Something about the typical language of enterprise architecture is starting to bug me. The overuse of the word “alignment”. When people are asked to describe what enterprise architecture is all about, they often answer with the phrase “it’s about the alignment of IT with business strategy”. But is that enough? Should it be something more? Architectures fit into hierarchies of plans. Typically in enterprise architecture we say that our enterprise architectures must align with our business strategy, that our solution architectures must align with our enterprise architecture, our security must align with our enterprise security architecture, that our application architectures must align to our application architecture etc. etc.
Because when we say something aligns with something else, what are we really saying? We are saying that they don’t fundamentally disagree. That they don’t contradict one another. But is that what we really want from different parts of our architectures? Is that what we really want to say about the relationship between our organisation’s strategy and its IT architecture – that they aren’t inconsistent? Is that enough? Isn’t that just a cop-out?
In this case, as in many others, I think that how we talk about architectures (our discourse) reveals something important about our practice of architecture. It reveals how we are thinking about architecture and what we are doing to a certain extent.
Too often when people use the word “alignment” it just means that what they are doing isn’t obviously undermining the higher level objective. If we believe that through architecture we are trying to drive better outcomes for business from our use of IT, then we must demand more than just alignment. What we need, and therefore what we should demand, what we should describe and what we should talk about is:
- Our architecture delivering higher level outcomes.
- Our architecture contributing to higher level outcomes.
- Our architecture supporting higher level outcomes.
- Our architecture enabling higher level outcomes.
If your architecture doesn’t do any of these then you should have a damn good excuse (and there may well be one – tactical, temporary or risk mitigation architectures can often ignore these things for very good reasons). Otherwise, you should be able to demonstrate how it is doing one of these things, because that is how you will be demonstrating the value of your architecture.
Whatever we say (and do) about our architectures, I think we will be better off when we ban the word alignment.