Enterprise Architects – What attributes do you look for?

by | February 14, 2010

Building on my previous post Starting Your EA Practice – What roles would you pick?, this post looks at attributes of individuals and suggests some that have worked in our strategic practices of which Enterprise Architecture is one.

When my colleague and friend, Dave Cresswell and I started working towards building an EA practice, we coined the name “Strategic Practices”. Disciplines like Enterprise Architecture (Business Analysis/Architecture, Solutions Architecture), IT Security, Project/Program Management and Business Continuity/Disaster Recovery (Risk Management) cut across all areas of an organization are all represented in the Strategic Practice group.

First we discussed the difference between skills and talents.  Skills are critical for us to deliver services and it is management’s responsibility to ensure the people in their care have the skills to perform their duties.  I put as strong focus on personal learning plans for my team to ensure that together, we plan to keep them current and advancing in their chosen field. 

Our belief is that Talent is significantly more important than Skills – skills can be taught, talent is something a person brings with them.

Skills (examples)

  • create complex technical solutions
  • creating structured documents
  • manage structured processes
  • utilize complex tools
  • analytical skills (added Sept 12, 2010 – thanks to Doug Newdick @dougnewdick)
  • technical skills
  • writing
  • logic

Talents (examples)

  • conceptualization – explaining complex ideas
  • enterprise perspective – big picture thinking
  • innovation – willing to try and fail
  • facilitation – consensus building
  • leadership – creating a vision and guiding people
  • communication – listening as well as presenting

As we looked for people to fill the roles, we needed a way to describe what “type” of person we thought would be successful as a “Strategic Practitioner”.  To start we identified two types of people 1) the specialist and 2) the generalist. Neither quite fit our picture of a Strategic Practitioner.  Below are the attributes for each role type:

The Specialist

  • deep skills and experience
  • narrow scope (domain)
  • peer respect and recognition
  • unknown outside their domain (few interactions)

The Generalist

  • shallow skills and experience
  • broad scope (multi-domain)
  • lack of peer respect and recognition
  • widely known (many interactions)

What we needed was a blend of both the specialist and the generalist – the strategic practitioner!  This is a very hard person to find. I really believe organizations need to create career development programs to help develop these attributes.

The Strategic Practitioner

  • deep skills and experience
  • broad skills (multi-domain)
  • peer respect and recognition
  • widely known (many interactions)

Well what do you think? Are these the kind of people you would expect as Enterprise Architects? We do.

I blogged on a complementary theme in March 2008 – Being a Teacher Works for Me.  Also reading Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great” helped us  in our thinking about a “Strategic Practitioner” as well as leveraging our Gartner subscription for ideas.

9 thoughts on “Enterprise Architects – What attributes do you look for?

  1. Pingback: Software Gab » What software out there is excellent in doing enterprise planning?

  2. Tom Graves

    I like the term ‘Strategic Practitioner’ a lot, and I do think you’re going the right way overall.

    There are a few key differences between strategy and architecture (especially enterprise-architecture), as I’ve written recently on my own blog – see http://weblog.tomgraves.org/index.php/2010/01/28/ea-and-strategy/ and http://weblog.tomgraves.org/index.php/2010/02/02/vision-strategy-plans-and-tactics/ – might be useful to be sure which of the two you’re aiming for here.

    I know your skill-set list is only examples, but I would advocate including ‘synthesis’, as a necessary counterbalance to analysis/logic – otherwise you end almost automatically back in the specialist-only camp.

    The only real worry I have is that I fear you’re being unrealistic in asking for deep _and_ broad. The problem is simply one of _time_. Keeping up to date in just one specialism is hard enough these days; but being expected to keep up to date in many different and often diametrically-opposed skills will be way too much to ask in real-world practice. More realistic might be that the practitioner has _had_ depth-experience in several different key fields, rather than is necessarily fully current in all of them. I would recommend an attitude of ‘current-_enough_’ – not necessarily current in depth, even in anything, but _does_ know enough to know what the current themes and trends are, and how to hold meaningful conversations with specialists who _are_ fully current in each field.

  3. LeodeSousa Post author

    Tom, thank you for the great feedback. I like your suggestion of ‘synthesis’. Just to clarify, the deep and broad part relates to the person having deep skills in a domain of EA with the ability to go broad in the other domain areas of EA. I started out with depth in data and information architecture and then broadened my experience in the other domains. I will take a look at your posts and comment further.

    Cheers! Leo

  4. Bas van Gils


    I really like the analysis in terms of skills vs talents, specialist vs generalist. These are things we struggle with on a daily basis in both consulting and teaching. As you already pointed out, skills can be learned. One can learn how to do decomposition for a new IT-system, how to do functional analysis to design a new business process, or how to implement a six-sigma approach in an enterprise.

    Learning these skills takes time, which is why it is to be expected that there are few young (under thirty) good enterprise architects. Especially since they also need the proper mindset and talents.

    I’m not so sure about the term ‘strategic practitioner’ though. I think the EA community will like it, but the strategic management community wont as they (correctly!) feel the term ‘strategy’ is applied to too many things already.

    1. Leo de Sousa Post author

      Bas, Thank you for the comments and insights. The term “Strategic Practitioner” does not replace Enterprise Architect or Strategic Planner. We created a “strategic” team that had senior staff from EA, PM, IT Security, IT Strategy, BCP/DR and called it “Strategic Practices”. All the best, Leo

  5. Doug Newdick

    Hi Leo,

    In general I agree with what you are saying. And I like your definition of a strategic practitioner, however I would see that more as an ideal to aspire to, rather than a necessary condition to being an EA. Another thing I’m not convinced about is your distinction between skills and talents, I know from experience that you can teach conceptualisation and communication – however all of the items on both lists are important. One skill/talent that I think you are missing is “analysis” – the ability to take something (an idea, a problem) and break it into appropriate pieces to facilitate understanding, problem-solving and solutioning etc.



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