Enterprise Architecture Stories

The Art of Architecture

The Art of Architecture

The art of practicing architecture lies not in creating slick visuals, nor in meticulously capturing every possible piece of data and detail of and for an organisation. No, the art of architecture is the dialogue.

Of course, an architect must possess the necessary knowledge and skills to conduct this dialogue and therefore attending training courses and obtaining certifications is important. But what perhaps plays an even bigger role is experience. In my view it is precisely this experience that enables an architect to apply aqcuired knowledge from trainings and certifications in practical situations.

From knowledge to skill

When I am asked by acquaintances to explain what it is that I do, I usually give the answer lots of talking, listening and drinking coffee. That sounds exaggerated, but in fact it is not that far from reality.

Communication is an important tool within the context of architecture. It is not for nothing that frameworks such as the TOGAF® Standard and DYA (Dynamic Enterprise Architecture, developed by the consulting company Sogeti)* pay attention to this topic.  

The TOGAF Standard states that a communication plan consists of identifying stakeholders, defining and recording the communication needs, distinguishing different mechanisms to communicate, and creating a timetable that describes which communication should take place with which stakeholder and at what time. 

It also emphasizes the importance of communication by stating that an architect should have oral and written communication skills at an expert level of proficiancy. The same is said of the business culture skill, which is important in order to be able to empathize with the way of working and the culture of an organisation. Culture is a force to be reckoned with. 

DYA, on the other hand, describes communication in the form of a strategic dialogue; a process in which new developments are explored, ideas are generated and business goals are determined. These business goals are then elaborated in business cases into concrete project proposals.

Both TOGAF and DYA describe what is required with regard to communication in a fairly businesslike manner. Between the two, DYA still leaves the most room for individual interpretation and therefore does not go as far as to explain how the process of exploring new developments or determining the business goals is carried out. TOGAF, on the other hand, puts the focus more on the content of the communication plan and does not indicate how you can achieve communication on itself. Both frameworks actually say nothing about the dialogue to be conducted, other than that it should be conducted.

And it is precisely at this point that the art of architecture arises.

Conducting the dialogue

Tom Graves, author of several books on the field of architecture, wrote in one of his works that architecture is the dialogue and the dialogue is the architecure. With this he wanted to indicate that architecture is not something that is determined and drawn up by one person with a certain job title (architect), but that it is the dialogue with the organization that leads to architecture.

It needs to be a full two-way communication with everyone – a dialogue of equals – that starts from day one.

Tom Graves

During the dialogue, it is important to find out the question behind a strategy, an initiative or an idea. And although many organisations often already have a defined solution or direction, clarifying and concretizing the question behind the desired direction is of great importance. 

Architecture is therefore primarily about the question and only much later about the solution.

The actual conducting of the conversation is an art in itself. After all, more often than not, the average person within an organisation knows and understands far less about architecture than the architect himself. For this reason, it is not wise to start the conversation from an architecture perspective. What works well here is to determine what the architecture maturity level is of the organisation in question, prior to having the conversation. When maturity level is clear, the architect can move to the same level and in doing so initiate a dialogue of equals.

Getting a clear understanding of the rationale behind a strategy or behind an idea is important in order to understand which solution direction can be chosen. As long as the question is not sufficiently understood it is impossible to determine direction. Asking the right questions in the form of a dialogue is an art in itself. 

The art of architecture is this dialogue exactly.

* The development of the DYA framework was taken over by BizzDesign in mid-2012 and was renamed to Open Infrastructure Architecture method (OIAm).

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