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Creative Aesthete or Control Freak?

controlfreak © by celine nadeau

Should enterprise architects be creative aesthetes or control freaks?

By David Gray, Principal Consultant – Enterprise Architecture & Strategy

I pose the question to be provocative. The answer, I believe, is that in order to do the right thing for the Enterprise, the Architect needs to be able to adopt both personae be both poacher and gamekeeper. Enterprise Architecture (EA) is a relatively immature profession, despite having been written about since the late 1980’s. Even today, few organisations have a consensus view of what the role really is, and what value it delivers.

While there are many other aspects of the discipline/role that could be debated, in this blog I would like to focus on the tension between control, compliance and assurance, and creativity, innovation and responsiveness. I have seen many organisations get it wrong (and have done so myself on more than one occasion)! So, what’s the issue?

There is a view amongst some in EA that the various methodologies and approaches if followed diligently will deliver the one correct answer. This is not the case, good EA, practiced effectively, is about handling shades of grey; distinguishing between “good” answers and “bad” answers. Enterprise Architecture delivers value when it helps a business (the “Enterprise”) to realise its strategic objectives. Individual enterprises have specific and individual goals and objectives that are important and particular to them.

Just think, there can be many different business operating models which are valid for a given type of business… think of Apple vs Microsoft, Nissan vs Skoda, Aldi vs John Lewis. Similarly, there can be many different methodologically correct architectures developed to model the same business, all or any of which may be valid. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” How you model it needs to be driven by the current exigencies, drivers and capabilities of the business. There is no one correct answer – the methodology is a tool to help the business achieve its goals, not an end in itself.

EA methodological fundamentalists have done much to inadvertently undermine the discipline. As project management discovered when PRINCE was first introduced, if the methodology is slavishly followed to the exclusion of the actual project goals, all that is achieved is bureaucracy and, usually, parallel processes: a real one delivering the project and a fictional one minuting PRINCE board meetings that had not actually taken place. Similarly an inflexible adherence to EA methodological dogma, demanding all steps and all products be fully developed before value can be derived from the effort will rarely, if ever deliver benefit to the business.

Alongside slavish adherence to methodology, an architectural assurance process which treats any proposed deviation from the architectural road map as heresy and demands blind faith that the roadmap will deliver eventually, will be inevitably bypassed. EA then becomes a discredited academic exercise and is usually left to wither by a disillusioned and disappointed executive board with the proponents complaining that all would have been wonderful if we’d been “more faithful to the method” or “exerted more control over the mavericks”.

In the architecture of buildings – creativity, vision aesthetics and a deep understanding of the needs and sensibilities of all the users of a building can deliver buildings which are beautiful, enhance the environment and fundamentally “work”. They can also still be delivered to time and budget.

Rigid adherence to a strict set of rules and principles without creativity and consideration of the real requirements of users resulted in 1960’s concrete monstrosities, tower blocks or mass housing estates than are essentially no better than Victorian slums when it comes to “working” for the residents. Of course, the architect must comply absolutely with certain rules and principles – loading, safety, town planning by-laws, but they must also be allowed freedom for creativity within the constraints of these axiomatic principles. How far they chose to take these freedoms and test the boundaries will often dictate the extent to which they become more widely known and sought after. Enterprise Architecture is exactly the same.

The various EA methods provide tools, models and approaches which should be selected and applied appropriately to what the organisation needs at that time and in the situation it finds itself. This cannot be laissez faire – a free for all and abdication of change management will inevitably lead to massive waste of resources and failure to achieve organisational goals.

The Enterprise Architecture and its governance thereof must facilitate business change, not constrain it. We must, as a profession, develop Agile Enterprise Architecture approaches for the development and assurance of EA and roadmaps, project scoping and definition, which will help the organisation deliver the right solutions at the right time to help the enterprise achieve its goals. The EA really does need to be both gamekeeper and poacher; creative aesthete and control freak, and needs to know when to adopt the appropriate role.

David Gray

David is an MBA qualified Enterprise Architect, with a proven track record of aligning business & IT strategies, and delivering major business change. He has extensive large company and IT consultancy experience at board level, delivering significant impacts on budget and P&L.

David has held senior Architecture & Strategy positions with Post Office Limited, nPower, Royal Mail and British Gas Transco.

Bryan OakCreative Aesthete or Control Freak?