A while back we put out a post meant to give enterprise architects a hand with successfully passing a job interview. In a similar vein, today we’re offering architecture practitioners some great pieces of advice that we’ve come by after consulting with some of the more experienced members of the BiZZdesign team, people who have counseled countless EA practices and successfully carried out a wide range of business change initiatives. We believe this will help architects who are looking for professional guidance by shedding some light on how to be the best they can at their job, but also how to manage their career more purposefully in order to achieve hard-to-get goals. Without further ado, here are our 5 best pieces of advice for Enterprise Architects.
1. Think beyond IT
The first thing to consider to be a great enterprise architect is to think beyond the confines of the IT department. The name of the role is “enterprise architect”, not “department architect”, and certainly not “cubicle architect”. In this position you are expected to have a comprehensive vision of the organization (possibly even accounting for its business ecosystem), and provide holistic solutions to the challenges that arise.
This means you cannot hide under the banner of the IT department and just limit yourself to technology-related endeavors that relate only minimally or not at all with what’s going on in the grand scheme of things. In fact, go ahead and adopt the grand scheme of things as your personal motto. So what can you specifically do on this front? Ask your boss about the business at large, contact HR and see if it’s possible to be exposed to on-boarding material that’s normally meant for new members joining other teams, join any ‘optional’ meetings, workshops, open presentations when a new development is presented in the company. This helps with maintaining a broad and up to date image of the organization and makes you a more competent (read valuable) employee.
It doesn’t matter if these efforts end up taking you to places and situations that you normally wouldn’t have bothered to explore, the whole idea is to gather information outside of your comfort zone. So learn about the company’s main lines of business, the capabilities in place to support these, the org chart, what processes are in place and so on. At some point you’ll notice you’ll start to think about things in a more connected fashion, and that’ll be the start of you uncovering hidden opportunities for improvement.
2. Actively seek to create value
With a good understanding of how the organization runs, you can be more effective in identifying opportunities to apply your talents and skills to better the company. Of course, you also need to want to do this, so this is where it becomes a matter of will, not just knowledge. Look, it’s relatively easy to keep a low profile and keep tinkering at this or that initiative without actually stepping up and solving a real-world problem.
The bottom line is – this is enterprise architecture and not many folks are going to seek you out of their own accord, or even be able to assess you, your work, your overall impact. Complexity is a turn off for most people, and even engaged professionals will mind their own business when they have a list of things of their own to worry about. This puts the onus on you but here’s the good news – starting small is ok. Actually, starting small may even be preferable. Small is manageable, and manageable usually means delivering results on time.
Whatever project you end up working on, focus on establishing some objectives and some key deliverables together with the other stakeholder(s) involved from the very start, and then deliver those without delay or complications. This will establish a positive precedent and probably even increase your repute, which will help you build credentials in time and loan weight to your opinions.
3. Invest in people
What do we mean? You should explore the human side of the business, the people that make it happen. Your background may very well be technical but developing your people skills and engaging in networking can make you better at what you do. As an enterprise architect, you have a relatively unique, broad perspective on the organization. That makes you a potential candidate for CIO or other leadership positions later on in your career. But to get there, you need to invest in other people – and not just from your immediate surroundings.
Offering your time and energy to have meaningful interactions with coworkers representing a diverse pool of positions is complementary to what we already mentioned in the first step. In this instance, however, the focus is on the people that are responsible for those areas of the business. So, start getting involved in change processes in your organization by connecting the value of your EA role with specific change stakeholders.
Be they a project manager, product owner, portfolio manager, senior leader or executive, they’ll all be more willing to listen and take your advice if you’ve bothered to build rapport with them. Many architects become frustrated because the ‘objectively best’ solution they propose loses out to other considerations. That may have a lot to do with what sort of relationship you have with others. Part of maturing in your role involves understanding how to influence decision makers face to face, and leveraging the formal and informal power structures present in your organization.
Without a strong collaborative mindset and a personal interaction approach, your impact will be limited. After all, nothing major in the enterprise happens unless someone in an office (usually on the upper floors) signs off on it. Recognizing this and attacking issues on all fronts, including the emotional/human interaction one, gives you a better chance at becoming relevant. Therefore, seek out people in the company and get to know them, their likes, and their approach to doing things.
4. Tailor your work to the audience
Alright, let’s say you are knowledgeable about the company’s inner workings, and you’ve invested in maintaining a good relationship with a wide range of stakeholders that are relevant in influencing the nature and outcome of projects. Now is the time to leverage that knowledge by intelligently tailoring your work deliverables according to your audience. Yes it takes experience, interpersonal skills and no little amount of organizational wisdom, but this is where you want to be as a great enterprise architect. You ought to be a key enabler for the organization.
Whether dealing with introducing a new product to the market, a process optimization initiative, or moving the company’s backend to the cloud, enterprise architects have the ability to act as an information hub, bringing together business and IT stakeholders and ensuring optimal outcomes via their cross-domain work. It sounds like an ideal scenario but it’s actually achievable if you deliver clear and insightful reporting. It does rest, however, on the previous points we mentioned.
Nonetheless, when executed correctly – from design, to analysis, and then synthesis of information into crisp narratives and relatable storylines – it yields real results. If you want to play an active role in the development of the business – guiding change initiatives, advising executives on the best options ahead – then consider your target audience and present them with instantly recognizable, actionable content. That way your work will land on engaged eyes and ears every time.
5. Aspire to understand the business – all of it
As you progress in your career, you might start to ask yourself, “Where to from here?”. Well, as a final piece of advice we recommend that enterprise architects take a keen interest in the financial and economic side of the organization, together with its ecosystem/value network. This opens the doors towards important strategic roles that actually are responsible for taking business decisions. We already mentioned the CIO position in the third point, but other eligible roles include Chief Digital Officer, Head of Technology, Chief Security Officer and so on.
Keeping an open mind to the needs and therefore the potential ways to improve and further develop the organization, is key for any professional that aspires to hold that sort of authority and responsibility at some point in their career. Too many people with an IT background think that it’s the problem of “the business”, but the financial side of the equation is key in any serious architecture decision. The modern way of doing enterprise architecture requires practitioners to be avid listeners and learners. They need to combine knowledge from a variety of areas of the business in order to provide that essential value-add. Ultimately, to be able to influence the livelihood of an organization, you must first understand how it makes that livelihood, and that means learning about its finances.
Thanks for making it to the end. If you enjoyed this post, then you’ll probably like our 100 Questions to Ace an Enterprise Architect Job Interview as well as other EA-related posts on our blog, so feel free to explore. See you next time!