Who you gonna call? Trustbusters!

Suppose you are in a meeting. You, the Enterprise Architect of the EA Chess kind. You are aware of many complexities, uncertainties, hair-ball like integrations and other ‘technical debt’ in your landscape, and you don’t have the habit of underestimating these issues. Suppose also, in the meeting there is an outside consultant. Smart (wo)man, knows a lot of companies, has seen a lot of things go right and especially wrong, but doesn’t know the specifics of your company’s Business-IT landscape.

Problems, plans, choices, and strategic direction are on the table. You may be talking about outsourcing some part of the IT-landscape to the Cloud, for instance. You, as the architectural conscience counsellor (or ‘consigliere’) of the organisation, you know all the nooks and crannies that make this a risky proposition. You know these should not be underestimated and you find the business case is shaky because of all the uncertainties, risks, and white spots.

ghostbusters-slimer-bank-xlYour task in this situation is to voice this. So, out of your mouth comes an seemingly endless stream of ‘ifs’, ‘buts’, ‘ands’, ‘maybes’, and so forth. Step back and what do all these have in common? They voice doubt. They signal uncertainty.

The consultant, however, has only generics to voice. They may be good generics of course. And some of these will be about things that are uncertain, but being less specific, they will have not that much of an impact when discussing the reality of the organisation. This lack of ‘reality’ means that the generics of the consultant will have a larger positive feel to it. They will engender trust. Your constant stream gb_iconof warnings that come from your insight in ugly reality will do the opposite: it will engender distrust. You are voicing doubt, the consultant is voicing this much less so, because he — coming from outside — cannot be aware of all the gory details. Your warnings have made you the representative of something bad. Your necessary statements have the side effect of creating distrust. It has nothing to do with the quality of your statements, it is a psychological effect.

The chasm between you and the consultant becomes even more extreme when the consultant is of the ‘balloony’ inclination (as in ‘hot air balloon’) — or the ‘baloney’, whichever you prefer. I’ve met both types, the very good consultants and the bad ones, but the effect is always there.

This psychological effect is very unjust to the internal good architect; one not of the ‘balloony’ (or ‘baloney’) inclination. It’s one of those Catch-22‘s that are part of the enterprise architect’s profession (the other being that you are generally asked to provide simplified explanations and elegant pictures of the ugly, complex reality, and thus you actually prevent people to grasp the essential complexity of it all, so you prevent the your most important message to get across, see the book or the summary).

The question then of course becomes: how to solve the problem? And there is only one solution: those receiving both kinds of messages — management — must be aware and accept the existence of the essential complexity that is heart and soul of modern Business-IT landscapes. They must not experience the exposure to that fact as something negative (which they do if they are convinced all complexity can always easily be removed) but as an affirmation of something that unavoidably is. Sure, we must fight avoidable complexity, but we must embrace essential complexity. If you have such management, they will feel a reinforcement of trust from your ‘ifs’, ‘buts’ and so forth. They know they can rely on you to represent ugly reality and not picture them some cloud-cuckoo land. You are a risk-minimiser for them. You make them comfortable: the situation is watched over by someone who will not fall into every trap there is by underestimating complexity and unpredictability.  And if that outside consultant is of the ‘balloony’ (or ‘baloney’) inclination, they will quickly move him or her aside.

I’m being very unfair about outside consultants. There are many splendid consultants and I have met a fair amount. And the ‘balloony’ (or ‘baloney’) type might as well be a colleague, an consigliere-bookarchitect even. It’s too easy to scold consultants across the board, just as it is too easy for consultants to scold the organisation’s own workforce across the board. I’ve set you on a wrong track: this is not about consultants versus internal architects.

Because the essence remains the same irrespectively: the success of even good enterprise architects is fully dependent on management’s attitude towards the essential complexity of the Business-IT landscape. Do they deny the fundamentality of its nature? Do they not separate it from the avoidable complexity? Do they ignore unpredictability? Then you’re in trouble. Do they make essential complexity and unpredictability part of their reality? Then you can be the best and most trusted consigliere they ever had, because they know that the skills in understanding and managing complexity and unpredictability that you bring to the table are worthwhile.

So, in the end, it is all about your management whether you can succeed as enterprise architect. Even the best consigliere cannot succeed if he or she is at fundamental odds with the boss. If you think your management is not yet fully aware of the essential complexity and unpredictability of modern Business-IT landscapes (for which there still is No Silver Bullet — not even the Cloud), then you might buy them a book. 😉

PS. I just had to use this “Consigliere” book cover image because of the chess board and the link to the trusted adviser. I have no idea if the book is any good. There were a few reviews on Amazon which were positive.

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