One thing that any new Enterprise Architect realizes, on or around their first day of work, is that there are not very many other Enterprise Architects in their organization.  It is easy to look around and discover that you are the one and only Enterprise Architect, or part of a very small team.  That doesn’t do much to relieve the pressure, though.  An Enterprise Architect is expected to provide a lot of value, without a lot of direct resources. 

For this reason, a key concern of Enterprise Architecture is “how can I be accountable, and deliver value, without a lot of direct reports?”

This question is easy to answer: Collaborate.  It’s a lot easier to say than do. 

It is not enough for an EA to “want” to collaborate, or even to be “open” to collaboration.  Other roles can make that claim.  The EA has no choice but to “drive” collaboration: to make collaboration happen in situations where your stakeholders may actually be incented to ignore you, disregard you, or outright oppose your very existence.

And there’s the rub.  How does an EA create an environment of collaboration, and mutual interdependency, without wielding a large club?  There are many answers to this question, but the one I want to touch on, right now, is “the appeal to common values.”

Using the Appeal to Common Values

At the end of the day, it is impossible to force another person to do the right thing, especially if you don’t have the right to cause bodily harm :-).  You can appeal to their manager, but that only works when their manager agrees with you.  You can try to use logic, to convince them that your ideas are sound, but that doesn’t mean that they will be motivated to use your ideas. 

One thing that I think is key to success, necessary (but not always sufficient), is an appeal to common values. 

An appeal to common values goes like this:

  1. We both care about doing the right thing for our company.
  2. One aspect of doing the right thing is X (where X is a company value, corporate goal that you both share, or a common recognition of a problem that both of you want to solve).  Let’s both achieve X.
  3. We can achieve X better if we work together than if we are working separately.  We each bring our own requirements to the table.  However, since the end goal is the same, collaboration is better that competition.  (be ready to use measurement, logic, emotion, and/or incentive to back this point up).
  4. You can trust me to defend all of our requirements, and I’d like to trust you in the same way.  I’m trustworthy. 

Appeals to common values are effective because none of these statements is particularly difficult to agree with. 

For example, in Microsoft, we have company values that say that we will take on Bold Challenges.  We also have policies that say things like “use our own technologies where possible to solve our corporate needs.”  I can use both of these together to convince someone to adopt a new technology in an upcoming project, even if it adds some small project risks, because I can tie that activity (“use a new technology”) back to shared values (“use our own stuff” and “bold challenges”).

The fourth item above is probably the biggest part of the “appeal to common values.”  If we are working together to collaborate, at some level, we must trust one another.  My requirements and your requirements must blend.  We must both be accountable to all of the requirements, and we must both defend the other person’s requirements when our shared solution is challenged.  Otherwise, collaboration is a farce. 

This is sometimes overlooked, but without trust, an appeal to common values may produce no fruit.  On the other hand, without common values, collaboration can be difficult, or impossible, to achieve. 

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".

One thought on “Collaboration without common values is fruitless”
  1. I’m just beginning an EA jumpstart project for a large health care provider using TOGAF tailored with FEA. The need for collaboration is almost overwhelming – it’s so easy to just sit in the corner and churn out artifacts. But for these artifacts to have any value, and any sense of ownership on the part of stakeholders, collaboration is essential. You article has really helped me gel my thoughts for this project – thanks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

17 + 20 =

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.