(Editor’s Note: What follows is part two an interview with George Paras, the long-time Editor-in-Chief of Architecture & Governance Magazine. For more on Paras, scroll to the bottom.)
Question: What are the most important qualities an enterprise architect must have to be successful in today’s environment?
Answer: So, since you asked, I want to double down on soft skills. There are a lot of brilliant people in IT who are good at their technical jobs. Just this morning, I was talking with a chief architect who is hoping to hire a replacement position on his team. The interviewee was worried about losing her technical chops while performing the EA role. The chief told her that would probably happen. The challenges his company faces require a generalist instead of another specialist. That hire would have to engage, collaborate with, and influence others who have the technical chops across multiple perspectives, instead of doing it all herself. She declined the offer. To this day, it is difficult to find a strong enterprise architect to hire.
Back to the qualities needed to be successful, I’d put several things on the list: perseverance, a willingness to experiment, to try small things and potentially fail, to learn from them, and to inspire others to do the same. The key is learning to prioritize the concerns of the enterprise separately from the circumstances for any single project. Learning how to engage stakeholders, other subject matter experts, leadership on both the business and IT side, and communicate in a way that these audiences expect goes a long way. That includes being able to craft and deliver a story. They must also be able to write brief and compelling executive summary narratives.
Q: What are the most common mistakes enterprise architects make in a business environment?
A: I see two common mistakes, though there are many more. The first has to do with governance. In an ideal world, an enterprise architect is only a part of a decision-making process. Their role is to contextualize scenarios from an enterprise perspective, analyze implications, and make recommendations. It helps EA be more effective when others see them as objective analysts who don’t make the ultimate decision. Objectivity builds collaboration and trust and encourages layered conversations. Some organizations sometimes assign a decision-making role to EA. That is generally a mistake, but there are often other considerations in play. There are pros and cons and associated behaviors/remedies for each of these alternate approaches. I address them almost every day. Unfortunately, there are too many to talk through in this interview.
The other mistake I see comes right out of the emotional intelligence handbook; listening and asking great questions. Too often, I hear, “Hi, I’m the enterprise architect, and here’s what you should do and how you should do it.” For non-controversial and other everyday situations, that might be fine. It helps move things along, mainly when there is a critical mass of architectural content that has been pre-approved and is on the shelf to use. But EAs frequently are faced with unexpected scenarios. They should learn to facilitate teams of stakeholders and subject-matter experts, drawing others into discovering the right answers.
Q: How do you see the role of the enterprise architect changing in the coming decade?
A: I hope that we will finally see more distinction and acceptance among the roles of enterprise, solutions, and domain architects in practice at most companies. Today the boundaries are murky. Each role is invaluable, but they are different. It would be great if the leaders appreciated that. The need to “get real work done” does not provide enough time and energy for enterprise architecture, which causes the role to be underemphasized.
The other significant change has already begun. Top-performing enterprise architects have started to expand their scope, but only in the most supportive company cultures. They consider all elements of EA equally. Those include business, information/data, technology, and solutions architecture views. They all must be analyzed together when working through scenarios, solving problems, and creating a vision and future state architectural directions. Business and information architecture fluency will be critical skills for a fully engaged, visionary, and well-rounded enterprise architect. I hope this becomes the norm.
In addition to being Editor-in-Chief at A&G, George specializes in helping executives, leaders, and architecture teams realize the value promised from EA-related thinking. He uses a continuous improvement coaching/mentoring approach that is tuned to improve companies at a pragmatic, realistic, yet purposeful pace. He can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org