30 Mar 2014
I worked my way through Milan Guenther’s book “Intersection: How Enterprise Design Bridges the Gap Between Business, Technology and People”. It was a delightful read, at the right depth and breadth to begin looking holistically at enterprise design, particularly for those outside of the field. More importantly it provides a nice framework to start your exploration of these topics.
Intersection is aptly titled, as it blends and synthesizes the various domains that enterprises naturally encompass - people, business models, process, and technology. It even provides a decent implementation framework in case you ever decide to hang out your shingle as an independent consultant.
As noted in my previous post, the book itself is beautifully designed with bright colors, and plenty of white space. It also is written at an appropriate pace. Weighing in just north of 450 pages, it is surprisingly light in tone and an easy read despite the diverse nature of the topics covered. In order to get the most value out of the book, it should be digested in small sections, particularly when you get into the framework sections.
While packed with insights and hidden gems, Intersection is at its core an introductory survey into design, and its various related disciplines. Its strengths are in the provided case studies, framework, and the references section. I’m not sure there is a book on the market today that synthesizes the diverse topics of Experience Design, Content Strategy, Enterprise Architecture, and Technology Design, just to name a few of the topics covered.
My key take away, or perhaps what is currently resonating with me, is the notion that the experiences people have in the enterprise are influenced by the automation and reliance on tools (applications, networks, databases, etc.). Those tools are ultimately reflective of the organization since humans internally and often externally are using these them to perform some activity. Extending this notion, is there a quantifiable relationship between brand identity and the maturity of its enterprise architecture? Is it predictive in nature and will it conveniently feed back into enterprise architecture maturity models?
Because of its depth and breadth, this book will serve as a reference to point towards various disciplines for deeper study and analysis. For the Technologist, Business Strategist or Enterprise Architect looking to reconcile back towards your end users, you will find valuable insights that will challenge your notion of what an enterprise is, and its connective tissue. However, for the well-read design or user experience professional, I think this book might be too light in content in the various topics. I suspect those individuals will want to start at the framework and jump right into the meat of any particular area of interest. Even so, a good actionable framework is hard to find, let alone design. That alone is worth the cost of acquiring this book.
03 Nov 2013
Christine Outram, a human-centered smart city and big data strategist, wrote a very keen blog post about What Starbucks Gets that Architects Don’t. In it, she laments the Architecture discipline’s inconsistent ethnographic research, the over reliance on “rules of thumb and pattern books”, the lack of desire to connect with actual users of the physical space, and incorporating human feedback into the design process. She contrasts that with an example of Starbucks doing the exact opposite during their architecture design process and creating a rich and welcoming environment for their coffee houses. For Enterprise Architects, her points are all too familiar.
Enterprise Architecture equally suffers from a lack of desire to be human-centered. Our profession has numerous analogues with City Planning and Architecture, and if you make a few terminology substutions, Christine’s article is equally applicable.
No wonder architecture has become a niche vocation. You don’t connect with people any more. – Christine Outram
Enterprise Architecture today is a niche profession that isn’t human centered. All to often Enterprise Architects get caught up in the weight of the discipline. We tend to talk in our own language (frameworks, models, Zachman, etc) and completely miss out on opportunities to make a tangible difference in the people and processes that consume our work. When people don’t understand what we do or why it should matter, we get defensive. Worse than that, we rarely talk to others in our enterprises about the value that we can add in plain speech.
We can reconcile towards our users. A simple way to start is to adapt and apply the principle of Hallway Usability Testing to the larger enterprise. Talk to people about their perceptions of Enterprise Architecture. Listen to their feedback and engage with them to learn more about their needs. Avoid the buzzwords, and please don’t mention frameworks. You’ll be surprised at what you learn, and how it can factor into the planning and strategy process. By becoming more human centered we can begin to change the perception of Enterprise Architecture and begin building a better enterprise.
Follow Christine on Twitter here: @CityInnovation
21 Jul 2013
Rackspace put out a blog post entitled “The Human API Helps Mailgun Stay Nimble”. The article starts out talking about one of my favorite topics in object oriented programming, encapsulation, and quickly moves into how to talk products via API’s (Application Programming interface). Lastly the author describes how a Human (centered) API is handling communications for Mailgun and makes a very insightful observation.
Large software products can bear an uncanny resemblance to groups of humans - how they grow and evolve and how decisions are made. Minimizing the dependencies between groups of people achieves similar results: more autonomous, independent (and preferably small) teams are usually more productive, can change direction more freely and are able to react to the changing business environments more quickly.
Whether or not you are 100% bought into the concept of Building Better Enterprises, you should at least be on board with the notion of minimizing dependencies between groups of people (i.e. functional silos) to encourage productivity and flexibility. One of the ways I believe you can stitch together a modern human centered enterprise is by well formed communication channels. To continue to riff on the API analogy, your internal communication interactions should mimic the characteristics of a well formed API. Meaning that the interactions should:
- Only occur with the appropriate audience
- Should accept as an input, all forms of communication and direct it to the appropriate place for action or processing
- Only output well formed, structured, and meaningful responses
The crew at Mailgun should be applauded for helping to create a human centered enterprise and exploring systems that encourage autonomony and flexibility. I will be interested in learning how they scale their Human (centered) API in the future.
11 Jun 2013
I have been taking some much needed vacation over the past month. During time, I have been working my way through [Milan Guenther’s] new book, [“Intersection: How Enterprise Design Bridges the Gap Between Business, Technology and People”]. I will do a more formal book review in the near future, but I wanted to share my initial thoughts:
The book is beautifully designed. If you are expecting a boring academic tome, look elsewhere. The colors pop, the typography is visually pleasing, and the layout utilizes plenty of white space for serial margin writers like me.
The book synthesizes disparate topics using design principles as the cement that binds them together. It introduces a framework to help bridge the gap and it is cohesive and actionable.
So far it is an easy and enjoyable read. The case studies are very interesting and artfully presented.
Follow Milan on Twitter here: @eda__c
29 Apr 2013
When I step outside of my role as an Enterprise Architect and examine IT from the eyes of the user, particularly the vocal minority/majority that inform me of IT’s latest transgressions, its clear that there is a misalignment between the process by which we organize IT and the outcomes our users desire. One of the ways this misalignment physically manifests itself is in the form of [Shadow IT]. Recently I’ve been getting an earful about what IT has taken away from them this time. I’ve heard everything from access to Skype and Google Voice being shut down with no viable corporate sponsored alternative, to a division provisioning its own server cluster, better than the corporate standard, only to have it shut down. Common to each misalignment scenario was the notion that no one from IT explained the rationale (in language that humans can understand) and no one followed up to identify what the root cause of the desire to seek out these “non-standard tools”.
After thinking deeply about each misalignment scenario, I couldn’t help but come to the conclusion that the modern enterprise is broken. Such a misalignment can only be resolved by reconciliations. I am of the belief that a modern Enterprise Architect must lead this reconciliation – and take steps toward the user.
One could argue that IT rather enjoys the [“VP of No”] role. Despite an [abundance] [of] [research] and insights on how people work, saying “No Freakin’ Way” to the next generation tools and underlying motivations for mobility and flexibility to get work done isn’t a viable option. It causes the misalignment that breaks the enterprise. The users needs, and the tools they seek to implement, are more dynamic than the traditional IT command and control model allows. The tension between the needs of humans doing work and IT’s objective to keep corporate data, networks, and systems secure can be a powerful force for innovation by providing necessary constraints to a wide open problem space.
Except IT typically isn’t organized for listening to the greater needs of the Enterprise and misses countless opportunities to leverage those moments of tension into tangible innovation products and services, thereby reconciling towards the user.
What does this reconciliation look like? I don’t know is probably the most accurate and honest answer. But a step towards it might reflect a consultancy with a contract that is universally aligned and incentivized towards the clients holistic best interest. In this world IT would provide the guard rails of core infrastructure, platform and tools – biasing towards organization innovation rather than consistency. The rest of the organization would be embedded in cross disciplinary project teams, all working to stitch together the enterprise into a coherent whole by designing, building, iterating and managing the entire life cycle (and renewal) of the enterprise productivity itself. With this as the foundation, I put forth that the modern Enterprise Architect’s role is to build, improve and refine systems that foster innovation.