Making EA Principles Relevant

Just recently, I learned that a client’s CIO leadership team began a detailed and substantive discussion on EA principles, the implications they carry for their organization, and how they can use them to transform their journey into the future.   I don’t see this as often as I’d like.  While gaining that level of leadership engagement in the creation and use of EA principles has long been the desired outcome, it is still somewhat rare.  In this case, it was a combination of good luck, good timing, and a skilled Chief Architect who was able to keep principles visible and to broker the discussion with leadership.  There is a lesson to be learned here.

With common sense as a significant part of a good set of EA principles, it is easy for a leadership team to write them off as “a statement of the obvious” and not pay much attention.  As enterprise architects, our goal must be to make principles relevant.  The approach is for us to demonstrate how to use principles in practice and to show that they are more than a collection of catchy phrases.

For each principle individually, and for the set as a whole, explain them in real-world terms.  Choose principles that guide desired behaviors and explain their rationale and implications in a form that leaders can relate to, with an emphasis on how they affect decision-making at all levels.

Unfortunately, I see many examples of principles that don’t gain traction.   When that happens, EA principles have little value.   When I diagnose the situation, I often see that a lot of energy was consumed in creating the perfect written words, with less energy committed to bringing the principles to life.

A few tips:  Always be sure to include rationale and implications, but don’t worry so much about making them perfect, just strive to make them good enough.  Invest the extra energy in bringing them to life in four ways:

  1. Ensure that ALL members of the core and extended EA teams understand what the principles really mean and how they are used
  2. Be sure to actively and visibly reference the principles in the process of creating future state EA content
  3. Refer to the principles and use them as a test in ALL solution architecture and coaching work
  4. Carry the principles with you in discussions with leadership at every opportunity

By using the principles every day, their value will eventually be self-evident, and leadership teams will recognize them as a helpful tool in their management arsenal.

3 thoughts on “Making EA Principles Relevant”

  1. Are EA principles that different from enterprise to enterprise? Sure there will be some that are business or industry-specific, but is there perhaps a set of uber-principles that apply whereever you go?

    You’ve no doubt seen many EA principles in your travels – good and bad. If you break them down, how much commonality exists in various sets of principles?

    Your retired but still curious friend,

    • Hi Marcel – great to hear from you! It’s always great to get your questions and observations.

      Your question is a good one. In our experience there do seem to be some universal “uber-” principles – common ones like “Information is an asset of the company” (as opposed to an asset of an operating unit), “manage complexity”, variations on the theme of “buy vs. build”, etc. These tend to represent something like 60% or so of the top level principles, maybe more. They often have different wording, though, and different emphasis based on the biases of each company.

      Beyond those, other principles tend to be organization-specific or industry specific. They are usually created as responses to past behaviors that the organization is trying to change, or to guide towards new transformational behaviors they want to embrace. These can vary greatly from organization to organization, as one would expect. Even within the same industry, driven by the same business drivers, we see differentiation based on where the companies have come from, their maturity, and how they identify themselves in their markets. Intent is the key.

      Bottom Line: Each individual organization may start from a common set, but they must “make them their own” if they are to have any impact on changing specific behaviors and effecting decisions in their unique organization.

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