Enterprise Architecture. Play or Pass?

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How Enterprise Architects Maximize Their Impact on Business Performance

By Chris Potts, cdpotts@dominicbarrow.com

Chris will be presenting the following two seminars for IRM UK in November in London:

Management Strategies for Enterprise Architecture
Speaker: Chris Potts
19-20 November 2015, London

The Corporate Strategy for IT
Speaker: Chris Potts
17-18 November 2015, London

There are never going to be enough Enterprise Architects in the world to design every new enterprise, as well all the changes to existing enterprises that people want to make. This should come as no surprise, since it is true of every kind of architect. Substitute the word ‘enterprise’ with another type of structure that specialist architects design (for example: building, landscape, information technology) and we’re faced with a similar constraint.

Each Enterprise Architect’s time and expertise constitute a highly-specialized, valuable and scarce resource. Invested and managed well, it has positive, unique, and durable impacts on business performance. Invested or managed poorly, it can cause Enterprise Architecture (EA) to have no impacts on business performance or, worse, negative ones.

Experience continually reminds all of us in the EA community that where EA’s business impact is neutral or negative, enterprises eventually ‘pass’ on investing in EA. That is a damaging outcome – for the enterprise, for EA’s reputation, for Enterprise Architects, and for the people who made the investment in EA. In situations where EA could have had a positive impact, but didn’t, it means the strategy for EA should have been played-out differently.

EA’s positive and unique impact on business performance is always at the heart of its value proposition. In every EA framework and approach (e.g. TOGAF®, Zachman®, EA3®, Gartner®, Forrester®) this is either explicit or implicit. Indeed, the value proposition for EA is the Enterprise Architect’s essential guide for investing their time and expertise as productively as possible. It is the durable point of reference for their own play-or-pass strategies, so that they can decide which opportunities to pursue, and which to decline.

Generic examples exist for EA value propositions, so Enterprise Architects can, if they want, start with more than a blank sheet of paper. For example, in RecrEAtion – the second book in my FruITion Trilogy – the people involved conclude that EA’s generic value proposition is “Enhancing Enterprise Performance with Structural Innovations”. Like other generic value propositions this is useful only as a basis for Enterprise Architects to formulate the actual one to use, in the context of a particular enterprise.

Actual value propositions for EA are best formulated by considering four key factors: the enterprise’s strategy and scenarios; investment goals; structural performance ratios; and, investment culture (in particular relating to investments in change). Here is a short summary of each factor, and its relevance to EA:

The Enterprise’s Strategy and Scenarios

A strategy sets out an intended outcome, and the tactics for achieving it. Events beyond the strategy’s influence can facilitate or disrupt those tactics, so while the essential strategy might stay the same, tactics can often change. This requires Enterprise Architects to be scenario planners. Their value proposition needs to accommodate multiple scenarios for how the enterprise’s architecture might in reality evolve. In particular, where the value proposition involves a ‘roadmap’, it is essential to have more than one ‘road’ (i.e. scenario).

Investment Goals

The evolution of the enterprise and its architecture is driven by a diversity of goals for investing in change. EA’s potential impact will unequal across all of those goals, and the goals will have different priorities. The best value proposition for EA focuses on the high-priority goals, where EA can have its most positive impacts. In some enterprises, architectural innovation is itself an investment goal (but may be called something else).

Structural Performance Ratios

Architecture is concerned with the performance of a structure, rather than of the activities that take place in the structure. The value proposition for EA therefore focus on the enterprise’s structural (rather than operational) performance, what impacts that performance, and how it needs to develop over time. Enterprise Architects are especially interested in the structural performance ratios that indicate the enterprise’s durability. For more on an enterprise’s structural performance and the role of EA, see my AEA Journal paper “Using Structural Performance Ratios to Guide Investments in Enterprise Architecture”.

Investment Culture

Every enterprise has a culture towards investing in change. At the heart of that culture is a continuous power-play between inertia (championed by agents of stability) and innovation (championed by agents of change). Introducing EA into an enterprise is itself an investment in change, so Enterprise Architects need to consider how the culture will handle their value proposition and interventions. And, when Enterprise Architects intervene to either keep things the same or to change them, the ‘inertia versus innovation’ power-play will be a primary factor in the impact they achieve.

In conclusion, a carefully-formulated value proposition underpins each Enterprise Architect’s ‘play-or-pass’ strategy for investing their time and expertise as productively as possible. Because EA is a highly-specialized discipline, that strategy relies on a considerable degree of self-management and self-development. Discovering which EA interventions can have the best impacts, and how to make them as efficiently as possible, is a lifetime’s journey for every Enterprise Architect. Having been a practicing Enterprise Architect and a mentor to fellow practitioners for over 20 years, I’m reassured by the fact that I’m still learning all the time.


Chris Potts is an independent corporate strategist specializing in Enterprise Investment – the powerful combination of Enterprise Architecture and Investment in Change. As well as being a practitioner and mentor, he is a professional speaker and the author of the world’s only trilogy of business novels, The FruITion Trilogy.

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