Implementing a Corporate EA training capability framework?

This is a rambling entry, because one of my biggest issues is that my brain is always churning. I have thoughts that keep cycling, re-cycling and uncovering new stones ad infinitum. So sometimes, when it comes to writing – my thought processes makes it impossible to provide any form of standardised flow of defined structure. So, I’m not going to bother and just create an extension of my blogging and discussion style, because, frankly, that is far more natural to me and those who know me. So, please, bear with me …

I have a hypothesis that the education system that sprung from the industrial revolution is no longer as relevant nor as effective as it once was. In a [western] world where the focus is on service industries, how do those old training courses, materials and methods assist us? Yet, how does one teach those elements that are important in a world of service? This same question, I feel, is relevant to the scope of the Enterprise Architect.

As an example, in the teaching of small business mechanics, the courses would rely on basic engineering, the basics of internal combustion engines, small business bookkeeping, profit and loss calculations – all of which are well and good for an industrial role – but when in today’s world the lifeblood of a service garage can be altered with the taps of a yelp review – how do you teach the fine line between personable and pushover for customer service? How do you teach a great mechanic to explain the problem and resolution in such a way as it doesn’t sound like it is bigger than ben hur, yet isn’t so simplified that it seems minor and then bill shock occurs?

There seems to be the same issues In the world of Enterprise Architecture. There are the same issues of skill based experience and the ability to service the client. There is also a dichotomous thinking between capability and education that I have been mentally tackling with.

At this stage allow me to digress —

I have an underlying assumption that Enterprise Architecture is a business discipline and not an IT discipline. I believe that EA has become an IT discipline because, frankly, it was IT workers who were asking the questions and performing the analysis.

The problem is, to my view, akin to a mechanic taking over the logistics company. They saw the issues and they asked the questions, but the answers all came out as ways of improving the workshops, the trucks and the engines – never once asking if the issue could be resolved by asking “does that even need to be shipped?”.

In the world of EA, therefore, I see a lot of people still asking about the technologies the EA is experienced in. It is the wrong question, for a number of reasons. I think, partly due to the discipline growing [mostly] out of IT, but also due a misunderstanding of the role and progression of the skills and scope of the roles across the gradients from Engineer to Architect to Enterprise Architect.

Analogies are double edged swords, because it is always easy to pick them apart, however they are a great way to try and demonstrate similarities. Thus let me try and see if I can explain the gradient utilising the concepts of building and car design.

A lead car designer would develop the concepts for the manufactured vehicle, taking into consideration the target market, the general governance of the brand, any number of laws and regulations, the aim of the product line and the ultimate aim of the end user. They combine art, business, engineering and a range of experiences to put together a final product – but not before making use of a range of inputs and expertise from other designers and engineers. They may no longer (or perhaps never even possessed) the deep mechanical knowledge of engine design, but they understand that an engine bay must exist to fit the limitations of current engineering. The fact that an engine may be limited to certain emission standards is not their concern, only that the design of the engine is accommodated for within the overall aim of the vehicle.

In a similar fashion, an urban planner is not considering the individual designs of homes. Urban planners develop plans and programs for the use of the land against a range of planning guidelines set by federal, state and local governments. They need to take into consideration a range of inputs for transportation, accommodating growth, implementing utilities and building communities. There may even be environmental and cultural limitations to their design. If an area is known to be a floodplain, it is best to not design residential zoning in that region, for example. If a native people have a claim to a religious artefact in a zone, it may be best to surround it with parkland. In their planning, they need to be aware that there are differing community types that need to be accommodated for and thus governance and planning needs to be flexible enough for industrial, retail, a mix of high and low density living and understand that land allotment sizes need to differ for each use as well as the form of utility that is made available to them. All this, must still be done in light of the aforementioned regulations and overall consideration of the final smoothly functioning city. Do they need to be experienced in designing houses? No, but they do need to be aware of what the limitations are.

Both of these analogies help us define the scope of an EA, for both are aspects of the way we utilise them in the real world. Some are the urban planners of a business. They are looking out for the entire landscape. Others are only responsible for the implementation of a certain “product”. In either case, the skills of the EA are not going to be about their low-level or deep-dive knowledge, it is about them knowing enough to begin the conversation, to drive the teams and gather the input to put it all together. The skills that make these people successful, are not the traditional hard skills – but the soft skills – the capabilities and competencies that are always, somehow, set aside for the easily measurable and certifiable skill sets.

— so, now let me end my digression and return to my original thought.

We are, through the traditional forms of educational institutions, and their new digital counterparts, able to provide a range of methods and materials to teach people hard skills. I can run an employee through a 4 week course of Microsoft products and then run them through a range of projects to bolster their learning with experience. This is nothing new, and quite easy to achieve.

I can utilise this method to train, and upskill system administrators into subject matter expert engineers and into design engineers and even through to a technical architect. Simply by throwing them into one course after the other and bolstering with experience. The recipe is a good mix of books and certifications based around a set of complimentary technologies that expand their scope along with a mix of ITIL, some Business Analysis and even a TOGAF course to round it off.

Wherein I then find myself reaching the limit of this methodology.

So, in the corporate world, we can implement global training frameworks – we can utilise development plans, MOOCs, licensed learning management systems, eLibraries, develop in-house training and even subsidise traditional learning offerings – all for the purposes of maintaining a certain set of skills, upskilling the existing staff and maintaining a baseline level of competency across those staff.

What is important up to the “Technical” levels of the Architectural spectrum is those details around products, technologies, methodologies, governance and systemic thinking. However, rising from this level of the spectrum, I expect far, far more from any of the subsequent variations of a Programme Architect, a Solution Architect, Industry or Chief Architect, and of course, an Enterprise Architect.

It’s a form of thinking, an ability to deal with complexity and ambiguity and conflict and stakeholder management and teamwork and reiteration and team management and a million other elements that are all under the obfuscated guise of soft skills.

Can you implement a training programme that helps brain elasticity? That promotes out-of-the-boxes-left-field thinking? Offers to strengthen analytical skills? Improve human interaction? Diminish their fear of public talking? Improve their charisma?

I’m sure the answers are out there, and I’m sure it’s possible – so the question is – who has undergone this process? What have you learnt? What would you repeat? If you had to start again, what advice would you give?

[re-posted from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/implementing-ea-training-capability-framework-taiss-quartapa]

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