Starting Your EA Practice – what roles would you pick?

by | January 21, 2010

In early December 2010, I spent 2 days at the Microsoft Canadian College Update. I sent Nick Malik (@nickmalik) a message and we met for lunch. I really enjoy catching up with other Enterprise Architects and Nick is top of my list.  We talked about a broad range of topics like how EA can help with downsizing, EA models and data, Center for  the Advancement of the Enterprise Architecture Practice and Twitter.

The topic of forming an EA team came up.  “How would you staff up an EA team?” Nick challenged me by asking “Would your first hire be an Enterprise Architect?” At first I thought, yes of course an EA office needs EA’s in it.  Well not so fast … if the EA Office was being put together for the first time in an organization, what does it really need to do?

Show value early and often to the organization. In order to do this, an Enterprise Architecture team needs to gather data and a way to link into projects.

Nick strongly suggested that instead of hiring another EA,  I should think about hiring a project manager role and an accounting/data analyst role. (This assumes that you as the Chief Architect will do the EA work yourself.) So, if you have the opportunity to build an EA Office think long and hard about what you need to do and the roles you need to accomplish your goals.  As I am writing this, I really think I need to revisit my work on Enterprise Architecture Capability Maturity Models.

So what roles would you pick? Please let me know.

12 thoughts on “Starting Your EA Practice – what roles would you pick?

  1. Jon H Ayre (The Enterprising Architect)

    Some off the cuff thoughts (rushed off in a spare moment so please forgive the directness).

    I would hope as Chief Architect you would also manage the PM activities in the early days (A PM for a team of 2 when one of the 2 is the PM and the other is the Leader seems a little premature). Looking then for a data analyst seems two specialised at this early stage.

    I would first focus on finding at least one or two key architecture players. These need to be strong individuals with a creative bent and a thirst for knowledge. They need to be great communicators with a willingness to make decisions in the absence of certainty. Broad experience is useful, but if this comes hand-in-hand with laboured cynicism and a lack of belief in the impossible made possible then err on the side of belief.

    With these key players you will be able to behave like an exciting “start-up”, delivering real content and showing those who depend on you that you mean business. You will gain credibility, and be able to deliver value quickly.

    As things grow you may then reach a point where your ability to multi-task is challenged and then (and only then) should you consider bringing in specialists to handle the load.

    There is no place in a small team for specialists who cannot generalise.

    Now… Hiring a PM and an analyst is fine if you are a consultancy, as someone else is footing the bill, but the one-person-one-job mentality has no place (IMO) in a small team, and all architecture teams should (IMO) be small and agile to truly succeed.

    The Enterprising Architect

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  3. LeodeSousa Post author


    Thanks for the quick response and insights. I was hoping to generate some diverse approaches by posting this, especially after my conversation with Nick Malik. I have been a team of one for 5 years and had to beg, borrow and steal people’s time to make any advances in our EA practice. I will be pinging Nick to get him to write about his suggested team composition.

    More to come I am sure!

  4. Tom Graves

    I wouldn’t so much pick a role (i.e. skillset) as a type of person – specifically, a very good generalist with a very strong social network throughout the enterprise. If they’re to be your contact and link-person to get the architecture going, *who* they know matters a lot more than *what* they know. And the broader the range of SMEs and other ‘super-nodes’ they know, the better, because a true enterprise-architecture needs to cover everything at every level, not solely a single domain such as IT.

    Apart from that, I would agree strongly with Jon – an experienced PM (especially a ‘scrounger’ who knows how the game *really* works within the enterprise) is probably the skillset you need the most at the start, and build outward from there. I’d also agree that the permanent EA team should always be small – though might co-opt any number of specialists on a project-by-project basis.

    (Looking forward to Nick’s comments on this, too. 🙂 )

  5. Martin Howitt

    Hi Leo,

    great question.
    I think the answer depends on the type of organisation you are in. In some orgs you need political clout to get anywhere (so get a respected senior manager on board), whereas in others you might need innovative generalists with an entrepreneurial streak.
    Either way, you need generalists, people who can context-switch and people who aren’t afraid of looking stupid by asking stupid questions (there are no stupid questions!).

    I would prioritise social skills and emotional intelligence above domain (especially technical) knowledge; enthusiasm and vision above rigour; pragmatism above idealism; curiosity above all else.

    this answer doesn’t really do justice to the question; I too am interested to hear other people’s views.


  6. Todd Biske

    Interesting idea from Nick, but in reality, I doubt there are too many IT shops that are adequately sized such that they could hire their own PM or data analyst. This leaves you with two options. First, find enterprise architects who also have experience in project management, communication, data analysis, etc., and leverage these secondary skills as needed. Second, contact internal sources (e.g. PMO, IT Communications, etc.) to supplement your skills, if you have them.

    For me, the takeaway from Nick’s comment is that you need to look at the secondary skills (in addition to the primary skills for the job function) of your EA team and make sure you strike the right balance. If you have a bunch of great architects, but none of them communicate well, you will struggle. If you have a bunch of great architects, but no one can organize and manage an effort in a more formal manner, you will struggle.

  7. Bob McIlree

    I agree with Todd here, but there is another issue that has to be addressed: too many EAs are IT-centric, and that doesn’t and isn’t flying with the business much, and that’s to whom EA value must be shown in the end, not necessarily the CIO or CTO.

    EA groups are getting more traction and success by breaking free of IT centricity and concentrating on the overlaps between business architecture, information architecture (not data modeling per se, but HOW, WHY, and WHAT information is used within the org, not just atomic data or structures), and, of course, IT architecture and structures.

    Sorry if I’m sounding a bit Gartner-esque here guys, but I’ve been noodling the ‘EAs being too IT-centric’ issue lately, and I might get off my duff soon and blog about it…. 🙂

    Some of the prior comments allude to skills a type of person who fits what I just described would have.

  8. LeodeSousa Post author

    Thanks to Jon, Tom, Martin, Todd and Bob for the great feedback and insights from your experiences. I am going to follow up with another post about the type of person all of you referred to … a “Strategic Practioner”

    All the best, Leo

  9. Josef Vargas

    Hi Leo, great blog!! I am on the verge of starting an EA program at my company. We have a small IT shop (~40 people) and a tight budget. We do have an Infrastructure Architect (IA) in-house, but he is not part of the effort.

    Therefore, it looks like I might be doing the EA thing solo for a while (maybe two of us if I recruit the IA). By the way, my background is in software engineering and I have been doing some software architecture work.

    I am interested to know your experience in approaching EA on your own. Do you have any recommondations for me?

    Thanks a bunch! – Josef

    1. Leo de Sousa Post author

      Josef, I would be happy to talk to you about your approach. I am on skype or you can email me ldesousa12 AT gmail DOT com.

      Thanks for the positive feedback too! Leo

  10. Sharon C. Evans

    Hi Leo,
    I like all of the comments here – interesting perspectives to your great article as well as others opinions.

    I think it is very important to get the Chief Architect or Director of EA on board first. This needs to be a strong relationship between the funder and supporter of the program – usually the CIO. In some organizations this may root from the business or a strategy planning department, but in any case, the leader needs to come first.

    As for the PM role, yes, I agree that the EA leader will have to take on some of that work in the beginning, but as the team grows, some of that work may be shifted amongst the team or potentially an assistant or PM. I really like a strong relationship between the EA leader/Chief and whomever is responsible for Enterprise Portfolio Managment, or IT Asset Management.

    A cohesive relationship between the CIO’s office, EA program and PMO will serve the enterprise best.

    Sharon C. Evans

    1. Leo de Sousa Post author

      Sharon, thanks very much for the feedback. I agree about having a dedicated person responsible for EA. We really made headway once we created an Enterprise Architect position. Thanks again, Leo


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