Todd Biske, whom I respect for his writings on SOA, seemed to miss the mark in his recent blog post about SOA Governance and Decision Rights.  In that post, he said:

if you focus on education, you can allow individual teams to make decisions, because you’ve given them the necessary information to make the right decisions. If they don’t have the information to make decisions that will lead toward the desired behavior, it turns into a guessing game. Not only can there be confusion in what the correct decisions are, there can also be confusion on what decisions should be escalated up the chain. If we instead focus on creating policies and making those policies known so that anyone in the organization can make the right decision, we’re in a much better state.

Was Todd wrong?  Nope.  He was right on. 

In describing governance, Todd just described a useful, and workable, set of decision rights.  I don’t think he realized it, because the blog was essentially trying to refute the concept of Governance as decision rights!

What were those decision rights he describes?

  • "You’ve given [individual teams] the necessary information to make the right decisions" — Implied in that statement is the notion that the individual teams, having made the right decisions, will not have those decisions taken away from them by someone else.  In order for a team to make a decision, they must clearly have the right to make it and, here is the kicker: Management Must Respect That Right.  Want that to happen?  Be explicit.  Tell everyone what decisions we will let the team make, and then hold them responsible for making them.
  • "There can also be confusion on what decisions should be escalated up the chain" — to avoid that confusion, we must be clear, as Todd correctly points out, about who has the right to make which decision.  Where does a decision stop?  That clarity avoids red tape.  That explicit clarity is called "decision rights."
  • "If we focus on creating policies" — And here is really the confusion.  What are those policies called?  They are called "decision rights." 

SOA Governance is a subset of IT Governance, on all three aspects of Governance: design time, deploy time, and run time.  SOA decision rights are a subset of IT decision rights, which are a subset of overall IT policies. 

What we have here, is a failure to communicate.

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".

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