Enterprise Architects as Change Agents

Last week I read a blog post by Rosabeth Moss Katner talking about Leadership and seven sayings that can guide and comfort those trying to drive change.  It was a good post and I tweeted it along with the comment “good advice for enterprise architects and other change agents”.   Since we began our interest in EA, Tim and I have embraced the slogan that “Enterprise Architects are Change Agents” and have used it as a theme when coaching and teaching.

Lately, though, it seems that many EA practitioners don’t understand what the concept of “change agent” is all about and/or how to make it real, or are comfortable or constrained to only work on change at the micro (project, product, system, etc.) level vs. the enterprise level.  I wanted to take this opportunity to reinforce the concept that being an effective enterprise architect often means acting as an agent to drive large-scale change into your culture, influencing larger communities of people to engage, interact and make decisions in a non-local, non-micro “enterprise” way.

The quotes Ms. Katner’s selected for her blog post are from herself and also from various literary and historical figures.  They are spot on and highly relevant to the EA community, specifically as applied to our role as leaders and change agents.  Some examples:

The quote from the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland that “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there” speaks directly to the main focus of our work. Creating a coherent (and “business first” – see Tim’s accompanying post) future state enterprise architecture becomes the target that all paths must lead to.  Engaging leadership in discussions about the substance and form of that future state is the key to success here – finding the context and the opportunity is the tactic and there are many possible approaches.

The quote from Yogi Berra that “when you come to a fork in the road, take it” implies that we as enterprise architects sometimes must “stir the pot” and experiment, to not be afraid to float ideas before they are fully baked and see where they lead.  The fear of making mistakes is often so intrinsic that it paralyzes many of the EA teams that we have helped over the years.   Today, with internal social networking, many organizations now have vehicles where open, lower-risk exploration and trial-ballooning can occur.

Becoming an EA cultural change agent isn’t for everyone, but many reluctant practitioners have discovered that they are capable of doing it, once they embrace some of the concepts described here, practice them, and become confident in their abilities.

1 thought on “Enterprise Architects as Change Agents”

  1. I’m not sure that is “fear of making mistakes” that is the only barrier to EA teams rising to the change agent level. I have no scientific analysis to back up this reply, but it seems to me that there are a number of other barriers or challenges at play here:

    1)Corporate culture. Does the corporation even detect when someone is stirring the pot? Some companies are so tradition bound that all the social media publication and experimentation in the world won’t materially impact them.

    2)Business Knowledge. An architecture team needs to experiment in ways that their corporation might find value, in order to get any traction. It does no good to research and comment on a, for example, retail technology if your company is in the mining business.

    Exploration and research needs to be, at least, nominally aligned with what the business you are in. This requires a significant understanding of how the company actually works gained through spending time in the mine or on the floor, watching what people do and how they do it.

    An effective EA change-driven team clearly needs to be able to lead with their chins and take some risk, but they need to have an accepting environment and a knowledge base that gives their experimentation some credibility.

    I would strongly suggest that EA teams desiring this type of change agent status spend time gaining detailed, real life business knowledge and start small. Pick a single area in the business where there is a bit of an appetite for improvement and innovation; get your thinking in this space visible to key business leaders and start engaging in meaningful conversations and actions. This might be as simple as exploring the consumerization of IT with some business leaders and getting them to give your sales people a few iPAD devices to play with; or explaining to a single business area what options are out in the IT world around properly managing, supporting and/or replacing their myriads of MS-Access databases.

    Then trumpet, to all that will listen, the fact that you are pushing this activity and be open and transparent about the successes and failures that you have encountered. Becoming a change agent does, indeed, require those of us who believe we are EA’s taking a bit of risk but smartly.

    With all due respect to the EA Directions people, change agent status comes on the back of demonstrated ability to cause change – it doesn’t come just because architects publish and share thoughts and ideas.

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