Models that clients can use

By Patrick Hoverstadt, Fractal

Before I was a consultant, I had a “proper job”. This involved persuading recalcitrant pieces of steel to be a different size and shape to the one they naturally wanted to be and often this was in the production of architectural steelwork to match the designs of architects. These were “real architects” designing real buildings. I remember one contract and a meeting with the architect, the client and the head of the building firm and as often happened, the drawings didn’t totally match the reality on the ground. The problem was that if I made the steelwork to the drawings it wouldn’t really fit – or at least something would need butchering to make the steelwork fit the rest of the building. The architect could see the problem, I could see the problem, but neither the client, nor the builder could see the problem at all. And that was because they couldn’t read the drawings and understand the implications for their translation into a three dimensional curved structure. The drawing approach used was fine for a technical specialist to interpret, but hopeless for a client. The client simply could not look at the drawing and make sense of it, could not understand from the drawing what the building was going to be like, whether it was going to be light and airy, or claustrophobic. The drawing told the client next to nothing about what he was getting, not because it was wrong, but because it was indecipherable – you could see their eyes glazing over as they looked at it.

And from architects of buildings to architects of enterprises…

Although I am not an enterprise architect, I do have a couple of things in common with EAs. First is that I design organisations for a living and have done for 20 years – since I gave up the “proper job”. The second thing in common is that like EA, we design organisations using a modelling technique that is totally indecipherable to the vast majority of clients. In our case we use systems and cybernetic models of organisation which map out structures of: operations, value creation, performance management, decision making, change and the information and communication flows between them. The models we build tend to look like slightly weird wiring diagrams and because we tend to get asked in to model quite complex organisations, they can be quite complex weird wiring diagrams. For a long time, this indecipherability was a barrier to communicating with clients, but it was just something we took for granted and had learned to live with. We’d do the modelling away from the client and then translate the results into something they could understand.

And then we developed a new modelling format – which was designed to be accessible to a non technical audience. It lacks the look and some of the sophistication of the “wiring diagram” format, but it has the advantage of being a model of their organisation that management teams can actually work with. The difference this accessibility makes can be dramatic. In one client that we’d tried for several years to sell organisation redesign to, merely leaving a copy of the new accessible model on the table was enough – the director of transformation took one look at it and pronounced “I want one of those!”. In another multi-national organisation, the model became a coveted artefact for senior managers and strategic decision makers. How many EA models get used for developing business strategy, or to enable senior managers to do their own organisational redesign?

For us part of the challenge for EA is to break away from developing models that are only ever developed and used by enterprise architects. As long as EA focuses primarily on building models for itself rather than ones the business can use to solve business problems it must struggle for the credibility to influence strategic decisions.  Conversely, developing a visualisation of the organisation which becomes the touchstone for key business decision takers is a way that EA could use to increase its influence and contribution.