The Architecture Graveyard: Trap #1 Owning Decision Rights

January 29, 2017

You have heard the phrases: 'if we only had a mandate'; 'we need a design authority'; 'the business unit is doing their own thing again.' All these phrases mean the same thing; the EA team thinks they own a single decision. Falsely believing your team owns the decision leads only one way. What masquerades as target architecture, along with the associated specification and standard are doomed to live out their days in bitter irrelevance. All because the practitioners failed to act as architects.

Architects inform stakeholder of the path that best addresses the set of stakeholder preferences; they ensure all concerns are addressed and then own the stakeholder decision. Poor practitioners believe that their narrow expertise and analysis of a problem space to optimize against a single parochial concern provides some super-power allowing them to see the one right path. It is a moot point how nicely a foot bridge is designed if there isn’t a road leading up to it.

Conexiam’s EA Capability practice sees this trap in organizations everywhere. Teams that fall into this trap are on a fast path to the Architecture Graveyard. While EA teams heading on this route are a market opportunity for us, it is a trip you never want to make. The most dangerous part about this trap comes from its behavioral roots. Symptoms include a practitioner trying to use their seniority, status, or perceived expertise of a subject to influence support for an idea instead of providing a crisp traceability the organization's goals, objectives or gaps.

The implications of this behavior are dire. Teams will experience symptoms such as sensing a loss of credibility, cuts in resources, and increasing bitterness. Typically these lead to an inability to meet with Stakeholders and other decision makers, followed by exclusion from decision-making meetings. Meanwhile, the entire enterprise may as well aim a shotgun at its foot.

There is an easy solution to this trap: do architecture and follow the architecture governance process. Not the part where change initiatives are governed, the more foundational process where the creation of architecture is governed. In Essential EA Governance and the Leader’s Guide, we outlined a simple checklist designed to combat this trap.

  • Are the correct stakeholders identified?
  • Are constraints and guidance from superior architecture taken into account?
  • Do appropriate subject matter experts agree with the facts and interpretation of the facts in the architecture?
  • Do any constraints or guidance produced to reflect the Views provided for stakeholders and any underpinning architecture models and analysis?
  • Do the Views created for the Stakeholders reflect their Concerns and reflect any underpinning architecture models and analysis?
  • Do the Stakeholders understand the Value, and any uncertainty in achieving the Value, provided by reaching the target state?
  • Do the Stakeholders understand the work necessary to achieve the goal state and any uncertainty in successfully accomplishing the work?
  • Do the Stakeholders understand any limitations in confidence they should have in the target architecture?
  • Have the Stakeholders approved the Views?

This checklist ensures the architect has actually described a target that addresses the preferences of the Stakeholders rather than the parochial interest of subject matter experts or bystanders. Architecture that addresses Stakeholder’s preferences, and willingness to change, is an architecture that gets used.

Most importantly, the checklist highlights that no-one has decision rights other than Stakeholder; not the architect; not a subject matter expert; not an implementer; not the architecture review board. Just the Stakeholders. If you want to own a decision get the right job title.