By Bob Rhubart
Meeting enterprise architecture communication challenges is critical.
Enterprise architecture encompasses people, process, and tools. Of those elements, the one that poses the greatest obstacle to successful enterprise architecture is the one that enjoys a good night’s sleep, loves a nice hot shower, and sometimes cheats on its diet. That makes effective communication a high priority in any enterprise architecture effort, along with the recognition that technical expertise alone won’t get the job done.
“Enterprise architecture is not just about modeling and design,” says Jeremy Forman, an enterprise architect with Oracle’s Enterprise Solutions Group. “Reaching different stakeholders requires the soft skills of conversation, persuasion, and facilitation.” But that can be a problem for some architects.
“We’re technical people, and we’re used to having technical conversations,” says SOA author, blogger, and veteran enterprise architect Todd Biske. “The audience isn’t always technical and doesn’t necessarily respond to the different ways that we communicate. Trying to find a way that’s effective for the audience is a really big hurdle for people who are used to writing code their whole lives.”
Biske got over that hurdle at one company by working with a communications expert. “That person was invaluable in improving the way that we communicated,” Biske says.
Brenda Bernal Hughes, enterprise architecture services leader at Cisco Systems and Oracle Magazine ’s 2009 Security Architect of the Year, calls in the communication cavalry.
“I have a dedicated group focusing just on communications, community development, and organizational adoption,” says Hughes. The group regularly evaluates messaging, metrics, and methods of communication. “We get a pulse on what’s working and try to drive IT-wide behavior and process change.”
Driving change requires an understanding of stakeholder expectations, advises Biske. “If they already have their own preconceived notions of what architecture is or isn’t, trying to find common ground for effective communication across all stakeholders can be a real challenge,” he says.
Meeting that challenge is a matter of focus. “It’s really about tailoring your message and making it relevant for your audience segment,” says Hughes.
“At the top, it’s all about communicating architecture, more about selling the business value and how it ties to the overall IT strategy,” Hughes says. “When you move down the chain, it’s all about making it relevant for people and letting them know how architecture could make their lives much easier.”
That message is especially important when communicating with developers. “All too often, there’s a perception that architects are actually making things more difficult, that they’re taking away the freedom to innovate,” says Biske.
Developers must realize that the changes imposed by the architecture are driven by business needs and aren’t simply the whims of ivory-tower architects. “But getting that message out and getting people to understand it is a difficult dance,” says Biske.
Getting the medium and the message right takes planning. “I’ve had the most success when there was a full communication plan that started with broad, large-audience communication and then drilled down into specific team-level or even individual-level communications, all on the same subject,” says Biske. “We made sure that we supplied the appropriate stakeholders with the appropriate information multiple times to really reinforce what we were trying to do.”
“Anybody who thinks they can take a one-and-done approach to communicating anything is not going to be successful,” Biske says.
But in the end, enterprise architecture has to be more than just talk. “You have to make sure that stakeholders can see it, feel it, touch it—that they know what it is,” says Hughes, “that it’s not just this term on the wall.”