Generalists in a World of Specialists

A recent posting by Ron Segal on the LinkedIn discussion group for business architecture raised a specific question that strikes to the heart of what I think I have been trying to say for years.  Here is my posting in respoonse, which I thought I'd record here for future reference:

 

The question Ron raised was: "if business architecture is really about planning the architecture of the business as a whole, its going to have to work with all of the different specialisms, HR, Marketing, Logistics, Finance, Operations, Production, IT etc. So one of the tricky issues ... is how does business architecture in that sense add value without being perceived to be interfering" This is exactly the question that I have been trying to answer from many different angles and viewpoint during the months and years I've been posting to LinkedIn, and well before. So thanks for asking!

The simplest way I can put it is that business (and/or enterprise) architecture provides the generalist view in the age of specialization. From my point of view, no issue, no aspect of business is off the table for being considered from an architectural perspective. This is why you will see me stressing certain themes over and over again in my postings:

1. Language -- I don't think it's up to architecture to create all new terminology, but rather to provide reconciliation among the multiple languages spoken by all the specialists among themselves. The architectural view should literally "take them at their word" and find ways of clarifying and disambiguating among disparate tribes. This is very challenging, and requires sophistication beyond a handful of concepts -- ("capability" comes to mind).

2. Architecture vs. decision-making -- In my opinion, if this challenging role of capturing and joining up the complete understanding of business (enterprise) is performed successfully, the value is intense, more than justifying the effort. There is no need for people in that role to also be challenging the specialists in their individual judgments, and that includes those who specialize in tough management trade-offs. I stress humility as the general approach to this work.

3. The term "architecture" -- The term itself conjures the creative aspects of the building disciplines, but the builders of businesses are entrepreneurs, and that is not an essential aspect (in my view) of the architecture discipline in the organizational space. The reason the architecture term *is* appropriate, to me, is that it conveys the idea of understanding the elements of the domain, and how they are related, structurally and behaviorally. It focuses attention on the interfaces, from outside-in, inside-out, and top to bottom. Not easy. Very valuable.

4. Requisite variety -- Borrowed from the arena of the systems sciences, Ashby's concept of requisite variety says that a controlling mechanism needs as much complexity (variety) as the factors to be controlled. My view is that architectures are aspects in the controlling mechanisms of business and enterprise (sometimes knowing when loosely-coupled control is appropriate).

5. Skill-set -- Before I left IBM I led the effort to incorporate business architecture into the HR database, and we did so as a set of skills that applied to many roles and job titles. I think I've painted the scope and complexity of the potential for an architectural view so as to indicate the unlikelihood of the "requisite variety" residing in one individual.

6. Not a project -- Again, I hope it's clear that my perspective suggests an ongoing mindset and effort of joined-up understanding, not a once-and-for-all project, though there may need to be kick-off, jump-start, or some such consciousness-raising event.

7. Immaturity -- Do we have the tools and techniques to do all of what I have asserted smoothly, seamlessly, and effectively? I think that we do not, and that the discipline of being rigorous generalists in a world of specialists has merely scratched the surface of the tip of the iceberg of what can be done. Which, for me, is where the fun lies!