By Chris Potts
Enterprise Architects are valued for their impact on reality. To achieve that impact, they have to imagine some not-yet-real future, compare it with today, figure out how best to get from the latter to the former, and express all of that in ways that influence the actions of others. Keep doing this well, and EA can sustainably grow its value and reputation. Otherwise, life as an Enterprise Architect can become a wearisome, uphill struggle.
In EA-speak, we have long known the benefits of having a ‘roadmap’, that describes how the as-is enterprise (described by a current state model) becomes a to-be enterprise (described by a target state model). We also know that simply having this trio of inter-connected artefacts is no guarantee of success. The story that the roadmap represents must be believable, compelling, and evolve over time. The real-world strategy decisions, innovations and investments that the roadmap prompts must, all-in-all, succeed.
An EA roadmap, for all its value, can also be a trap – and one that is potentially fatal for EA’s impact, reputation and sustainability. If the roadmap’s story has only one to-be enterprise, and with that only one road, it can suggest that Enterprise Architects are able to both predict the future with certainty and make that future happen. Such a suggestion is risky, to say the least, and a trap that Enterprise Architects best avoid.
Working with only one version of the future is, in any strategy-related discipline, a high-risk option. The probability of that future happening is best assumed to be low or zero. Instead, strategists are familiar with using multiple scenarios, to master the uncertainties of a yet-to -be-discovered future as seen from the perspective of today. Those scenarios may be formalized, using Scenario Planning techniques, or remain informal. They may be driven by the same outcomes and measures of success, or different ones. They will undoubtedly involve some different tactics, different innovations, and different investments in change.
In strategy-speak, an EA roadmap with one to-be enterprise, or one road, is a single-scenario strategic plan. The more certain it seems to be about the future and how to get there, the more vulnerable it probably is to factors beyond the Enterprise Architects’ influence. Over time, the differences between reality and the roadmap will widen, and its value lost.
To sustainably deliver the value of EA while avoiding this ‘certainty trap’, Enterprise Architects can recognize and demonstrate that they are also scenario planners. While an asis model of the enterprise is a singular reflection of reality (as long as it stays up-to-date), multiple to-be models and a multi-road roadmap confirm that Enterprise Architects are adept at using alternative stories about the future, to best impact reality.
The Enterprise Architects’ strategy scenarios must be the same as everyone else’s. If Enterprise Architects create and use their own, separate, stories of the enterprise’s future, EA will – and by its own design – set itself apart from the other strategy-related disciplines that are the key to EA’s success. Enterprise Architects can, of course, propose to-be target states and potential roadmaps, provided that these rapidly become integral to the enterprise’s strategy scenarios and investment plans. The longer that EA work remains separate, the less real-world impact Enterprise Architects will have.
Enterprise Architects are responsible for integrating their work with the enterprise’s strategy and investments. Nobody else has the expertise, and few may recognize the potential benefits until they materialize. How do Enterprise Architects achieve this integration, if it has not already happened? Here are some pointers, most of which describe private work within the EA team, before ‘going public’ in the wider enterprise:
- As Enterprise Architects, recognize that we are also scenario planners
- Learn the essentials of Scenario Planning1 – that is, using alternative stories about the future to guide today’s decisions and actions
- Make sure EA’s scope is limited to the architectural aspects of alternative scenarios
- Use models of the enterprise that are scenario-neutral, so that we can explore different scenarios in consistent ways
- Be prepared to describe, for each strategy scenario, how much architectural innovation and investment will be needed, and in which parts of the enterprise model2
- Do some trial-runs with some made-up scenarios
- Role-play the potential politics of ‘going public’
- Declare our interest in being a more integral to the enterprise’s strategy community, and working with alternative futures
- Join in, be valuable!
Enterprise Architects that consider themselves to be scenario planners invest their time and expertise differently from those who don’t. They also create a different context for making the most of EA frameworks, methods and tools, and develop different artefacts to communicate their work to others. Some of those differences will be obvious to people in the wider enterprise, some not.
This means that in our management strategies for EA itself, we are also faced with two alternative scenarios. In one scenario, the story of our enterprise has only one to-be; in the other, there are many. As Enterprise Architects, if we can succeed in the second scenario, we can probably succeed in the first one. The opposite is less probable.
If we do scenario planning, for EA or anything else, that is why: to maximize the probability of our strategy succeeding, whatever happens.
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.
2 For an example see RecrEAtion, Chapter Eleven