Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Special Powers of the Architect - Getting The Big Picture

Does the Enterprise Architect have special powers?

Some people think that what uniquely characterizes enterprise architects is that they are the ones who "get the big picture".

If this is true, it is because EAs have differently wired brains to the rest of humanity, or because their position and practices give them a different perspective on the enterprise? For a summary of a Twitter debate on this topic, see my blogpost Getting the Big Picture.

The next question is what this implies for the relationship between EAs and the rest of the enterprise. If EAs have these special powers of perception, do other people find this threatening? And how much of the Big Picture can be communicated? For a summary of a Twitter debate on this topic, see my blogpost Selling the Big Picture.

When I raised this question on the Enterprise Architecture Network group on Linked-In, Graham Berrisford thought this was a bit tautologous. "Enterprise Architecture is the big picture, therefore Enterprise Architects are the ones who have the big picture."

But it is only a tautology if that's how you define enterprise architecture and if you only recognize one kind of "big picture". Stock market analysts and venture capitalists might have an entirely different "big picture".

To the extent that enterprise architects have a single set of lenses for viewing the enterprise (e.g. Zachman), their claim to have THE big picture is disputable. (Hence my interest in lenscraft - the use of multiple lenses providing alternative perspectives.)

Tuomo Stauffer suggested that the big picture comes from the board. In which case EA's job is not to "get" the big picture but to codify it.

But my question wasn't just whether the association between enterprise architecture and big-picturehood was true, but also what this association would imply (a) for the recruitment and development of EA skills and (b) for the (possibly threatening) relationship between EAs and the rest of the management world.

See also Special Powers of the Architect - Abstraction (Feb 2013)


Adrian Campbell said...

I think that many people within an organisation will get the big picture such as the CEO of course, but perhaps only at a shallow level of detail.

It is the Enterprise Architect who has the job to maintain the big picture on their behalf in sufficient detail to ensure that it becomes a knowledge base to support executive decision making and help realise the business strategy and govern the implementation of that strategy.

Richard Veryard said...

Adrian's comment seems to imply a distinction between two kinds of big picture - a big-shallow picture enjoyed by CEOs and a big-detailed picture enjoyed by enterprise architects. In other words, the enterprise architect is uniquely capable of bridging the world of "big" with the world of "detail".

Nevertheless, replacing "big" with "big-detailed" may clarify the problems raised in my blogposts but doesn't solve them.

enectoux said...

I fully agree with Adrian's comment when it comes to have different flavors of big picture. An enterprise architect have to be able to handle both the holistic view (so called here the big picture) and the detailed view. I addition, he must be able to navigate through these different level of details quickly and fluidly to adapt his speech to his audience.

To try to answer to your question about the "relationship between EAs and the rest of the management world". I think that Adrian already started, but I would add few things to move forward the discussion. I think that one of the main skill of an enterprise architect is to be an "enabler". He has to be the one who make things happen, even between such different people working for engineering and marketing. He has to have some empathy to be able to understand each party point-of-view and deal with them. Of course, based on his background, an enterprise architect would be more sensible of a kind of people (if I take my example, part of my background is mechanical engineering, which make me understand much "engineering" related views).
This is where the second main skill of an EA comes into the picture: networking. EAs must be able to work with a wide network.

Taking these 2 points I mentioned above, you have a part of your answer: EA skills for the relationship between EAs and the rest of the management world. Of course, since an EA will focus on the enterprise, its objectives will not be in-line with each of the managers' (personal) objectives he will deal with. But this is what it takes to be an EA. ;) Then how not to threaten your organization? will you ask me... Well, if your CEO already understood that he needs an EA and that you (and maybe some more EAs) are here and that he support you, you should not be afraid of threatening other managers. If it is not the case and that you're here with no right support, then you should ask yourself if you should really be here or not.