Any salesman worth his salt will stress the importance of understanding the buyer’s needs. The first stage of any sales cycle is discovery: What is your buyer looking for? What are the requirements, targets, budgets and so on? Based on what you find out, the key selling points may differ quite dramatically, and the information shown to the customer will be tailored appropriately. It will help them understand how the product on offer will bring their desired benefits.
The same approach needs to be applied with enterprise architecture. If the business requirements and targets are correctly understood, it can help facilitate new innovative initiatives and kick-start a holistic company-wide transformation.
Know Your Audience
When addressing internal stakeholders within our own organization we often revert to a one size fits all approach, despite their array of different concerns, goals and levels of interest. Enterprise architecture is a service that must address their concerns individually if it is to be of benefit; it must provide the answers to the questions that are being asked. If we just unload a vast amount of unstructured information, it will make it difficult for anyone to navigate and comprehend. Enterprise architecture becomes a waste of time, money and resources.
The underlying value of enterprise architecture is its ability to model and present vast swathes of complex, detailed data in an easily digestible format. An efficient EA practice enables granular detail to be included, while an accessible, easy-to-use tool means information and analysis can be tailored to a wide array of non-technical stakeholders.
Therefore, when creating diagrams, models and visualizations, much like the salesman the architect must ask a number of questions. Who is the audience? What are their strategic objectives? How can I provide insight? By providing value to stakeholders individually, the enterprise architecture initiative gains backing throughout the business and in turn provide key support as the organization looks to evolve. Diagrams and visuals can be used to tell a narrative that answers fundamental holistic business questions, but it is equally necessary to design views that address the infrastructure team’s concerns, the project manager’s concerns, and so on.
Provide the Right Answers in the Right Format
Knowing our audience is only one half of the puzzle. Taking this to the next level, how do you want them to think about your diagram? How much should they engage?
Different diagrams have different purposes – sometimes they are just there for the audience to look at, quickly understand, and move on. For example, when you present to an architecture review board, or document a process, the idea is to make the information quick to understand and easily digestible. Similarly, architecture models can be designed to present a picture that a high-level director can digest at a glance. They can communicate the right messages, avoiding the need for the CEO to read through a 100-page written document simply to understand the implications of what is taking place.
But some diagrams should be complex, because they provide deep insight. If you’re mapping out an entire transformation of IT strategy, implicitly there will be a lot of discussion, evaluation and analysis, simply because of the level of impact on the organization. In which case, the diagram needs to be meaty and provide a great deal of substance. Extensive dashboards that outline the implications and impact of change are not a luxury distraction in these instances, but fundamental to deriving meaningful insight. Ultimately, it’s necessary to reorganize the appropriate level of detail for each situation.
While enterprise architecture can deliver significant value to a business during times of upheaval, to make the most of it we must understand who our audience are, what they are looking for and how EA can be of service. Fail to do this and not only will the enterprise architecture practice fail to act as a catalyst for meaningful change, but it will probably become a black hole within the company; at best ignored and at worst actively shunned.
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