The Habits of Successful Enterprise Architects:
Many years ago I read Stephen Covey’s popular book about “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. I still have a copy, and recently I went back to read it again. There was one particular quote, right at the beginning of the book, from Aristotle:
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
What struck me about this quote is that there are habits that some enterprise architects have, and that it may be those habits that contribute to making them highly successful. In other words, there are some things that they repeatedly do which deliver architectural excellence. So here is an initial attempt at listing The Seven Habits of Highly Successful Enterprise Architects!
To summarize the 7 Habits I’ve produced a diagram that mimics the one used by Stephen Covey in his book.
There are two pyramids – the first one covering self-discipline habits, while the second one covers habits that are more relevant when communicating and interacting with stakeholders. The seventh habit circles all of the other six habits.
1: Think As An Architect
The most important habit of successful enterprise architects is that they think as architects. This may sound obvious, but less successful “architects” think more like IT developers or solution designers!
What do we mean by Thinking as an Architect? It means relating stakeholder concerns and requirements to the architecture components; how these are organized and how they relate to each other; and why they are organized or arranged as they are.
To think as an architect you have to talk about the component pieces or building blocks of the architecture. What are the components of architecture? How are they grouped or assembled? Are they layered? Why is each layer necessary? Are some components combined with others into containers? Why that particular combination or composition? Which components are separated from others? Why is it necessary to make this particular separation of concerns? These are the type of questions successful architects constantly ask.
2: Make Architecture Explicit
Closely related to thinking as an architect is the habit of making the architecture explicit. Less successful architects understand the structure and organization of an architecture, and may know why it was designed in that way – but they don’t make this information clear when they engage with stakeholders. Sometimes they don’t even make this the focus of discussions with other architects!
When successful architects talk about the current architecture they explicitly describe three things.
- They highlight the components and aspects of the architecture that are relevant to the stakeholder concerns or a request for architecture work.
- They explain how these components constrain or limit. How do they prevent the organization from achieving its goals or objectives? How do they prevent the business from operating effectively?
- And they also explain what the existing architecture enables and supports. What does the architecture currently do well?
When successful architects talk about a future (target or transition) architecture, they make similar points explicit:
- What components will be added or changed?
- How do these components enable or support required capabilities or the needs of stakeholders? And what future options could the new architecture provide in a future iteration?
- What risks, limitations or constraints does the new architecture introduce?
3: Keep the Big Picture in Mind
It is very easy to get lost in the detail. This might be the detail of a particular project, or the detailed needs of one stakeholder, or the detail in one small segment of the overall architecture. Successful enterprise architects always keep the big picture in mind.
They habitually think of every part of the architecture in its broader context:
- They see information technology in the context of how it supports the business or the management of the organization. For example, business intelligence technologies exist to help the business to effectively understand customer needs.
- They see business operations in the context of how they fit into an organization structure. For example, they see the provision of mortgages, personal loans and credit cards within the context of different business units and divisions in the organization structure.
- They see the management and the organization in its economic, political, social and environmental context. For example, a bank exists as part of a broader international financial system, needs to meet regulatory requirements, and responds to pressures from social technologies and the media.
4: Listen and Translate
Enterprise architects are specialists. They have specialist knowledge. Their discipline has some unique techniques. Highly successful enterprise architects leverage the exclusive and exceptional insights they derive from their distinctive expertise.
They do this by listening carefully to what stakeholders say, but then translating this into architectural terms and architectural explanations. For example, a stakeholder may be concerned about losing market share, and may want their company to become more customer focused. The architect needs to translate this into an architectural description that explains how and why the current architecture contributes to losing market share, and how it makes it difficult to be customer focused. The architect then needs to translate a description of the future back into stakeholder language to show how the target architecture will enable a more customer focused company, and how that will improve market share.