Informing the pursuit of digital era ambitions and challenges

I never intend to halt my public writing. It just happens. A client invites me to work on interesting problem, which can lead to another interesting problem or client, and before long only the crickets remain here. During this latest, much prolonged, cricket chorus I’ve been helping clients pursue digital agenda items.

It is critical to digress for a moment to mention: there is no one-size-fits-all digital agenda, nor is there an all encompassing digital solution. The digital agenda of any given organization (or individual) will depend on ambitions and challenges, as enabled or constrained by existing situation and organizational capacity. </digression>

The work I’ve been involved in ranged from developing digital products, to defining organizational capacity, to guiding architecture actions: bimodal cohesion, systems knitting and information pathways.

While the engagements varied in purpose, problem domain and industry, there were common threads — beyond the coalescing digital technologies of cloud, mobile, social, analytics, sensors and such.

The common threads are best described as shifts forced by the digital era. Five that I witnessed in the wild:

  • Executive embrace of technology for revenue generation and smarter business actions
  • Pivot of attention from the needs of the organization to the needs of the customer (member, citizen)
  • Extension (or two) of the data-to-knowledge pipeline to include reaction and revenue
  • Reconciliation of designing for change (enterprise architecture) with operating for change (digital product development)
  • Recognition that new digital opportunities require new thinking in investment, organization design, roles, practices and measures

An interesting point is who is working on digital initiatives. There are new, often cross-industry, talents who specialize in design, customer experience, or product development. There are deep experts in business, technical or data domains. And at the core are an organization’s go-to problem-solvers.

Those individuals who invariably get tapped on the shoulder to explore new terrain, mount a defense, or unravel a giant hairball. These folks have varied titles, expertise and day jobs, but share traits of critical and systems thinking, curiosity, technical acumen, business savvy, tenacity, collaboration and execution ability.

It is this last group, the go-to problem-solvers that I’ve been thinking about as I pursue my latest independent project. Building from my field work, I’ve begun sketching out key forces, questions, considerations, capacities, actions, implications and so on that inform the pursuit of digital era ambitions and challenges.

The problem space I’ve sketched out includes technical, societal, business, information, organizational, and individual domains, as digital is a cross-discipline, cross-boundary endeavor.

I use the term problem space deliberately, as I’m considering this work from the perspective of a problem-solver, for fellow problem-solvers who are being tasked with crafting and executing their organization’s digital agendas.

I plan to share aspects of my work as I go, along with relevant links and commentary. What I won’t share are specifics on my client work, as non-disclosure is another commonality in pursuing digital ambitions.

If history is a guide, my pursuit and output won’t be linear. But, neither is the subject matter.

And yes, I intend to keep the crickets at bay, at least until summer.

Stop talking about enterprise architecture. Go solve a problem.

Many years ago, as a newly minted lead architect, I had a memorable initial 1×1 with our organization’s CIO. After reviewing my hand drawn (pencil on paper) application and information landscape, and hearing the CIO’s vision for common front-ends across retail, catalog and (burgeoning) web channel, we discussed the state of the union, and the inevitable gap from here to there.

After I listed ten or so gap items, I looked to the CIO for verification and prioritization. Instead, the CIO said, “I don’t care what you do, just do something.”

I admit. I was taken aback by the CIO’s response. Afterwards, I sat in my cube wondering why the organization created this new (enterprise architecture predecessor) position, if the big boss didn’t care what I worked on.

Then though, thankfully, I interpreted the CIO’s message differently, correctly. The CIO didn’t care which of the litany of items I picked, because tackling any item would move us closer to the ultimate, customer-centric vision.

This is the perspective I draw from as I advise architects and enterprise architecture groups who struggle in starting, or revitalizing an architecture practice. To get traction, don’t get tangled up in a framework or methodology, go solve a problem.

The problem doesn’t even need to reside in the (traditional) enterprise architecture domain. Nor does the solution have to be perfect, or in classic form. Just move your organization closer to there, from here. Repeat as required.

While this problem-solving, action-oriented approach can slow-down the generation of traditional artifacts and processes, it does accelerate value generation, and really, isn’t that the point.

Need to grow your architecture practice and credibility? Go solve a problem.

Patterns of intrapreneurs and great enterprise architects

Reading Recognize Intrapreneurs Before They Leave – Vijay Govindarajan and Jatin Desai – Harvard Business Review, I was struck by the commonality between the intrapeneurs referenced in the article, and the best enterprise architects I’ve met, worked with.

Quite possibly, it is because really great enterprise architects are forward-thinking, creative, reflective and execution-capable.

The pattern match:

“Pattern #2: Strategic Scanning. Intrapreneurs are constantly thinking about what is next, one step into the future. These passionate change agents are highly engaged, very clear, and visibly consistent in their work and interactions. They are not sitting around waiting for the world to change; they’re figuring out which part of the world is about to change, and they will arrive just in time to leverage their new insights. Learning is like oxygen to them.

Pattern #3: Greenhousing. Intrapreneurs tend to contemplate the seed of an idea for days and weeks between calls, meetings, and conversation. As they shine more light on it, the idea becomes clearer, but they don’t yet share it. They know that others may dismiss it without fully appreciating it — so they tend to ideas in their greenhouse, protecting them for a while from potential naysayers.

Pattern #4: Visual Thinking. Visual thinking is a combination of brainstorming, mind mapping, and design thinking. Only after an exciting insight do intrapreneurs seem able to formulate and visualize a series of solutions in their head—rarely do they formulate just one solution. They do not act impulsively on a solution immediately, keenly aware of the need to honor the discovery phase for the new solution, giving it time to develop and crystallize.”