4. Can your domain expertise hurt you?

This seems to be an absurd statement but think about this problem from outside IT: A jet bomber streaks across the sky of a friendly city. Its bomb bay doors are open; a live bomb is loose inside; it is armed and unattached from its mountings. At any moment the bomb can simply fall from the bomb bay and devastate the city. What prevents this from happening? Think about it and we’ll get back to it later.

TJ and I notice in our teaching that the in-person classroom sessions tend to be pretty lively. A small handful of students ask questions which seem to serve two purposes. First, they seem to need more information to integrate the learning with their ways of remembering things. This is good. Second, they are looking for creative ideas they can use to introduce some of the concepts to their organization. This is even better (as long as they pass their exams).

We know from the questions and interactivity that our students are capable of understanding the material and functioning as Enterprise Architects.

Things change slightly when we do the exercises. At several points during the classes we break into small groups to work through various exercises related to the material. There are no wrong answers, just a sharing of information among the groups.

In one of the exercises the organization and all of its problems are discussed. The list of woes is fairly short and touches on issues like losing big customers, software transaction problems, data inconsistencies and an excess of data centers in the organization. The groups need to identify the key problems from the pile of issues and then suggest who the key stakeholders are that relate to the problems they have identified.

Domain architecture shows up when people say that multiple redundant data centers are the main concern of the organization. This is an issue, but the organization isn’t making much money and they’re losing their largest customers. Is there something else that’s a bigger issue?

When you work within a single domain, such as applications, data, technology or business processes, you can focus on the issues that best support the delivery of service in that domain. Better networking supports better technology service delivery regardless of whether it contributes to the overall effectiveness of your business. It might or it might not improve business effectiveness.

When you work as an Enterprise Architect you may need to identify more than one opportunity to improve service delivery from one or more architecture domain. The art of Enterprise Architecture is in the ability to pick the opportunity that best supports the overall business in its quest to deliver good service and create the desired outcomes of the businesses’ strategy.

Having deep experience in a single domain can be an asset and an occasional liability. The liability emerges when the Enterprise Architect seizes on the brilliance of their decision based on that deep knowledge without fully considering opportunities in other domains. As an Enterprise Architect you’re no longer the smartest person in the room. Consulting with other domain specialists becomes more important in the decision making process. Good decisions become a process of wiggling the variables to see which ones contribute the most to achieving the identified objectives.

Back to that airplane in the first paragraph: You might have jumped immediately to the answer; many kids do; many adults do too. If you’re a pilot who understands the forces of lift, acceleration and drag on the airframe you probably have an idea but can’t express it verbally. Your answer might be something about a parabolic trajectory with a constant rate of centripetal acceleration along the … blah blah blah. Actually it’s simpler than all that. The plane is flying upside down.

Think about this next time you’re stuck between several possible best choices. You don’t have to be the smartest guy in the room. Expertise is all around. Just ask for help. The answer is out there.


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