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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Cynicism Is Not A Recreational Drug

Many enterprise architects seem to feel persecuted or at least undervalued in their organizations. Some talk about the impacts of reorgs, some talk about being keepers of the flame. There are debates about the ivory tower syndrome. I can relate to many of these feelings, and believe that the worst possible outcome of these thoughts is cynicism. (Disclosure: I am frequently a cynic, so the title of this post could just be a case of public self-help). Why is it that EAs feel undervalued?

Some EAs rant about the prominence given to PMO-type organizations and project management over architecture. Maybe that is because PMs generally have better communication skills than the average EA? I think James has been talking up elevator pitches as a response to this feeling. It's also possible this is because PMs have traditionally been tied to financials as a measure of their performance, and have a more tangible handle on how to tell their story in financial terms. No doubt this sells well with upper management, who are (1) used to talking in those terms all day long and (2) are themselves measured in the same vernacular.

Unfortunately for EAs, the story of value is often less tangible. Good architecture is often felt more than it is seen. It is often about risk management more than immediate revenue generation, EA deals in the intangibles. There are some QoS measures that EAs can fall back on to attempt a demonstration of objective value, but you are frequently back to the communication problem. Many of the people you need to convince of value won't understand or appreciate QoS measures without significant explanation.

Portfolio management and governance are very management-friendly activities for demonstrating the value of EA through participation. Great architecture includes these activities, and provides a subjective measure of value that is essential. But their value in pure communication terms is difficult to package as a story. It again relies on conversation and explanation, rather than objective data. The true success of these activities is also often personality-driven by the leaders.

This is not to say that the value of communicating and promoting EA is lost, just that it is often difficult. The worst outcome is for EAs to become cynical in the face of these challenges. Cynicism only hurts the message, and makes it easier for people who are hard to convince to not even listen in the first place. The bricks of cynicism pave the path to the ivory tower.

UPDATE: Have to laugh at the timing of this report from Gartner...


At 9:11 PM, Blogger JT said...

Excellent post Mark!
I amplified and added addition thoughts here...

At 5:43 AM, Blogger James McGovern said...

To say that PM's stories are more tangible that EAs would be incorrect. The issue is that EA cannot be successfully measured in the short-term while PM's can be.

Likewise, I don't believe that PMs are on average better communicators but that they have the benefit of not having to context-switch as much. EAs need to talk both languages and sometimes we don't context switch.

At 7:48 AM, Blogger scott said...

Accessible might have been a better choice of words than tangible - I think people have an easy time relating to time, scope, budget, etc. You're right on about the long vs. short view.

I like the context switching phrase - that is indeed a challenge, and is probably a correct way to describe why some people come off as less-than-stellar communicators.

JT - will check out your post!

At 8:41 PM, Blogger Philip Hartman said...

Very interesting topic! I'll throw out some observations of my own. During the Y2k days, project managers ruled! Y2K was basically a project management issue. When the whole .com thing took off, suddenly there were a lot of PM's who had never run an internet project. The big issue was finding technical leadership for projects. I see this being reinforced today with all the focus on SOA. You may also like to check out this old post of mine ( which points a finger at project-based funding (with no funding for infrastructure) as a culprit.


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