Successful Teams Have Strong Leaders

By Paul T. Preiss

Abstract: There are many traits that make a great architecture leader, but with 40-50% of architecture teams failing, it may be time we begin learning how to make them succeed.

While so much has been written on this subject that is should go without saying, there is much to be said about leadership for architects. I was speaking with Jeff Scott yesterday, and he reiterated this principle to me as we discussed the field and what makes for successful teams. Many people and organizations have noted for some time that current architecture teams fail at an alarming rate. I don’t mean on projects, I mean as teams.

I have recently been privy to at least 5 organizational team failures, many of which resulted in the extinction of the entire enterprise architecture construct. Each of those cases was the result of a major supporter from EA either changing employers (leaving) or moving to another role in the organization. In one instance, the individual was promoted and even though he used to run EA he went ahead and disbanded it. This prompts me to ask a significant number of questions that we as a profession need to answer:

1. What does a dynamic leader or sponsor of EA do? How do they help sustain the success of the EA practice or is it just that EA ends up being a ‘gift’ to a dynamic leader who wants it to exist?

2. How do we characterize, calculate, evaluate, estimate, and communicate the value of EA? Let’s not get pedantic or philosophical about this. WHY do you make so much money, in real terms?

3. How do we groom the entire team to be successful through a transition? How do we ensure that a change in leadership will not be the death of the whole team?

4. How do we focus on value delivery, bringing our stakeholders with us, instead of yet another modeling project (YAMP – the EA anti-pattern)?

Iasa has spent a long time trying to answer these questions. We’ve spent most of our time on number 2 but the time has come to focus on number 1. What makes an effective EA leader? Do they have to be architects? Do they have to be an executive? Jeff made a great point yesterday, “Sure it’s great to have executive sponsorship. Absolutely. That’s like saying it’s great to be on a picnic on a perfect spring day. We know that. However, if you have it or if you don’t, you still have to deliver to value.” So a great leader of EA will help the team deliver to value. How?

1. Shepherding and Pruning the Team Vision: Leadership is sometimes about being ahead and sometimes about being ‘beside’ the team. When you are ahead you are helping the team to catch up with your shared vision. When you are beside the team you are helping them contribute and lead themselves. What a great EA leader does is keep the team focused on the value they are delivering and the strategies needed to achieve the next step.

2. Protecting the Team: Great EA teams cause a lot of commotion in an enterprise. They turn over rocks, they unplug the stereo, and they ask really hard questions. This requires a leader who can back them up and communicate the importance of this activity. Architects are curious creatures. We tend to like really hard problems and we don’t really understand why anyone would want to do something that isn’t valuable. These traits cause a lot of hurt feelings and fear in the average organization especially with people who are comfortable doing things the way they’ve been done forever. A great leader must be able to teach their people better ways of going about they roles (human dynamics) as well as manage communication at the senior most levels about why this is what’s important to the enterprise.

3. Keeping the Team Relevant: The vast majority of EAs today approach the job as a modeling and engineering role. Our origin and our experience have told us that if we can “model the enterprise” then we can “design the enterprise”. This may be the case in some organizations, but the truth of the role is that models serve only to help us in decision making and that our purpose is to ensure value through transformation and execution. Of course there is also an expectation that we ADD value to the equation not just manage it. This often is related to some form of technology and domain expertise. But if the EA team decides that modelling the universe is the way to go, all of the value disappears and they are a short hop away from irrelevancy. A great leader keeps their team focused on value – models come third or fourth.

There are many traits that make a great architecture leader but with 40-50% of architecture teams failing, it may be time we begin learning how to make them succeed.

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