Turn the Ship Around – Break Free from the Shackles of the Present

Nov 28, 2019
Written by
James Goodwin
James Goodwin

Turn the Ship Around – Break Free from the Shackles of the Present


Across the globe, Enterprise Architecture teams deliver three key organizational functions. Firstly, they provide understanding of their current organization; this enables the organization to effectively control and regulate its existing operating model. Secondly, those teams provide a window into the organization’s potential, insight into where value can be found and unlocked, and an insight into the future. Thirdly, EA teams drive, enable and support the iterative improvement of this direction setting insight, and with that they translate strategy into reality, creating real business value.

However, in many cases, they find themselves locked in the present, unable to drive either the vision or the change required to get there, and in some cases even struggling to simply control/regulate the organization as it currently stands.

Break Free from the Shackles of the Present



There are many factors that contribute to a steadfast focus on the present. These include:

  • Training and philosophy. Many Architects and Analysts are trained in the deep assessment of the present. This leads them to over-analyze the present, iron out risk and carefully plan the future. The result is a tendency for information bias, in other words a focus on the present where too much information is gathered, which becomes outdated before it is useful. The investment in mapping existing processes, systems and technologies can be huge and time consuming.
  • Pragmatism. This information bias further manifests itself as a lack of real-world experience. By the time the planning has been completed, the team could have taken pragmatic steps to test out their theories in the real-world, which may have delivered immediate value. The tension is apparent in many organizations, with agile teams promoting minimal planning and maximal value delivery, but resulting in increasing technical debt and uncoordinated activity when applied at scale; on the opposite end of the spectrum, EA teams can be risk averse, seeing technical debt as such a high crime that change becomes stagnant.
  • Entrepreneurship. Although many EA teams see themselves as a vanguard for busting organizational silos, many become insular and act as a silo themselves. Those teams lack the spirit of internal sales, promoting their wares and challenging how they can best focus their resources to deliver maximum organizational value. Sure, EA products can be useful – but they need a salesperson to promote their use and embed those products within the organizational governance and decision making processes. This requires someone able to create noise, excitement, take risks and promote a new way of working.


Although there is value in a book-keeping approach to Enterprise Architecture, the full potential remains unlocked. For those organizations that are locked in a current-state mapping mindset, they should challenge whether they are missing out on influencing and driving their organizations through periods of significant change. This might be change due to demands in their market, opportunities for mergers or acquisitions, data analytics, or digital transformation. If your organization is undergoing significant change and the EA team is not involved, you should question why.

Unlocking potential

Although we have advocated a significantly different approach to Enterprise Architecture, one of pragmatism, risk taking and entrepreneurship, you do not have to take an overnight shift in your activities. There are small but significant activities that can change your mode of operations. In “Turn the Ship Around”, David Marquet describes the key changes in mindset that are needed to break free from a restrictive and sub-optimal mode of operation. There are many parallels we can draw with the operation of Enterprise Architecture teams. Here are some of the key activities and fundamental changes in mindset we advocate.

Key Activities

  1. Answer a business question. Your work should provide an answer, or at least insight, into a business challenge. This insight should demonstrate where there is untapped value (i.e. the gold in a mine) and how it can be extracted through change.
  2. Creating a drum beat. With modeling activity, it is easy to become relaxed about when and how value will be delivered. Mapping what you have is a never-ending task. Your first step should be to create a regular rhythm of activity, challenging what is delivered within a time frame. The rhythm of activity and delivery can be aligned with existing change initiatives, which forces you to think about the business question.
  3. Promote your work. Simply producing insights by itself is not enough. You need to shout from the treetops about where the value lies. A visualization will not sell itself without a narrative. Keep in mind, the clearer your message (what you solve), the easier to promote.
  4. Carve out an evangelist role. The team needs an evangelist, someone who goes out of their way to promote, sell, undertake road trips and spend time with stakeholders.
  5. Start small and grow. Grand conceptual visions rarely gain traction. Start small, show value and grow. The ‘just enough architecture’ principle can ensure that the time-to-value is as short as possible.
  6. Start a conversation. Don’t fear providing material that is not perfect, create ways to engage stakeholders and challenge their thinking. Create material that will trigger a discussion and use this to iterate and improve. Keep in mind here to speak the language of your audience. In other words, use other visualizations when necessary. The end justifies the means.


Within BiZZdesign, our CSO team are there to help you create new material and help you excite and engage your organization. Feel free to start a conversation with us about how to start the conversations you want to be having.