I was speaking with a software architect, yesterday, after Martin Sykes, Mark West, and myself presented our ideas around Visual Stories to about 150 consultants.  He asked me about my role and when I explained that I am an Enterprise Architect, he asked what that is.  I got my chance to use my new three word definition of Enterprise Architecture: Reduce Unnecessary Effort.

This is the goal of alignment: to reduce unnecessary effort.  We find the things that could be done, and the things that should be done, but also the things that should not be done, and we use that information to influence the governance decisions in the business.  When the business “announces” a solution to a problem, we are there to vet that solution to insure that we do LESS unnecessary effort.  We may end up doing less work overall, or perhaps not, but a greater fraction of our project portfolio will be necessary (strategic) work. 

The difficulty in rolling this out is often the need to change IT governance practices that may be heavily entrenched.  As I’ve pointed out in the past, the aims of “demand management” in IT often run counter to the aims of Enterprise Architecture.  The goal of demand management is to “take on as much work as possible, doing the most important stuff first.”  As long as “alignment” is a factor in prioritizing projects, then there is no problem.  Unfortunately, that is rarely the case.

Most of the demand management programs I’ve seen, both in Microsoft and in other companies, are based heavily (or entirely) on ROI (Return on Investment).  As I discussed in my last post, ROI often prioritizes poorly aligned programs.  If Enterprise Architecture is to have any value at all in an organization, it is to help counteract this effect by prioritizing projects that produce a lower ROI, but do a better job of insuring that the organization meets their strategic goals. 

In Microsoft IT, there is a move to use a “balanced scorecard” governance mechanism that can balance strategic alignment as well as ROI in a single formula.  As a result, I have renewed hope that our internal governance mechanism will set up the correct priorities.  Tremendous credit for this work goes to my esteemed colleagues Munir Bhimani and Gabriel Morgan.  Perhaps, with the mechanisms they are setting up, we can finally begin to take the input from the “architects in the trenches” and include their insight in the process of deciding which programs should be funded, their scope, and elements of their solution.

And then, in our large, noisy, headstrong environment, Enterprise Architecture will be better positioned to “Reduce Unnecessary Effort.”

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 “Three word definition of Enterprise Architecture: Reduce Unnecessary Effort”
  1. I like it! "reduce unnecessary effort".

    Inspired by a request to subcontract on a project that didn't make sense, I asked our Twitter friends, "what would happen if we only took on meaningful projects?".  The replies — somewhat tongue-in-cheek — were we'd all be broke, living under a bridge.  That's troublesome.

    While my question was at the project level, unnecessary effort can be identified, and reduced at all levels.

    Thanks for sharing!

    – Brenda

    And yes, I passed on that project.

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