Monday, August 31, 2009

EA without Vision is dead

This is response to an interesting post from Richard Veryard of the Next Practice Research Initiative. Two people I have high regard Alex Buterman and Brenda Michelson commented on it, so I figured it was worth reading. Hopefully this post will be worth reading too. Warning, this was written @ 1AM after watching House, so it might be a bit….1AMish (as in like something written at 1 AM not the religious order who practice living simply in a complex world)

The problem is there isn't a good way of doing Enterprise Architecture (or anything structural thinking aid) without having someone with vision and power. EA is a structure designed to hold information about a business and make it accessible as well as the processes, policies, etc. Blah blah blah. As the Burton Group's Report points out, there is value in being results oriented and aligning yourself to the business and learning to communicate. (the Burton's Group Report was the subject of what the post by Richard Veryard which was commented by Alex and Brenda which lead me to post this! So, its kinda germane)

But what good is that?

I am becoming more and more convinced that EA, and most other IT initiatives fail not because they aren't understood or don't have the management backing or they weren't completed enough. No, I believe the reason is the people involved don't have vision. Most people are not innovative nor do they have vision. (Although they do have perspective!) They regurgitate what others have tried without understanding the physics behind why what the mimicked did worked. If you don't get that sentence. Stop reading!

What seems to be missing in our search for silver bullets and hyper-hyped philosophies is the fundamental principle that all of them (the hyped philosophies, methodologies, do-hickies) are just tools. Things! Things to help us go! But if they that wish to go are without a person who understand where to go inside of their gut, the tools are at best ok.

Take a simple example of SOA. We debate endlessly as to the correct form of SOA. how large, how generic, how encompassing should it be? Should processes be part of a service, consumed by a service or both? These questions are irrelevant, yet that is what people's minds are able to grab a hold. They are stuck in metaphor land. Thinking in terms of the metaphor rather than terms of reality. It's like all those episodes of Star Trek where they said "It's like taking a match to stick of dynamite laced with gasoline." The problem isn't the metaphor, it is the people who believe they understand warp theory now because they know what happens when you take a match to a stick of dynamite laced with gasoline.

Enterprise Architecture, in the hands of a virtuoso, is wonderful because order can be established inside of the processes, activities and stuff that a enterprise does. But the goal isn't order and establishment (well it is for GE and Six-Sigma places who want to take variation out of their processes but that is beside the point) or even to create flexibility and agility. To quasi-quote the "Good Book" (a.k.a. Bible (the Christian one, not the SQL one)) If I have the flexibility of ballerina and have not vision, then I am a nimble dancer in the wrong act of the play. If I have agility and can change the direction of my company on the slightest change of the market, but have not vision, my agility is for not because I will sit and spin with no direction like a child on a sit and spin and spinning until they puke! (Not sure how that last quote ended up there!)

All of our programs, architectures, frameworks, etc. bring order in the chaos. But unless you have someone who pushes you into the chaos your stuck with status-quo.

Brenda has been tweeting about "is a larger or smaller consulting firm better for helping a company 'do' EA (or fill in the blank)" I say, it doesn't matter. What does matter is to have a person of vision to lead us not just in the safe trusted areas, but into the place where Angels fear to tread for there is way to … (Add in your favorite hyper-hyped business term here)

Last thing, If you call yourself an Enterprise Architect, you should buy (that way he gets a royalty) and read Stephen Pinker's book "The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature." It has a great chapter called "The Metaphor Metaphor." After you read that chapter, read "Down the rabbit hole." If you don't like either of those, he has a great chapter on explicative usage.

The last section of one of the chapters (I think it was "down the rabbit hole") he talks about Plato's cave. Where people are chained head and body made to look at the back wall. There is a fire behind them and people are using cut-outs to make shadows on the walls. The people think "This is reality!" for this is all they know. One of the people escape and find out that they are actually in a cave and real reality is much better. He comes back into the cave and tries to get his brothers out so that they can see the real reality. But they refuse believing instead that what he saw was captured in what they saw on the wall. If you call yourself an enterprise architect, (and actually read this nonsense this far) then you need to be that person who chains are off and can see outside the cave. Use the tools that you have in EA and others frameworks to pry your brothers (or sisters) eyes away from the back of the wall.

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