6 years, 7 months ago

All We Like Sheep Have Gone Astray

Link: http://actionable.wordpress.com/2014/08/30/all-we-like-sheep-have-gone-astray/


Unsettled, the haplessly-institutionalised incumbents huddled together for warmth, two to a cubicle, cruel flickering artificial light obliterating any capacity they once might have harbored for self-actualisation or for problem-solving, casting an especially-stark relief upon their miserable, wasteful, angsty souls.

They were unsettled by the juggernaut paperweight reputation of the new shepherd coming to guide them, probably to slaughter them, certainly to restructure them, and this new shepherd, this new shepherd was certified!  This new shepherd with a string of certifications long as a donkey’s tail: TOGAF, ITIL, PRINCE2, PMI, COBIT, MSCE, and a beginner’s first-aid certificate and some first-year classics and ancient history university study as a bonus.

Their fearfulness was palpable and paralysing and visceral, but, in the end, thoroughly unwarranted, for this new shepherd was just a person, just a person with the same pains, hopes, and fallibilities the rest of us have.

There continues to be much over-hype about certifications in IT, particularly about enterprise-architecture certifications, and particularly about TOGAF certification.  Demonstrating core knowledge in a domain or discipline through a standardised assessment process is a good thing, and establishing reliable credentials is a good thing for the profession of Enterprise Architecture.

Where the simple system of “credentialled = worthy” breaks apart is the point at which the credential itself becomes imbued with mystique and desirability and is viewed as an end in itself.  For enterprise architecture, where the professional practice must be adapted from one vertical to the next, from one organisation to the next, from one practitioner to the next, and from one type of engagement to another, having a detailed map to follow is neither possible nor sensible.  What’s needed is a compass, not a map1, and none of the major enterprise-architecture frameworks currently provide compasses or maps.

Gartner summarises the current state of affairs nicely in the 2014 edition of the Hype Cycle for Enterprise Architecture2, including observations that:

  • certification’s value is unclear to organisations
  • certification’s value is unclear to individuals
  • certification is a good thing to have on your resume
  • certification implies almost nothing about proficiency

The always-insightful, always-thought-provoking Tom Graves makes crucial observations about skills and (or versus) certifications in his Saving enterprise-architecture from itself post3:

  • certification has become a commonplace recruitment filter for enterprise architecture roles, and this approach weights certification (which is typically no more than a few-days-long short course) overwhelmingly and disproportionately more heavily than years of applied experience working as an enterprise architect
  • certification in enterprise architecture frameworks ignores the enormously-important complement of soft skills (the communication, leadership, collaboration, and adaptability) that are essential for success as an enterprise architect — they do this because the enterprise architecture frameworks themselves are barren of soft-skills content

Jason Bloomberg’s new Bloomberg Agile Architecture4 is a great new example of practical, adaptable, and flexible applied enterprise architecture.  This new technique differentiates itself from the traditional heavyweight do-everything subtractive frameworks (i.e., you discard pieces of the framework you think  you don’t need) by instead taking an additive approach that incorporates elements, artefacts, and capabilities as they are found to be required in order to deliver a particular business outcome.  There’s much to like about this approach.

The danger for enterprise architecture is that the academic energies wasted mewling sheeplike after the frameworks and the certifications are preventing us from forming constructive connections with our customers, partners, and stakeholders, and inject bedazzling interfering distractions that prevent fulfilling the mission and promise of business-outcome-focused enterprise architecture.  Curiously, the more of us that become certified in a common framework, the better the chances of those frameworks being improved, of architects developing common vocabulary and process, and the better the chances of certification’s value becoming clear and visible.

The frameworks have much to contribute to and provide anchor for the practice of enterprise architecture, and there is value to be found in them, but leading in a still-diverse and still-immature profession with overemphasised focus on the merits of certification as a rite of passage and entitlement to speak is leading all we, like sheep, astray.





  1. Principle 3 here is very nice: “compasses over maps” = MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference, 2014, Joi Ito’s 9 Principles of the Media Lab, http://vimeo.com/99160925
  2. Betsy Burton & Philip Allega, 2014, Hype Cycle for Enterprise Architecture, 2014, http://www.gartner.com/document/2804819
  3. Tom Graves, 2013, Saving enterprise-architecture from itself – 3: Skills and certification, http://weblog.tetradian.com/2013/11/11/saving-ea-from-itself-3-skills/
  4. Jason Bloomberg provides essential reading for enterprise architects in these two pieces:
    1. 2014, Is Enterprise Architecture Completely Broken?, http://www.forbes.com/sites/jasonbloomberg/2014/07/11/is-enterprise-architecture-completely-broken/
    2. 2014, Is the BAA Technique an Architecture Framework?, http://intellyx.com/introducing-the-bloomberg-agile-architecture-technique/is-the-baa-technique-an-architecture-framework/