • What skills do we need, where, how, why, and when?
  • Why can’t our front-line staff work things out for themselves?
  • Why do our front-line staff screw up all the time?
  • What training do our staff need? – and for what?

Or perhaps even more in terms of How?lots of them, such as:

  • How do we make more money?
  • How do we make this business more effective?
  • How do we get more from our employees?
  • How do we get more from our customers?
  • How do we cut costs?
  • How do we build competitive advantage?
  • How do we cut complexity?
  • How do we get our staff to make better decisions?
  • How do we review our business-model, and refresh it?
  • How do we identify the right performance-measures, the right pay for the job?
  • How do we develop new leaders?
  • How do we cut staff turnover?
  • How do we comply with XYZ law or standard?
  • How do we get ready for the upcoming XYZ law or standard?
  • How do we develop new products and services?
  • How do we get new products and services to market faster?
  • How do we improve our customer-service?
  • How do we reduce customer-complaints?
  • How do we improve our public image?
  • How do we improve health-and-safety, environment and suchlike?
  • How do we find out what’s really going on in our business?
  • How do we reduce waste?
  • How do we improve quality of product or service?
  • How do we make best use of social-media?
  • How do we find and prioritise what issues we really have?

(What examples would you add to those lists? What’s your experience of this?)

And what those paying-folks in business and elsewhere seem to want from us, in response to those questions, would seem to be as follows:

  1. Predictable, pre-proven answers – pre-made ‘solutions’ for predefined ‘problems’
  2. Predictable, certain step-by-step instructions
  3. An absence of responsibility on their part – the ‘solution’ is in effect Somebody Else’s Problem
  4. Once it’s solved, they don’t need to think about it any more – it stays solved, it’s ‘fit-and-forget’

Classic Taylorism, in other words. Which, fair enough, is fine for some types of business-problems. In practice, though, it’s often far from fine – especially these days.

Hence, from many years’ hard-won experience in real, practical business problems, we as enterprise-architects tend to take a rather different approach, which does work with the real-world ‘messiness’ that tends to arise real quick from almost any straightforward-seeming business-question such as those above. And that response to business-questions tends to look something like this:

  1. Predefined ‘answers’ are easy but usually wrong – instead, it’s all about getting clear about what the real questions are
  2. There’s no certainty about the steps – and maybe even no instructions as such
  3. All of it must be their responsibility and ownership – otherwise it won’t work
  4. It typically requires a lot of thought and engagement

Compare those two lists.


Even though we know that the latter is the only way that works, especially in the longer-term, what we do and what we offer as enterprise-architects is almost the exact opposite of what our putative paying-clients would typically want and expect us to do, to ‘solve’ their practical problems.

Definitely ‘oops’…

Kind of unfortunate, that.

Might explain a few problems, though…

In short, what we have here is a literally fundamental difference in how each of the parties would understand a context, and in particular how we’d each frame and work with change within that context.

So how the heck do we enterprise-architects reframe what we have, into what people seem to believe they want, such that we might actually get a chance of being paid for what we do?

That’s the problem. (Our problem. Not theirs.) That’s our business-question that we need to tackle here.

So, let’s tackle it in the way that we ourselves would recommend: start with the ‘why?’.

Or, to be somewhat more specific, start with the value-proposition for enterprise-architecture.

Which is what we’ll do in the next part of this short series. See you there?

2 Comments on “Selling EA – 1: What do EA clients want?

  1. Hi Tom,

    In terms of “Selling EA”, I would like to ask you a question about project manager role.

    In real world is an Enterprise Architect always in some relationship with project managers. I don’t want to cite from TOGAF, now, but I am interested in your opinion. I have experience that project managers can have a strong influence not only to the final architecture but also to the pre-project activities, which might be more in scope of EA. Could you share your personal view and experience in terms of how to take Project Managers perspective into EA. And how to defend EA in case when during the crucial project phase could have project managers more power and support of top management. This is something which is from my point of view very important and clarifying this could support the EA Selling.

    I hope I am articulate enough. It the question is not clear, please let me know.

    Thank you for answer in advance.



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