Enterprise Architecture – using a chess analogy




Ian Ellery
Head of IT Architecture
Canterbury Christ Church University





This morning’s opening keynote is one I’ve been looking forward to – Gerben Wierda, author of “Chess and the Art of Enterprise Architecture”. The book was recommended to me, but I never got round to buying it. He is also creator of the well-known YouTube animation of “hairball architecture”.

His view is that EA has been generally unsuccessful. We do EA to try and make sense of complexity and prevent chaos. However, while this works in theory, chaos still remains. In many organisations there is significant churn of EA functions, and the business remain unconvinced. Why? In his view because the decisions, the action, takes place in projects and not at the higher EA level.

To make EA work, we should use a chess analogy. In chess each move is to make things better, to improve the current state, but with no specific end state in mind. So, he reasons, EA future state plans are a waste of time. The rules of chess are descriptive not prescriptive, and similarly he argues that EA principles can be toxic as they prevent any discussion leading to a “comply or explain” culture.

He also talks about ensuring that EA does not leave out relevant detail. This led to, for me, a lightbulb moment: oversimplification is as bad as over complexity. If as architects we produce a very simple picture for our senior teams – usually to try and help them understand – they will think that the problem is simple. They will then wonder what all the fuss is about trying to solve this apparently simple problem. There were several other phrases and points which made me consider just what I am trying to do with architecture. Overall, this talk was a really good challenge to the status quo of enterprise architecture. And yes, I will now be buying the book.

UCISA has an Enterprise Architecture community of practice which may be of interest.

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