I’ve often heard “soft” metaphors used when discussing Enterprise Architects. Some compare EA to the grease in a machine… necessary for the machine to run but we don’t provide the energy for progress so much as we reduce the friction. Others use a “sticky” metaphor, saying that EA is the glue that connects strategy to execution. Those metaphors are flawed because, in each of them, I can easily imagine a system where there is no grease or glue and the system works just fine.
I am involved in an effort to clearly define the role of an Enterprise Architect in my particular space. The way that I’m working on this clarification, I cannot say that EA is something mushy. EA is part of the machine itself. To use the “engine” metaphor, an Enterprise Architect is a gear, not grease. We work at the same speed as the engine, churning through data, decisions, and governance at the rate demanded by the business.
I do understand that small organizations may not need an EA. That is because the problems addressed by an EA are not so easily buried under politics and personality in a small organization. The CEO can see them and can address them. In larger organizations, you get shared services, competing priorities, and, in most cases, political games designed to swing decisions with partial data or one-sided decision criteria. That is where EA really shines.
In these environments, EA is not a ‘soft’ role. To be an effective EA, you have to know when to stand your ground and defend the requirements of the enterprise. You can force conversations to be held that wouldn’t otherwise occur, and decisions to be made that some would rather avoid making, using data that is sometimes difficult to collect in a fair and impartial manner. That is not a “grease the wheels” function.