The Architecture a Graveyard: Trap #07 Asking the Easy Question

April 25, 2017

We sit and listen to the explanation of how the world can be improved. It sounds plausible. Sadly, our practitioner is explaining an idealized view of the world. Their explanation is simplified and undifferentiated.

This is what a slow-motion train-wreck sounds like.

Worse, the practitioner doesn’t know their idealized view will fail miserably. They will be frustrated, and operations annoyed, customer underserved and the leadership wondering why nothing ever delivers.

Easy questions are sirens. These sirens call out to low-functioning teams, whispering seductive stories. Sirens blatantly tell honey-coated lies. The illusion of progress seduces practitioners.

In carefully controlled circumstances, the easy answer always works. All that has to happen is the operations team, logistics, suppliers, and customers start working in an imaginary simplified predictable world.

When imagination collides with reality, the real world is unforgiving.

An architecture solving easy questions will fail to deliver. All resources spent chasing this pipe dream are wasted. The company goals will not be met. All effort an EA team spends on the easy question is squandered. This may sound extreme. It isn’t.

High functioning teams answer the hard question.

Consider, walking west in North America. Any idiot can point out the Rocky Mountains. They rise 10,000 feet above the prairie and are visible for well over 100 miles. Mountains stick out. Good Enterprise Architects point out the invisible barriers like the Grand Canyon. Enterprise Architects answer the hard question. They ensure that all change is incrementally producing value.

High functioning Enterprise Architecture teams have a different focus. They measure everything against the Enterprise’s pressure points: the long-lived goals, and objectives. Stakeholder’s Concerns create the hard question and provide crisp measures of value.

Tough questions are not easy to answer. They require a different understanding of the system. Bake in the pressure points – whether these pressure points are end-to-end efficiency, differentiation, agility or investment protection.

Test everything against the pressure points. Consider a process model that highlights the parts of the process where tactical variability is required for differentiation? Or one where complete automation is needed for differentiation? Or one where legacy practices have to be maintained to protect investment in regulatory compliance? Inconvenient facts intrude on the simple model and highlight measures of value.

Operations must address the whole problem in the pressure cooker real-world. They will perform any workarounds needed for a complete answer. Workarounds quietly sap productivity. Workarounds quietly preclude agility. Workarounds create friction.

Exceptions, variability and pressure drive useful architecture trade-off. They highlight competing preferences. They engage decision makers in their job: making the tough call.

Trade-off decisions allow decision makers to balance the actual cost of change and the real value creation. Change initiatives are focused on value and problem resolution. More importantly, the change can be directed and course-corrected throughout.

High functioning EA teams address the real problem. Without extending the scope of analysis to bigger & broader problems. They assess the actual issue in term of the Enterprise’s pressure points.

Good Enterprise Architects a know a single complete answer creates simplicity, scalability, and flexibility. Addressing the whole problem, or hard question automatically includes easy questions.

Stop answering the easy questions and and start watching your work deliver measurable value against real long-lived problems.