An old friend called me up today and shared a tale of woe.  He is a Business Architect, with years of excellent experience in Enterprise Architecture.  Yet, he finds himself in an ill-fitting role. 

According to my friend, who I will call Quincy, his manager doesn’t know what he does, and doesn’t value business architecture.  He has many peers, all of them share his title, all reporting to different managers, but according to Quincy, few of them are able to perform the job of Business Architect.   When it comes time for a review, he feels like there is no career path for him, and no consistent measure of value that he will be judged by.  Quincy feels unappreciated and alone.

I did my best to cheer Quincy up.  But in the end, he’s right.  It is tough to feel like your work is appreciated if your manager doesn’t understand it. 

Business architecture is not a trivial job function.  It is not something that the average business analyst can wake up one day and perform, or pick up with a two-day training course.  Business architecture, like any of the functions of Enterprise Architecture, requires specific skills, talents, and experience in order to deliver real value.  Like any profession, it takes time, training, mentoring, passion, and talent to develop into a high-functioning business architect.

Don’t get me wrong: people learn, and a well motivated person can grow into a well seasoned business architect in the right environment.  The job is tough, but not impossible.

Quincy can do the job… but he needs to feel supported, to provide value that is recognized by his superiors, and to have the ability to grow in his role.  This is a problem that many enterprise architects face when they are the only person in the organization with the title of “architect.”  They are alone, and ultimately, the machine of corporate life can wear them down. 

Over time, an architect, working alone, will take on other functions (like M&A integration, project management or even solution architecture) because those functions are both understood and appreciated.  The job title of “Business Architect” will lose relevance, and after a while, BA activity will end.

And this is why I believe that all of the folks in an organization that are responsible for any aspect of Enterprise Architecture, whether it is Business Architecture, Solution Architecture, Technology Architecture, Information Architecture or Process Architecture, should work for a small number of carefully chosen managers… people who understand the job that they do and the value that they provide. 

Sometimes those managers are in IT, sometimes they are in Finance, sometimes Operations, etc.  Wherever the right managers and support exist, EA should live there, even if it is not “ideal”. 

Otherwise, your architect is alone… and job satisfaction can suffer.  Just ask Quincy.

By Nick Malik

Former CIO and present Strategic Architect, Nick Malik is a Seattle based business and technology advisor with over 30 years of professional experience in management, systems, and technology. He is the co-author of the influential paper "Perspectives on Enterprise Architecture" with Dr. Brian Cameron that effectively defined modern Enterprise Architecture practices, and he is frequent speaker at public gatherings on Enterprise Architecture and related topics. He coauthored a book on Visual Storytelling with Martin Sykes and Mark West titled "Stories That Move Mountains".

9 thoughts on “Architects Working Alone”
  1. Not wanting to seem brutal, but its time for Quincy to look around for the next step. Sure, the economy is not great at the moment, but time spent now identifying his motivators and demotivators, his wants and needs, will put him in a position to actively target companies and position that will be more rewarding.

    You spend 1/3 of your life at work. There is no point wasting in on something that makes you unhappy

  2. Excellent Advice Matt.  Not brutal at all.  

    The flip side of that coin: if you are considering employing an architect, especially an enterprise architect or business architect, make sure that the manager you are planning to place them under is able to appreciate the job that they do, and guide their success.  

    Otherwise, a company can spend a lot of money to find, hire, and train someone who cannot stand to stay.

  3. "If the business does not know what you are doing, then you are not relevent". This quote I read somewhere and is very true for EA’s. We need to communicate more to ensure the people around is understand our value, then I doubt you will be alone for too long.

  4. Nick, Too true.

    Another common result of the "architect working alone" is "architect as wallpaper hanger". When the reporting manager doesn’t get the purpose or value of enterprise architecture, they often command (and measure) in terms of artifacts and frameworks produced, rather than contribution to IT and Business Capability.

    Finding the right reporting manager isn’t easy.  We can all do a better job of education and marketing EA, to increase the pool of managers who "get it".  


  5. It seems to me where Quincy is working there is no established Architecture Board and processes in place. I could be wrong but looks like the work has not been integrated with organisation’s processes. As the structure and authority is core to the success of Enterprise Architecture (and hence Business Architecture). I think Quincy should contact CIO/CTO and propose establishing Architecture Board, integrating Business Architecture and all other architecture in organisation’s processes. (assuming this is not there already, else Quincy please ignore this comment).

  6. Painfully accurate.

    And it gets even messier for EAs who do it the contract route. Two specific examples come to my mind.

    In the first, we had exactly the right manager, with exactly the right energy, commitment and drive, and exactly the right contacts to make everything happen. If EA work could be bliss, that was pretty close to it. After a while, it got to feel like this was the way EA work not only should be, but always was, and I was kinda sad when it came time to move on.

    The next showed me just how spoilt we’d been… 🙁 Started off with a good manager – or at least, she largely left me alone to get on with my work, without meddling, which was fairly unusual in a government agency. But she moved on to another project, and her replacement turned out to be an absolute disaster, an ‘anti-Midas’ who could turn any gold into dross within days. She believed she knew what enterprise architecture was, and how to do it; ten minutes was sufficient show that she didn’t have a clue – but since she thought she did, she micro-managed everything. Nightmare. I ended up counting off the days till the end of the contract, and very pointedly did not renew. Last I heard, two years later, she was still there, and there was still no sign of a functioning enterprise architecture.

    Ya win some, ya lose some: that’s the name of the game, I guess. Oh well. 🙂

    But thanks again, anyway.

  7. While modeling the Wisdom of Enterprise Architecting(sic,) I stumbled upon a relevant caveat.  

    The model diagrammed develops from the perspective that an enterprise’s architecture initially organizes into itself.  Only when management cannot produce adequate success employing a current architecture might they consider employment of an Enterprise Architect.  Yes, Virginia, buildings preceded architects.

    Typical management operating in an “alligator infested swamp” seeks iron clad britches rather than EA-enabled PITA.  Enlightened HR advocates and OD specialists may suggest roles potentially filled by an EA.

    Even if employment of an EA leads quickly to rump health through architectural maturity, the architect’s contribution may be masked by improved effectiveness of others more readily visible.  

    Hence the caveat:  If enterprise success cycles downward, management will trim budgets by eliminating expense (salaries) of those least critical or productive—from their current perspective—regardless of truths known by others.  And so the pendulum swings…

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