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Six songs

The Guardian website (disclaimer: I am a bleeding heart pinko liberal leftie) has set out a challenge: to select six songs that sum you up. There’s a full article here explaining why it’s an important project and a link to the project website, sixsongsof.me for people to record their own list. The difficulty is ratcheted up beyond the usual “epic mixtape” level by the project asking you very specific questions: unfortunately, not all the songs that were ever recorded are selectable using the site.

My problem is that the answers to some of the questions that  wanted to use weren’t there and in some cases I wanted to add some narrative, alternatives and/or explanation. So I’m blogging it instead.

Here goes then.

1) What was the first song you ever bought?

Embarrassing. It was January by Pilot. So sue me. I was 7 or something.

2) What song always gets you dancing?

Lots of options here.  I like pop music and I don’t much care how trashy it is. On the other hand, I like to think I can appreciate something that’s well-crafted and for sheer energy I have two favourites: Talking Heads Crosseyed and Painless (this live performance is particularly groovemungous) and the poppy punk of Angel Interceptor by Ash which never fails to put me in a good mood.

3) What song takes you back to your childhood?

Only one option here – Funky Gibbon by the Goodies. Although most of my family played musical instruments, I wasn’t born humming Bach fugues. No YouTube link because I don’t want to lose *that* many readers.

4) What is your perfect love song?

My lovely other half used to have an MP3 alarm tone on her phone of Weird Fishes / Arpeggi by Radiohead. So that song always makes me realise I need to make her a cup of tea. Also, it’s just musically and lyrically beautiful. Some people think Radiohead are miserable. Those people are losers.

5) What song would you want at your funeral?

One funeral is too many to go to, but the ones I’ve been to have had two songs: one when people are going in and another when the coffin is going out. So I have two selections here, which are actually written in my will so they will happen.

On the way in, it’s Pyramid Song by Radiohead. Preferably performed by a choir, but we can’t have everything.

On the way out, Zombie Woof by Frank Zappa. I want to make some people smile plus it has the most epic guitar solo in the middle. And like one of the commenters, I have lived for the riff at 3:56.

6) “One last song that makes you, you.”

Difficult. But I was listening to the Beck album Odelay the other day and thought how much I loved the way he cuts up styles and how the songs don’t really end, they sort of collapse. I love that. I could name any one of the songs on that album, I love them all. I would love to be half as eclectic and dare to just meander off instead of being crisp and “professional”. But I’m going to select “Loser” (which isn’t on that album) because he isn’t one. But then again, aren’t we all? Or something like that.

 

 

Living in the South West UK is great for all sorts of reasons. We’re not so isolated we can’t get to events if we really want to, but we do get to put some distance between us and the hubbub that big cities provide; the scenery, of course, is lovely; you’re never more than a 10 minute drive from some countryside; the pace of life is slightly slower and the people are friendly.

Nevertheless, we do miss out on some things by virtue of being a bit removed from it all. Pretty well every week some of the people I follow on Twitter seem to be attending an event that I would go to if it were easy. In my own sector, the GovCamp unconference events that are so spectacularly successful have not yet hit the South West. There are some conferences locally that have been good in the past but I can’t attend any more due to cost. Something seems to be missing.

And something also seems to be missing from the events that I do attend: GovCamps are only slowly starting to attract the front line practitioners and senior decision-makers that are the people that would benefit most  from some of the ideas. The pure unconference format at GovCamps does bias an agenda in favour of what is cool rather than what is important. Difficult and complex problems don’t tend to get solved because there’s no easy way to enthuse people about them and so we end up taking bite-sized chunks off them instead.

These reasons are why I’m so pleased that my friend and colleague Carl Haggerty has tried to put together something slightly different, taking the best bits of conventional events and unconferences and mashing them up into a new format:

 

 

 

 

What is Open Space South West?
It is an event and a network, bringing together public sector providers, businesses, community organisations and academia to reimagine the ways in which collaboration and web technologies will shape the future of public services in the south west.

You’ll hear from inspiring people from across the region as well as nationally who are recognised as leaders in their field. The speakers will also lead and suggest workshops for further discussion and learning.

The event also includes an unconference format, which means that as a participant, you’ll get to shape the agenda and talk or hear about issues/challenges important to you.

The event is running at County Hall, Exeter on Friday 14th September 2012 and is free – although tickets are limited. Check out the website for full details and the frankly awesome range of speakers already booked up.

If you’re interested in helping improve public services in the region from frankly any perspective, this is probably the event you want to be at. And if you can’t make it, the hashtag #OpenSSW will enable you to follow on Twitter – hopefully there will be other remote participation options as well.

I’m looking forward to the event, of course, but mainly I’m looking forward to helping form a community of people all working together to improve lives for all – something that lasts longer and creates more value. Recommended.

 

On being awesome

I’m not awesome. At least, not any more than any other human. Or indeed, any other plant or animal. Or rock.

The other day I tweeted: “Be mediocre. Awesomeness doesn’t scale”.

This is 2 sentences. One part is weak trolling, the other part is a genuine plea to set aside our narcissism and build some stuff that is sustainable.

Louise Kidney: responded -> “be mediocre????? how depressing ;O(” … “Rome didn’t get built cos someone settled for mediocrity.” … “If we all wander around going ‘frak it, don’t be awesome’ there’d be no athletes, no visionaries, no boundaries broken…and the world would be boring, 1 dimensional, samey, sheep herding awfulness.” She also linked to this passionate defence of her position: http://louquietly.tumblr.com/post/20643056805/aspire which is typically forthright and well argued. I like Louise a lot. She knows who she is.

But a) that’s only responding to my first sentence, not the second. And b) I’m not her. I couldn’t give a monkeys about athletics. Vision is nothing without execution. If we all lived like Amish, would we be happier? Quite possibly. If Rome had never been built, sure I wouldn’t be sat here typing this: if everything was different nothing would be the same. And other insipid truisms.

Maybe I’m getting old, but I like silence. http://icerunner.co.uk/2012/01/the-value-of-nothing/

I quite like “boring, 1 dimensional, samey, sheep herding awfulness” sometimes. Because there’s more to “sitting here” than some might think. Check out these pictures of people before and after a meditation retreat: http://www.utne.com/The-Sweet-Pursuit/The-Meditation-Makeover-Before-and-After.aspx

I like simplicity. I like the feeling of working in a team. Being part of something bigger than me. Being a small cog is a bigger machine. I want stuff that lasts when the cool kids have moved on. I want everyone else to benefit, not just the hipsters.

But more than all that I want stuff that scales globally. I want to help build stuff that everyone can use for ever. I don’t want to be chasing my own dreams on my own. I don’t want to stand out and be awesome.

If I have to sit in meetings all day nudging things forward inch by painful inch rather than being the swashbuckling, disruptive Lone Ranger to make that happen? Ok then.

Don’t climb higher than your angels can fly. Or something.

Overview of the #localgov platform

In a previous post I covered some aspects of why local government could be considered a platform business, or at least could move in that direction. I’m enormously grateful to Stuart Boardman, Carl Haggerty and Tom Graves for supplying me with some challenges and suggestions in terms of developing these ideas. I’ve taken these suggestions on board and I think I’m in a position to outline the “top-level” of what the overall model looks like.  I’ve even got some ideas about the next level of iteration down but I might park that for later so I can get the big picture out.

So, to recap: Local Government (in this model) is a hub. It’s purpose is to connect people (and places) with needs to people with funding to people who can provide services to help under the governance and ownership of people with the political mandate to do just that – with the aim of improving the lot of the people and places under its jurisdiction.

Top level diagram

Top level of the local goverment platform model

In the traditional view local government has done all of this except for the bottom-left square. And I need to stress again that there’s no reason why it couldn’t continue to do so under this model – but in my opinion that might take away some of the value of the model.

Increasingly, in fact, the four corners of this model are being done by other people anyway. Local Government spends more time chasing grant funding; National, hyperlocal, regional and EU-wide policy reduces the room local politicians have to manoeuvre; service provision is increasingly diverse; and under the localism ethos individuals and community groups might start to commission services for themselves.

With the picture fragmenting, therefore, it is important to ask (as Tom Graves did) about governance and where it fits into the new landscape. Clearly governance is required: is public money being spent wisely? Are political decisions being taken for the right reasons? are services being provided fairly and efficiently? Are people’s (and places’) needs being adequately addressed?

Two things are therefore required to be added to the diagram. The first is data. Transparency of who is doing what, both with our money and with individual cases (subject to privacy and security rules); transparency of decision-making by politicians and officials; transparency of how services are being delivered by service providers. There is a requirement therefore for some quite meaty data warehousing and business intelligence in the centre – but this isn’t the whole story because effective governance needs the power to make changes. So the second thing we need to add are channels of control. I would suggest that these could all pass through the central hub – not sure if that’s a problem or not. We can park that issue for later. Either way, there is a requirement for a set of channels so that the various aspects of the model can govern each other (and I believe it does flow both ways in all cases).

Now lets make the thing functional. In the previous post I suggested the core functions that would need to be supported as

  • understand the needs of people and places under its care
  • search for funding opportunities that might help with those needs
  • curate a set of service providers and help to ensure the markets for each are broadly functional
  • provide a set of levers for those with a political mandate to push in order to deliver on political priorities
  • provide intelligence to all so that commissioning decisions can be undertaken intelligently.

So let’s add that to the governance idea and break this down a bit.

Political levers

Politicians need 3 kinds of lever: Strategic (how do we balance our spending portfolio for maximum return), Managerial (how can we influence the direction and performance of service delivery), and Individual (how can we advocate for particular cases in the system). (Arguably, politicians can’t and maybe shouldn’t do the last thing, but they do. That’s what surgeries are for.)

The strategic levers are satisfied by the commissioning centre: business intelligence to inform decision-making and capabilities to  actually commission the work required. At a managerial level, though, once we’ve split the provision from the commissioner then it is logically difficult to provide this lever of control aside from normal service level or performance management. A sticking-plaster solution might be to appoint politicians to NED level (or stronger) on the boards of the service provider organisations, but the actual solution will need to vary according to the kind of organisation we are talking about. On an individual level, it might be even more controversial (or even illegal) to allow a politician access to a service providers’ systems in order to influence the provision of an individual case, but either directly or via a proxy this level of access and influence will be required.

So although we can bake the first lever into this model, the other two both require standard contract terms to be instituted that allow for the necessary political “interference”. This might appear to be far from ideal, but if your company is delivering public services with public money then you might as well get used to it, in my opinion!

Citizen’s levers

In the final analysis, it is governance of the system by citizens that is most fundamental. Any individual citizen, however, is not all-powerful: democracy requires that we govern as an aggregate of people rather than getting our own way all the time. Nevertheless, we want to hold our politicians to account and the key demand here is transparency: let citizens have access to the same quality of intelligence that politicians use when making commissioning decisions so they can make up their own minds. In fact, lets just reuse the same set of systems to let them do it.

Secondly is the monitoring of service providers and their performance. In some cases citizens are co-opted onto management boards of public enterprises and if we want to do that then fine – but for the purposes of this system I think this is about giving citizens the same performance management data as politicians get. Again, lets just give them the same data and the same systems.

Third is the ability to submit cases (complaints, requests for services, feedback etc). These might end up anywhere and I think the job of the central “hub” is perhaps not to manage the cases individually but simply to route them to wherever they are best resolved in a fast and transparent fashion. I mentioned in a previous post that I don’t think we need CRM in local government: what I mean by that is that if everything else in this model works smoothly it won’t be needed.

The final lever for citizens is to allow them to commission services themselves. If an individual wants to make a difference in their community then they should be able to get help to improve their idea, apply for funding, and commission a service provider to do it. We are already seeing this sort of thing happening with personal budgets for social care.

Funders levers

Traditionally local government has raised its money through a central government grant, the Council Tax and business rates. However, other sources of funding exist and have been used for quite some time – EU grants, central government grants, the lottery, PFI initiatives, even private funding all play a part. So what do funding bodies need for their money?

Usually this is about two things: delivery and outcomes. If a funder funds a project it wants to see it completed and it wants to see the benefits of that project realised. Our hub must be able to track what money went where, how the project it supports is progressing, and what benefits are realised – otherwise we probably won’t be getting the same money the next time round. However, these processes are almost exclusively between commissioners and funders and the relationship between these two sets of people rather than some monolithic project management structure: commissioners (and there are going to be many of them, see above) have the responsibility to track their own projects. Since the Council itself is going to be doing a lot of that, it will need a system: it might even make that available to other commissioners, but the particular bit of the system that tracks individual projects and benefits is itself a service that can be commissioned. The “hub” merely needs to facilitate relationships.

Service provider levers

Of course, outsourcers have feelings too. It’s perhaps not as easy as it looks to have central or local government as your primary customer, even if it can (allegedly) be lucrative if you do it right. Service providers need the freedom to innovate their service delivery – wthin reason – but they also need support and standards and they need their feedback to be influential and to commission supporting services. So the first lever is that service providers are commissioners too and so they need the same access to intelligence, joined-up service delivery and channels that citizens, politicians, funders and council commissioners get.

Service providers that aren’t economically viable might be allowed to go to the wall in some cases, but in others they need to be constructively helped. This might mean the formation of local or national groupings of providers to lobby or to create shared platforms that provide core and common services to them. The commissioning hub must allow a seamless flow of clients, funding, and information to, from and between service providers and this must be based around recognised standards in order to work.

What’s in the box then?

These ideas lead to the central hub containing the following components:

  • expertise in the funding landscape, performance management, public engagement, (big P) Politics and data
  • a business intelligence toolset and competencies to crunch all the available data
  • a web channel that ties services together (in a service-oriented architecture style of thing)
  • document/records management that provides an archive of policy, actions and decisions
  • Master data management (ensures we don’t double-count people or places in our calculations, and ensures joined up case management)
  • Data warehousing (performance management, demographic, needs data on the full range of services)
  • middleware to join processes up.

Those components are lifted from the previous post, but this post is probably long enough already so I’ll stop there for now. The internal architecture of the hub is probably next, but this is an evolving picture in my brain so please let me know what you think in the comments below.

Innopints 3: Exeter

Capital isn’t so important in business. Experience isn’t so important. You can get both these things. What is important is ideas. If you have ideas, you have the main asset you need, and there isn’t any limit to what you can do with your business and your life.”

— Harvey Firestone

There’s been an occasional event since last summer where a bunch of us get together, have a pint and usually some food, and talk about how we might do things differently. This hasn’t been in a fixed location: the first was at Dartington, the second in Newton Abbott.

The awesome George Julian organised the first two as they were in her neck of the woods, and now it’s my turn. So I am pleased to announce that Innopints 3 will be in Exeter on the 12th March 2012 at 7:30pm.

If you’ve never been to one of these before, it is totally low-key and is basically just a bunch of like-minded people having a chat. Drop me a line (as I’ll need to book numbers) or tweet me if you have any questions. You’ll be most welcome!!

As for the venue, we have a veritable cornucopia of possibilities in the South-West’s premier city and I’m happy to be swayed by a majority view. There are excellent Indian, Thai, Moroccan, Chinese, Italian(1) (2), Spanish, Mediterranean and even English options.

Please make a suggestion in the comments below and I’ll put a shortlist together.

I’ve been doing quite a bit of thinking recently about what the “real” purpose of my employer is. In common with many other public sector bodies, we’ve outsourced bits of our support and front line services (and others were already in private hands by default). When we do this, however, we both lose and gain something: it’s not always a good idea (it seems, or maybe we just don’t do it very well each time) as we seem to be sort of “hollowed out” and we lose influence. If people have a problem with the way the roads are surfaced, do they talk to the council responsible or do they talk directly to the company that resurfaces the roads?

In this sort of climate it is tempting (and I have succumbed) to envisaging this kind of process taken to its logical conclusion. If a council commissions all of its services, what is it for? This thought experiment has led me to start considering local (and maybe central) government as a platform business that exists to

  • understand the needs of people and places under its care
  • search for funding opportunities that might help with those needs
  • curate a set of service providers and help to ensure the markets for each are broadly functional
  • provide a set of levers for those with a political mandate to push in order to deliver on political priorities
  • provide intelligence to all so that commissioning decisions can be undertaken intelligently.

So what we might refer to as “the council” becomes quite small really and is a hub – centred around a platform containing

  • expertise in the funding landscape, performance management, public engagement, (big P) Politics and data
  • a business intelligence toolset and competencies to crunch all the available data
  • a web channel that ties services together (in a service-oriented architecture style of thing)
  • document/records management that provides an archive of policy, actions and decisions
  • Master data management (ensures we don’t double-count people or places in our calculations, and ensures joined up case management)
  • Data warehousing (performance management, demographic, needs data on the full range of services)
  • middleware to join processes up.

There’s perhaps some political (big P again, sorry) dynamite here in that it might be seen to imply privatisation or outsourcing on a massive scale (on the scale recently attempted – and abandoned – by some other councils such as Suffolk) but I need to stress that it doesn’t necessarily mean that. It does, however, necessitate a *logical* split between those bodies/teams/people/partners that commission services and those that provide those services. The split occurs because the service provider has a different business model to the commissioner.

In fact, it is becoming increasingly clear to me that the vast majority of commissioning is done by actors outside of the council: we have personal budgets for healthcare, politicians have local budgets, other authorities or public/third sector bodies may fund developments, even the private sector might utilise this platform to commission work.

[Although my focus is on local government I wonder if this approach also extends to central government. Both exist to do broadly the same thing, just on a different scale, both currently depend on partners and service providers to do the majority of the work, and both are relatively poor at commissioning as opposed to service delivery. Maybe, maybe not.]

If we are a platform business, then that model dictates that we build for scale and reuse, in a service-oriented style. And why should each council build its own platform if we are all doing the same thing?

 

In my job I often receive project proposals. These will usually say “we want to buy/develop in-house <x software> and get the IT dept to develop/install and support it for us.” Sometimes this is ok. Sometimes my IT colleagues will even accept that this is a good idea, but they are hard pressed so I have adopted the following heuristic approach and would be interested to see what others make of it. It’s a strawman.

So with the disclaimer under my belt: I always try to consider things in the following order of (decreasing) preference:

Option 1: Re-use something we already have

This works for a few potential projects. If the required functionality is already in an existing pience of software we have, why reinvent the wheel. Cheap, quick, and painless (assuming the fit is good for business requirements).

Option 2: Use a shared service from another related organisation

Again, this can work for a few more projects as there are (in my industry anyway) lots of very similar organisations working under similar constraints and trying to solve the same problem. Slightly more expensive (fees + network bandwidth), slightly slower to implement (politics, data sharing agreements, integration), but quality can be good and best practice can be shared. Also, it looks good.

Option 3: Software as a Service (“Public Cloud”) or Off the shelf remotely hosted software

Before you start flaming me, I know these are technically two very different things. But from my point of view they are equivalent. We need to do due diligence on whoever we are buying it from, there are security and governance concerns, there are performance and integration issues. But this can be good quality, quick, and relatively cheap. The G-cloud initiative should make this kind of thing easier, quicker and cheaper in the public sector.

Option 4: Off the Shelf, locally hosted

For many requirements this is still the default option. Always worth having a go to convert it to 2) or 3). Support arrangements can be a bind but we can normally deal with it. This option will always require some kind of interface with the people managing the desktop environment. This can slow things down but they are a happy bunch. I miss them (see options 1-3). We still need to do integration but because its inside the firewall its less stressful (SOA gurus might want to look away now and instead consider this rather cute video of a dog).

Option 5: Internally developed

ok, so we got to bite the bullet and develop something in-house. That means long timescales, resource conflicts, delays, long-term maintenance overhead, even using modern techniques. Most organisations the size of mine or smaller aren’t going to want to maintain an expensive pool of internal resource. There’s a slight edge to getting the solution hosted externally as it’s (slightly) less infrastructure to worry about and there are tools to help, although I’m not an expert on them – my colleague Stian Sigvartsen is better placed to advise on that.

And that’s all. I’m interested in refining, or even throwing out, this model out in favour of something better, if such a thing exists. For now this is just a common sense way of evaluating projects.

The longer-term question of what our target architecture should look like will have to wait for another day.

#ukgc12: 20 reflections

Personal Note: My first blog post for 6 months, due to a number of different factors and events which have made me not feel like it. Time will tell if this marks the return of my blogging habit or is just a flash in the pan. Either way, that’s ok.

There’s a trend this year following a suggestion by Dan Slee for attendees to this year’s UK GovCamp to try and capture 20 insights they gained during the unconference. I was one of those attendees so here is my stab at it. I can’t do 20 but maybe will update the post later to reflect new stuff I remember.

  1. The Government Digital Service used to be “us”. Now it’s “them”. This is as negative as I can be about it as otherwise they do great stuff.
  2. Some of the attendees are world-class drinkers. No names, no pack drill, but they know who they are.
  3. At current growth rates representatives from my particular organisation will constitute the entire attendance of UKGC18. Be very afraid. On the other hand I was really pleased with the reaction of my new colleagues as they threw themselves into contributing, networking and generally having fun.
  4. We all have a default way of engaging in conversations, which can – if desired – be deliberately subverted, with sometimes profound results. I hope to blog some more about this but suffice to say that I am grateful to Lloyd Davis for showing me the route to that insight.
  5. After going to this event for 3 years I now have “proper” friends there.  This pleases me enormously as I make acquaintances easily but not friends.
  6. Councils don’t need CRM systems. We only have them because the rest of our systems aren’t properly functional.
  7. Data Quality is the new rock ‘n’ roll. It’s the foundation on which we will build our future organisations. But currently hardly anyone does it.
  8. Whenever we dismantle a hierarchy there is an opportunity for a community to take power. We should do this deliberately if possible.
  9. Communities have business models (in the Business Model Canvas sense) just as a “standard” business function does. Whoever models it first gets the chance to shape its development.
  10. Customer Development is the primary activity of a community, specifically the testing of a hypothesis. If the hypothesis is shown to be disappointing, the community might fade away unless new hypotheses can be found. Again, more on this and #9 soon.
  11. You can deploy an IT infrastructure from “box” diagram to functioning cloud implementation in under 15 minutes. But we already knew that.
  12. There’s a guy who carries a dragon around. This is either a sign of a relatively harmless mental health issue or a very clever exercise in personal branding. If in doubt, suspect the latter.
  13. I really don’t blog enough. This is my first entry for over 6 months :(
  14. I am quite an effective useful idiot for testing the usability of software because I have basic skills in most things, neither clueless or brilliant. Hire me while I’m still in the sweet spot :)
  15. In the 3 years I’ve going I’ve seen it become more diverse. This can only be a good thing. We had a councillor and a social work practitioner this time and both had good input to give.
  16. I’m conflicted about the 1st day happening on a Friday. The Saturday crowd is, in theory, far more committed and self-selecting but we got a really good buzz off the Friday so maybe I worry needlessly.

That’s it so far. I want to develop some of these things a bit more but not sure if I’ll get the space or time to do it. We’ll see.

Anna Mar posted a useful blog on cognitive bias in decision making and its impact on Enterprise Architecture. Richard Veryard responded on Twitter asking if we wanted to fix cognitive biases in ourselves or in others.

I really like Anna’s list and it’s a useful cut-out-and-keep. Anna doesn’t have comments on her blog so this is a short response to her post.

I want to add that both the blog and Richard’s comment are a bit *technical*. The main thing, in my view, that EAs need from the psychological professions is therapy for themselves. I don’t mean by this that all EAs are sick, but simply that everyone can benefit from some kind of therapy.

There is a stigma attached to mental health, certainly in the UK. I don’t know many people who have had any kind of intervention, and I don’t really understand that. If you break a leg, you go to the hospital and they put it back together: if your mind doesn’t work optimally, surely you’d want to get it sorted out? Perhaps people are afraid of admitting weakness and think that it might cast doubt on their decision-making ability. I’m here to say this is utter rubbish. We don’t understand how the mind works as well as we would like, so how can we possibly know if it’s working as well as it can?

As enterprise architects our effectiveness depends more than anything on building good relationships. Like it or not, that begins with building a good relationship with yourself so you can effectively process your emotions and deal compassionately with those of the people you are dealing with. I used to be poor at it, but after some years of counselling I’ve improved. I would resume it again like a shot because it’s not the sort of thing you ever really master, I suppose.

As to what sort of therapy is best – I think people have to just try a few out and see what works for them. There’s a wide range of stuff available and what might work depends on a whole load of factors and may also change over time.

This is in no way specific to enterprise architects. Pretty well everyone I’ve ever met from any walk of life can potentially benefit from improving their internal processing and relationships. Some quite high-level people are surprisingly psychopathic.

I’m not touting therapy as a religion, a panacea, or a quick fix for anything. It’s just the sort of thing that, from time to time, delivers a return on the time (and financial) investment in terms of increased effectiveness and fulfilment for me and the people I live and work with.

If you’d read my previous post (from a long time ago – sorry this follow-up is so late) on Enterprise Architecture in Political organisations you might be forgiven for thinking I disliked office politics. And I suppose I do. I guess this is because I’ve generally had an analytical mindset that wanted to optimise the obvious things. Want me to build a web server? I’ll try and make it return pages as fast as I can. Ask me to design a solution? It’ll be as cheap and effective at its stated aim as my skill can make it.

To be honest my approach is more than a little lacking in imagination. Of course the people I work with want these things, but after a certain point, no-one notices. Initially I was horrified that someone might give me a task either to keep me distracted or to act as a lever in some other process, and then my horror gradually mellowed into cynicism and, finally, acceptance.

And therein lies the story of my long slide into middle-aged mediocrity. Except that there’s another side to this. In the comments on my last post Mike Lamoureux commented that politics can act to show “who is passionate, and about what, you just have to read between the lines”. There are some other reasons why politics might also be good:

  • it can ensure that a one-dimensional view of the enterprise doesn’t get railroaded through
  • it can be a way for the brightest in the organisation to rise to the top
  • it might be needed to provide for change that is blocked by formal systems of governance

(list adapted from Mintzberg 1998: 243-244)

As we previously noted, politics is everywhere. So if all Enterprise Architects have to deal with politics, and it isn’t all bad, what do we do with it?

I think this lies at the heart of many of the problems with modern EA practices. Those with more political savvy can bypass, leverage, ignore, or exploit an analytical architecture group in more ways than the group itself probably understands. It may seem unethical to someone with a purely analytical education – it certainly did to me – but that’s the way humans are.

It’s time to man up. As my colleague Carl Haggerty might say, lets do Black Ops.

I think that one of the things an EA team needs to decide at the outset of its practice is what its political goals are. Political EA means having a future state vision, not just of the shape and plumbing of an organisation but of how power flows through it and the desired position of EA in that power flow (if you don’t include yourself in the design, don’t complain that you’ve been sidelined – that’s what you wanted, yes?). In other words, we need to architect the power architecture as well as the delivery architecture.*

EA teams also need to manage stakeholders differently. Now the idea that communication is essential is not new for an EA team. But I think we haven’t gone far enough: we need to explicitly play some games to make our future state a reality. If our future state doesn’t make it, someone else’s will: and then we have stopped being the architects of the enterprise and we might as well go home or go back to coding or whatever it was we were doing before. So lets pick some winners early on and put our weight behind them. A covert prediction market might be a good way to identify those people who are rising in the organisation and those who are on the way out. Quietly aligning some EA artifacts with the ambitions of those rising stars is one way to accelerate our own influence.

Finally, we need some political strategies of our own if we are to get our (analytical) architectural projects through. I’ve noted some basic ideas in a previous post but these can be expanded and seem to fall into five categories (thanks again to the awesome Mr Mintzberg 1998: 244-246):

  1. Accept and manage political realities. If one thing has no chance of getting through, request something else. Lets not bash our heads against the wall fighting battles we’ll never win.
  2. Target middle management. Most resistance to any kinds of change will lie with middle management (and lower). These are the people you need to be actively managing to find out their sweet spots and pitching ideas at to ease their pain. (ISO27000 standards, for example, systematically do this by devolving risk ownership to middle management, thereby making these people change the behaviour of their staff)
  3. Use classical political tools. Politics is the art of the possible. Focus on ends, not means: “good enough” results are sometimes good enough: increase management options by focusing on broad issues rather than sensitive narrow ones: anticipate problems and show how they might be dealt with (you may get your way even if you don’t get the credit!): anticipate what coalitions might form against your ideas, who might be in them and why.
  4. Manage coalition behaviour. For example, change the order in which issues are addressed to make different coalitions form: increase the visibility of some issues to influence coalitions: unbundle some of the issues into smaller issues. We can adapt strategies to satisfy some coalitions but its easier not to (unintended consequences and all that).
  5. Take direct action against a coalition. Pre-emptive coalitions, counter-coalitions, re-shuffling (or removing) coalition members in an organisation, co-opting coalition members, or increasing communication efforts all fall into this rather high-risk category.

There’s a lot more on this subject that a blog post can’t do justice to. I have yet to read any political theory, but am sure there’s a lot of stuff in there we might be able to use. But that’s for the future, I hope this post gives some practical stuff we can use now to get better outcomes for our organisations.

*One thing I’m missing is an actual reference architectural model for an architecture of politics. If anyone has any ideas how I could develop or steal one, please let me know in the comments. I promise I don’t bite!

Reference: Mintzberg, Ahlstrand, Lampel, “Strategy Safari” 1998 FT Prentice Hall

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