Overcoming the Tensions between Project Staff and EA Groups

A few months back, at the recent EA Symposium in Toronto, I gave a presentation on the tensions that exist between project staff, particularly project managers, and the EA Team.  The audience was primarily of the architect persuasion.  The session was well received in spite of the fact that I was fairly tough on them, challenging them to take responsibility to make sure their relationships with their project communities were healthy and productive.   The core message of the session, as well as the overall conference, was about balance – how to live up to the larger role of an enterprise architect in addressing holistic, enterprise-wide, strategic opportunities while also ensuring that today’s challenges and initiatives are supported through their work.

I touched on future state EA content creation, governance, and their coach/assist role.  The latter requires rolling up their sleeves and engaging directly with project teams.  Recommendations included warnings to not reside in an ivory tower, and advice to actively engage with project and asset communities, to encourage contribution, to communicate and be transparent in their work, and to not act as the architecture police.   While these messages aren’t a surprise to those of you who have worked with us, the audience seemed to appreciate hearing them, resulting in 40 minutes of group discussion.

What I enjoyed the most about this discussion was the enthusiasm of the audience.  As a fairly typical conference audience, the group was very diverse in experience, representing private and public sectors, large and small organizations, and veterans of EA work (both successful and wounded) plus newbies and wanna-be’s.  Many described themselves as being in situations not of their making – stuck being reactive vs.  proactive, no time to look forward because they were full time project engineering support resources, they felt they did solid forward-looking strategy but nobody cared, project needs always trumped longer-term objectives, no leadership support, etc.  The better news is that, after some discussion, most saw that applying the techniques we discussed could help them be more balanced, improve their situations, and earn the right to be more influential and better leaders.

Coming full circle to the main topic, at the end of the discussion I held an informal poll to find out how many of them thought the relationship between their EA group and their project counterparts was “healthy” vs. “room for improvement” vs. “non-existent”.   Despite the fact that the diversity of the audience makes it impossible to draw any statistical conclusion from their answers, and that each likely interpreted the choices differently, the responses were overwhelmingly “healthy” and “room for improvement” with almost no “non-existent”.   So for this group, they generally thought they are doing “OK”.

Being a scientist and an analyst by nature and training, I wanted to get an alternative perspective so I sought to gather data in a different venue.  A few weeks ago I presented at the Project World conference in Baltimore, and chose to do a round-table discussion on the same topic.  My audience at that occasion was completely different, primarily project managers and business analysts.   Not surprisingly, it was a very different discussion.  Once we level-set on roles and responsibilities of architecture and the varations from organization to organization it turned into a good discussion.  I believe I left them better informed about the nature of the relationship between themselves and the EA community.

At the conclusion, I asked them the same question I asked the EA Symposium audience.  Not surprisingly, I got the opposite result.  They skewed heavily to the “room for improvement” and “non-existent” side when describing the relationship.  The good news is that they admitted that it wasn’t entirely the fault of their EA teams, and as much a result of the pressures they were under to “eliminate distractions and just get their project done”.  Most suggested that they now had a better appreciation for the role of EA and would be more open to listening upon their return.  The bad news was that they also said that their EA groups had to do a better job communicating and engaging as well.

So, my advice to the Enterprise Architects out there: Even if you think you are doing well managing the relationship with your project community, you are probably not doing as well as you think you are, at least from their perspective.  Take some steps to health-test that relationship, either formally or informally, and put an improvement plan in place.  Give us a call – we can help.