Enterprise Architecture – The Contemplative Man’s Amusement

Because Enterprise Architecture (EA) gleans such a holistic view of the enterprise, pursued in sometimes discreet, off-the-record meetings and Starbucks® get-togethers, many IT’ers and non-IT’ers carry an almost mystical impression of the sport of EA; I believe it is a lot like fly-fishing. I am frequently asked what I get out of Enterprise Architecture; I think those people really are asking, “What would I learn if I took this sport up?”

Wikipedia and The Open Group say that “Enterprise Architecture (EA) is the process of translating business vision and strategy into effective enterprise change by creating, communicating and improving the key requirements, principles and models that describe the enterprise’s future state and enable its evolution.”

Practitioners of EA call themselves enterprise architects, some call themselves anglers – ok, not really. An enterprise architect is a person responsible for performing this complex analysis of business structure and processes and is often called upon to draw conclusions from the information collected. By producing this understanding, architects are attempting to address the goals of Enterprise.

What would be garnered by taking up such an endeavor? A lot. It’s a sport that combines composure, triumph and frustration in exactly the right proportions to teach long-lasting life lessons. Time on a project can include a mix of wily engineers, un-imitable vice-presidents and wild beasts such as CIO’s and other enterprise architects. Here are the four-and-a-half life truths I learned from all of this.

Truth One: Old engineers don’t rise quickly to the fly. This is how they get to be old.

To the exasperation of anyone who has meticulously matched size, color and pattern to actual insects on a stream. Big old trout will watch flies drift overhead only to not noisily gulp down your best Blue Wing Olive Dry Fly. These fish watch for anything — a wake or ripple — that flags the fly as artificial. Old engineers are the same, they have a whole closet filled with been-there-done-that t-shirts. Don’t throw them a ripple, a noise or even a scent of fear.

Aesop could pen a fable from this: An enterprise architect must show the patience of an old trout, that even one unusual ripple in a stream full of eddies can portend a threat, and that it’s wise to keep your mouth closed, for fear that you end up looking like a fool displayed on the wall.

Truth Two: We are not always at the top of the food chain.

I turned around one time at a client meeting and saw that a vice-president with a grizzly bear attitude had sauntered near and was evidently critiquing my newest fishing technique.

When I’m more than 100 miles from my home turf and in grizzly country, I carry bear repellent. In fact, I carry the “Bear”icuda size, which is slightly larger than a fire engine red commercial fire extinguisher. In my world, empathy, sincerity and silence are the equivalent of bear spray.

Books advise not to look a grizzly in the eyes, to speak gently, to back up slowly and to not use the mace unless they charge. If you want to show inspirational leadership, you have to build some skill in dealing with those who can’t keep from moaning, growling, roaring, and grunting in the board room.

There are several things to “bear” in mind when trying to turn a conflict back toward collaboration; one of the most important is to reduce the emotional content of the interaction. Just listen. The idea is to let some time pass, let some of the adrenaline ventilate, and wait for things to calm down.

Studies have shown that the average corporate executive doesn’t have the energy to maintain the highest levels of snorting and ground scratching for more than about ninety seconds. It might seem like 90 minutes, but when they finally calm down, try some empathetic words in a soothing tone, and you are likely to find you’re better able to communicate and make a point.

A well worn Colorado ranger once told me, “It didn’t maul you, so you did something right.”

Truth Two and a Half – A Corollary to Truth Two: Trust but verify.

A client representative, we’ll call him Mr Knowitall had told me that he had been at this company for 12 years and that he had all the information I’d need to scope out what the business needed to be successful. What a comforting thought during my earlier grizzly face off. After the bear left, and Mr Knowitall left, my new allies in room whipped out a reporting matrix and showed me he was the son of a board member and that his “mace container” was the size of a roll of pennies. It wouldn’t have discouraged a petulant child, let alone an adult grizzly. Lesson learned, understand who else is fishing on the pond.

Truth Three: Seek the truth but respect the narrative.

Engineers and anglers tell stories about events that could — except for the lack of believability — be regarded as miracles. One cool night around a fire outside a lodge, listening to funny scotch-fueled fishing stories, I decided to pull out my digital camera and show a photo of a small but nice trout that I had caught, photographed and returned to the stream earlier in the day.

The other anglers had been telling stories about their arms growing tired from catching so many fish, or hooking brownies big enough to spit up Jonah. When I showed the photo the stories ended. The evening turned ruminative and quiet. And I no longer confuse Story Hour with Show and Tell.

Truth Four: Rivers and Data Centers really are the perfect metaphor for life.

At least once in your life, you should wade into a fast-flowing river and look upstream. And, at least once in your life, you should stride into a cool blowing data center isle and look up toward the miles and miles of cable and blinking lights. All of the visible landscape — cuts, creeks, draws, hills, racks, the obligatory ping pong and billiards table, the odd metal detector and the retinal scanner — it’s all a giant system to deliver bits and pieces precisely to where you are standing. Water and data from multiple sources — springs and small creeks, V-Blocks and the EMC Symmetrix, small rivers and distant clouds — are joined right at your feet.

Turn downstream or walk into another client and you suddenly yearn to find out what else will add to this river as it continues on. This fits nearly any aspect of your life: family, knowledge, career, politics, and Enterprise Architecture. Streams becoming rivers and executive’s working to make change provide the perfect reason to go to work and to go fly fishing.