by Brian Hopkins

Evolution Was Bad for Neanderthals

Aug 24, 2010
Enterprise Architecture

Enterprise Architecture practictioners risk going the way of the Neanderthal unless we evolve.

If you were a Neanderthal, evolution was bad; at least the dinosaurs left birds. Humans emerged and you were no longer relevant – you and your buds left a lot of nice bones for us to dig up. When technology professionals of the future dig up our bones what will they find? Ancestors or Neanderthals?

In a recent discussion on Linked In’s Enterprise Architecture Community, a pundit reminded us of a sobering Gartner prediction – that something like 40% or 60% of Enterprise Architecture groups in organizations will go away in the coming years because they have failed to establish their value. James McGovern recently tweeted, “mcgoverntheory – The practice of enterprise architecture disappears from another Fortune enterprise. Is this an increasing trend?”

Everybody in the blogosphere likes to write about the definition of EA – I’ve done it a few times myself and probably will again (see Real Architects Don’t Wear Ties and Who’s On First). That’s not a bad thing, but what gets me is the endless wrangling over that definition that always seems to ensue. Check out any Enterprise Architecture group discussion board on Linked In, they are chock-full of long debates on this subject. These are exemplary of my point – we can’t seem to get past ourselves to define a common lexicon for what we do and a “Body of Knowledge” that standardizes it.

Alternatively, I can work with a project manager who is PMP certified and have a good idea of what the she knows and how she will go about her job. This makes it very easy to know when I need a PM and what to expect when I do. I am not suggesting that we reduce our craft to a rote set of processes with standard deliverables, but I am saying that some standardization would go a long way towards helping the organizations who hire us understand what it is we do and how we add value.

If we must expend energy debating what EA is, then let us do it in a forum were we can reach agreement; if we cannot agree the perhaps we should turn that energy towards adding value to the organizations we work for. In my view, here is how the practice of can do just that:

Provide a center of enterprise thinkers who consider the good of the long term whole – organizations need this to balance the short term, “what’s in it for me” attitudes that drive the results many companies and consistently produce mediocre results. EAs balance this, challenging companies to be better than they are.

Document the future state of our organizations holographically vice photographically (thanks Tom Graves for coining this idea). By this I mean provide a “three-dimensional” picture of the enterprise that acknowledges multiple perspectives and an evolutionary nature instead of a single perspective at a point in time.

Cut through the noise to laser focus on the few key issues and organizational changes that can add the most value to our organizations. There is typically a tremendous amount of activity in large IT shops; as EAs we must use our experience to sift through this noise and listen to our Spidey-sense when we identify something as really important; then go after it.

Continually broaden our perspectives. Most of use became EAs because we are “jacks-of-all-trades”; this led to a breadth of experience and a holistic view of things that pulled us into the practice. Once there, however, it is still easy to become pigeonholed. If you are a technologist, seek to work on business things and vice versa.  The more broad and diverse we are, the better we will be at contributing that which makes us valuable to begin with.

For those of you who follow my personal blog, Practicing Enterprise Architecture, you may recognize this as a rewrite of a November 2009 post. After observing the craft of EA during this period, my hopes are up that we are evolving. In The Practice I cover three trends that indicate evolution – smaller EA teams, more emphasis on strategy, process and governance and last, the external influences of managed services and outsourcing on how we do things.

In conclusion, I encourage readers who consider themselves architects to continue to push towards the enterprise. I think we are on the right evolutionary branch in that the potential of EA to benefit organizations that diligently execute it is significant, however time will tell.