How do I become an Enterprise Architect: Step 4 – Skills

By October 31, 2015 EA Practice Advisor

How do I become an Enterprise Architect?

Step 4 – Skills

We’ve been working on the path to becoming an Enterprise Architect (EA). In the last article, we looked at acquiring knowledge that you’ll use in the role, but what about the skills required to use that knowledge?

The role of EA is a challenging one, requiring a broad set of knowledge and skills. EAs have been described as generalists, and “a mile wide and an inch deep”. This has a degree of truth, but is also deceptive. The reality is that an EA requires very strong understanding of both business and technology, and has several areas of deep expertise. However, EAs are often assigned broad domains defined by business segments or technology categories, and must therefore initiate, review, align, integrate and communicate the work of a broad range of specialists. This requires very strong soft skills, which enable EAs to interact effectively with people. Soft skills cannot simply be studied. They require an accumulation of experience with a variety of people and circumstances.

To complete the picture, an EA needs to have a solid understanding of business practices. A key goal of the EA is to become a trusted advisor to the business, and that requires speaking the same language as the business stakeholders he or she seeks to advise.

So let’s have a look at Communication and Thinking Skills. Here’s a list of discrete skills and their contributions to EA success:

Communication Skills

Without doubt, the ability to communicate effectively to a range of stakeholders is critical for an EA. Many of these stakeholders are exceptionally time-poor. It is not uncommon that you will be given only a few minutes of their time to get important messages across, and gain their support.

Crystallizing your thinking is important. What information is necessary to convey the required understanding of the problem or opportunity and the solution? Visualisation techniques are also important, although many business stakeholders are uninterested in the technical notations used in architecture practices. Think about how to convey meaning, using easy to understand representations. Keep words to a minimum, particularly in presentations, and look for maximum value from the available time.

Also, learn to speak their language. If you’re talking to the CFO, learn financial terminology, and present the information they need to know to understand the impact of your initiative. For example, think about questions such as: “How will your solution affect the operational profit?”, “Will it result in greater Operational Expenditure (OPEX)?” and “What does the Cost Benefit Analysis or Return on Investment (ROI) calculation look like for the material you are presenting?”.

A number of other skills underlie effective communication:

  • Business Acumen – Understanding the nature of the operation of a business, and the common language of those that are responsible for steering the ship, is fundamental. Equally important is a solid understanding of the market within which your business operates. Thirdly, you must have a deep understanding of your business’ strategy and, if available, any plans in place to realize it.
  • Negotiation – There are often tradeoffs required to get an initiative executed, or to bring about a change in direction for the organization. The ability to look for acceptable compromises and win-win situations is therefore imperative.
  • Relationship Building – Establishing and maintaining relationships takes time, but is essential to gain the requisite trust to be able to get support for the architectures and roadmaps you produce as an EA.
  • Motivation and Leadership – The ability to convey a compelling vision for the future is a skill that can be of great value to an Enterprise Architect, as is the ability to gain support for that vision and to motivate those around you to want to achieve that same set of goals. Understanding the individual motivations of those stakeholders is important, along with the overall or business motivation. Tools and techniques are available to assist with this, such as the Business Motivation Model from OMG, or the ArchiMate Motivation Extension. Deliverables based on these paradigms can be reviewed with stakeholders to ensure an accurate understanding of their motivations. A characteristic that can be observed in many successful EAs related to this skill is empathy. Being able to experience and therefore understand what drives an individual can give you a greater perspective on how to apply ALL of the skills related to communication.

Thinking Skills

It goes without saying that an Enterprise Architect must have strong thinking and reasoning skills. In particular, the following behaviors are key to performing the role:

  • Holistic Views – Given the remit of Enterprise Architecture, it comes as no surprise that EAs should be able to visualize a big picture for their organization’s future state. Successful EAs have a tendency to avoid tunnel-vision by constantly reviewing and rationalizing their own material and information from the surrounding environment. Assumptions must be challenged and minimized wherever possible to avoid this trap. In order to minimize the effects of their own prejudices and limitations, EAs must be adept at facilitating peer reviews where all participants feel welcome to contribute. In peer review meetings or written interactions, EAs should explicitly and enthusiastically acknowledge constructive criticism or new insights.
  • Abstraction and Conceptualisation – The breadth of concerns addressed by an EA when creating future state architectures can be difficult to manage. The ability to identify patterns of behavior or structure and form abstract concepts is crucial here. Equally important is the ability to conceptualize what a future state might look like. It’s often mentioned that there are elements of both engineering (science) and design (art) in what is done in the architecture disciplines. That artistic side of the EAs work comes to the fore in how he or she can represent complex scenarios in easy to understand ways. This ties back to the communication skills mentioned earlier.
  • Problem Solving and Innovation – The world is constantly changing, and the pace of that change is increasing. An effective EA knows how to assess large quantities of information available through a variety of sources, and extract and integrate what is relevant to their organization. To make this more challenging, there are often time pressures involved, meaning that an EA must be able to think quickly about how external changes can be used to create innovative solutions within their own business. Motivation and Leadership skills play a role here as well. Creating a culture of innovation by creating a compelling vision for the future can assist the EA in getting internal resources “on-board” and contributing to their efforts. Having more innovation within the organization will lighten the load on the EA.
  • Discovery and Learning – Closely related to innovation is a strong sense of curiosity and a desire to continually learn. A significant amount of material is available through books, online forums, workshops, seminars, conferences and peer interaction. Most high-quality EAs that I have encountered are always looking for ways of learning from the experience and insight from others.

Coupled with these skills, an Enterprise Architect will typically have a strong focus on process improvement. So much of an organization’s ability to compete is related to the efficiency of their processes. That can also be said of the Enterprise Architecture team. The development of reusable processes and artifacts that can enable a greater understanding of the enterprise and the interactions between its constituent parts.

One process of particular focus for the EA is oversight of change. An EA may create a vision for the future state of the organization, but he or she cannot deliver the required change that realises that vision. This falls to capabilities such as the Project Management Office, which typically delivers change through a series of projects. Oversight of these projects is required by the EA function, which must provide effective guidance that helps projects advance without incurring unnecessary risk or technical debt.

Assessing and Building Your Skills

There are resources available to help you with your skills development from professional bodies such as IASA, CAEAP or one of the regional associations such as Australian Computer Society, British Computer Society, or the IEEE Computer Society. You can also use frameworks such as SFIA to help understand the related skills and plan your development.

Finding a mentor is also a great way of developing a career plan. Do you know people who represent the skills we’ve discussed in this article? They may not be Enterprise Architecture professionals. Many of these skills exist in other professions, particularly communication skills. Working with someone that can help guide you through your own development can be very beneficial.

So there you have it. To boil it down to two keywords, the most important things you need in your armory are logic and empathy. It seems overly simplistic, but these are the foundations that I’ve seen time and time again in successful Enterprise Architects. Coupled with a high degree of emotional intelligence, they enable an EA to develop a compelling vision for the future of their organization, and to gain the support of those that can turn that vision into reality.

In the next article, we’ll be looking at how to gain real-world experience to practice and develop these all-important skills.


Have your say!

What do you think? Are these skills useful? Did we miss something important? Please join in the conversation by responding below, or by emailing us at advisor@eapj.org. We also want to know the subjects that are causing you professional pain. Please email your questions, and we’ll select one for a future advice column. The EA Practice Advisor Team is here to help.

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