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On enterprise architect skills today - Q&A with The Open Group's Leonard Fehskens

SearchSOA.com's Jack Vaughan recently spoke with Leonard Fehskens, Vice President and Global Profession Lead at The Open Group. Among matters they discussed were the sometimes controversial role of the enterprise architect. The "EA" is often in a tight spot, trying to keep tabs on present software assets and the like. Says Fehskens, people skills are key for the EA, as for others.

SearchSOA.com: Sometimes one wonders if enterprise architects are like the 'furniture police' described in the book "Peopleware." They manage assets, rather than create.

Leonard Fehskens: There are a couple of things here to respond to. One is the idea of furniture police. This comes up quite a lot, actually. It’s basically a governance issue, which is how you make sure that people are doing things the way they’re supposed to be done and how you keep track of what you’ve got. I think part of the reason that enterprise architects sometimes get saddled with this role of being a policeman is that you need someone to read the map. If you've ever driven in a place you’re not familiar with, and you have to navigate a map, it always helps to have somebody else look at the map telling you what you need to do, rather than you having to do it yourself, because driving itself takes up a fair amount of your attention.

The question is who is responsible for making sure that people follow the map, so to speak? Some of that belongs to

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the EA, but some of that also really needs to belong to the organization as a whole. And when the EAs get too wrapped up in this policing function, two things happen. They stop thinking about architecture, and they get disliked by people because they become perceived as people who are always telling everybody else what they can or can’t do. I think EAs will always walk this fine line between trying to understand what needs to be done and getting people to do what needs to be done. It can be as much an issue of organizational culture as it is about EA.

If the EA function is properly valued as part of the organizational culture the issue tends to go away. Again it’s like the functioning working relationship between a pilot and a navigator. It’s very clear who’s responsible for what, and both of you recognize that you’re both necessary to get to where you want to go to.

SearchSOA.com: A lot of times it seems the EA's biggest requisite is people skills – the ability to get people to work together. Is that right?

Fehskens: I think the answer is probably “yes.” There’s always this question of how do you get people to do what you want them to do. It’s a question of influence and the architect’s role has always been one of these roles characterized by responsibility without authority, authority in the de jure sense.

Good architects have authority by virtue of their competence and knowledge. People don’t listen to an architect because they have to, but because they think it’s the right thing to do, it’s the sensible thing for them to do. The architects successful at avoiding this problem are basically architects who are competent in the sense that they deliver sufficient value to the organization. The successful EA must master the soft skill of being able to influence people without hard, formally defined authority over them.

This was first published in June 2011

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