The practice of Enterprise Architecture was formalized in 1987 with the publication of John Zachman’s "A Framework for Information Systems Architecture". Twenty-eight years, 9, 618 books (Amazon.com) and 5.1 million hits (Google) later, the value Enterprise Architecture brings to an organization continues to be routinely debated. I recall an Enterprise Architecture “expert” once remarking, “One of the problems with [Enterprise] Architecture is that it has no intrinsic value. The value of architecture is manifested through projects— it’s a means to an end.” For me, the value of Enterprise Architecture doesn’t lie in the projects, artifacts or frameworks, but rather in its ability to develop organizational leaders.
My perspectives on leadership have been strongly influenced by the Altria Leadership Model and my experience in their leadership development program. Through this experience, I learned there are four critical leadership responsibilities. Leaders must provide direction, allocate resources, build capability and have a clear understanding of the current situation. Like Enterprise Architecture principles, while the approach each of us takes in executing these responsibilities may change over time, these four core leadership responsibilities will likely remain consistent. Let’s examine how these leadership responsibilities are reflected within the context of Enterprise Architecture.
Understanding the current situation is about developing a clear sense of knowing where you stand. In many ways, this is the starting point for most enterprise architects. Without this, it would be impossible to determine your direction and begin to lay out your key technology initiatives. Enterprise architects often start with a current state analysis in the various architecture domains. This analysis serves as a compass for technology planning efforts. Through the current state analysis process, your enterprise architects develop critical leadership skills. These skills might include analytical thinking, measurement techniques and the development of tools for identifying and engaging with key stakeholders. These leadership skills are all valuable outside the scope of architecture and outside the Information Technology organization as well.
“Successful enterprise architects need to develop more than just key technology priorities”
Stephen Covey once wrote, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” Providing direction is about defining the “main things”, setting the course and engaging others in it. It provides a frame of reference for projects and day-to-day work while linking these efforts in a clear line of site to the success of the company. Successful enterprise architects need to develop more than just key technology priorities. Providing direction is about putting those priorities in business context so people know why they are important and how they will be achieved. When effectively executing against this leadership responsibility, enterprise architects will develop the communication skills to effectively rally support for the direction. Once the current situation is understood and your direction has been set, allocating resources becomes easier. When your leaders have a hard time determining how to allocate resources, it may be because the direction is not clearly defined. Enterprise architects need to understand what is working, what isn’t working and ask themselves what they need to do different. Allocating resources is all about making sure your resources are aligned with your “main things” and not against other less important activities. Enterprise architects may focus on technology tools and resources but a well-executed Enterprise Architecture will also need to take into account the finances and the human resources needed to deliver against key priorities. What does this cost to run today? What should my future costs be? Do I have the right people in the right roles to execute successfully? To answer these questions, enterprise architects will need to think creatively about how to use their people, finances and technologies. Developing the skills to make important choices about how to use your resources is a critical to effective leadership.
The final leadership responsibility is about the development of both individuals and the organization as a whole. At the individual level, an enterprise architect will seek to develop their own technical skills and capabilities as well as the skills of other architects. At an organizational level, the enterprise architect will look to close any technical capability gaps in the organization that limit the ability to execute against the strategic direction. To carry out this leadership responsibility, your enterprise architect will develop both technology and people assessment skills. Their ability to provide meaningful feedback will mature over time and the enterprise architect will develop the ability to provide ongoing coaching. Another skill that will be developed through the execution of this leadership principle is big picture thinking. It may start as big picture with regard to Information Technology but as it matures, this will develop into an ability to apply that thinking to the larger organization.
Leadership is a necessary ingredient for the long term success of our organizations. From an Information Technology perspective, the enterprise architect is often called upon to provide technology leadership. However, merely creating an Enterprise Architecture role in your organization is not sufficient. That would be like putting a greeter at the front door of a Kmart and calling it Walmart. Rather than focus on the artifacts and frameworks, perhaps we should look to leverage Enterprise Architecture as a method for nurturing leaders and key leadership skills. In doing so, the true value of Enterprise Architecture can be realized through the effective development of leaders you can deploy throughout your organization.