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Nothing Left to Take Away

“A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)

Every time the term architecture is mentioned, there is a mental inclination to associate with diagrams that have various elevations. After all this is what we have been used to seeing from civil works. The perception of enterprise architecture as an artifact centric discipline has in a number of cases resulted in expecting a “blueprint” – which is a set of diagrams and text – as a deliverable.
The words of this novelist wouldnt have put it better about the real value of an architect. Architecture is more of thinking than doing. This thinking is outside-in rather than inside-out. By that we mean thinking about the context of the enterprise or the part of the enterprise to be transform first then thinking about the enterprise or the part that is to be transformed. Engineering on the other hand thinks inside-out. In other words, thinking about the enterprise or the part of the enterprise to be transformed with some marginal thinking of the context of this transformation.
The differences between these two perspectives is that the Architect is driven more by the motivation which informs what is to be transformed on one hand, while the Engineer is driven more by the scope and what is to be transformed and how it will be transformed. Therefore engaging an Architect in a detailed what and how is actually asking him to pick a pencil and add detail. An architect is therefore a strategist thinking long term wins not quick wins. You need both architecture and engineering but for different purposes. Sometimes these two have been used interchangeably in the wrong contexts with frustrating results.
“Why should we take away?” you may ask. After all change is supposed to add new things. The more the detail the better or higher our chances of achieving our objectives. Engineering deals with certainty. Requirements are clear, scope is defined we know what we need to do. Then we populate that with excruciating detail so as to construct something that is quite as representative as the requirements we have been given. Uncertainties are real. They do happen. But engineering doesn’t work with uncertainties. That is the work of architecture. By seeing beyond the brick wall with piercing eyesight, the architect is able to determine why we must do what we are planning to do. In the process, he or she know what must be taken away, altered or added in response to the uncertainities.
When looking for an architect, you need someone with breadth to see what is to come more than one with depth who sees the what is in detail. Frustration will happen when you expect value from an architect but use him or her as an engineer. Obviously their context will make them focus on depth, inside-out coupled with lots of pencil work. When uncertainties come and you turn to them, it becomes a frustrating process to extract that level of breadth and answering the why from a context of engineering.
About the Author
Peter Muya, is an award enterprise transformation practitioner, possessing 15 years experience conducting mid and large-scale transformation projects in the telecommunications, financial services and public sector industries. He is the co-founder and a managing partner of PTI Consulting, a pan-African consulting practice providing ICT related business advisory services


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