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1.Lesson Learned: Not Everybody Is a Customer

After a longer break and after getting through a relocation headache I decided to summarize some simple (sometimes even no-brainer) lessons learned from the past. They might be sometimes even too trivial. Still, it would help me in the past to read something like this. And it helps me also now not to lose the track. So let’s start with a story to the first one:

Once upon a time (yep, I do have kids…) I joined a group of enterprise architects. Smart folks, some really good deliverables, nice diagrams, models, processes in place, really a lot of stuff. Yet there was not that much appreciation for all these artefacts. Literally everybody had better ideas what to model, visualize, define, standardize, manage and what not and why it would be of more help then what they’ve been doing before. And naturally, EAs fought for justification of their work, explaining the purpose and trying to convince the masses to use the artefacts for their own good. Which, naturally, didn’t make the situation any better. On the contrary. Masses spread opinions which were shedding a bad light on our work.

It took us quite some time to realize the following: the work we’ve been doing was not for them in the first place. They could perhaps benefit from it, but that’s it. Should they have freedom of choice, they would perhaps choose doing something different (or even better, do nothing:).

Good example was a process to govern and assure architecture. We were quite proud of establishing such a process, chairing an architecture board and so on. And when we were asked what we deliver, we thought about “the governance process”. Not the result the governance process in place and functioning should lead to. Surprise, surprise – nobody was excited and patted our shoulders. The thing is that we were really not able to see back then that the process is just a tool, that we are using to collect information about current architecture landscape, agreeing and setting the direction and ensuring alignment across involved parties. So when we talked, we marketed our tools instead of our end results. And secondly, what’s even worse, as we really didn’t know who our customer was for what we delivered, we could not be really sure that what we were doing the right thing and that it makes sense in the first place.

We then looked at us and our unit as on a service (and applied Tom Graves’ Enterprise Canvas). What value do we deliver? For whom we do it? Who is (or would be willing to) paying for that? What do we need from others to do it right? Etc. These almost trivial questions took us quite some time to change our mindsets from defending what we hade been doing before to seeking the real customers, talking to them, understanding their real needs and offering solutions.

Of course this was just a beginning of the road. Start humble, keep trying new things and approaches and learn from the mistakes.

To sum it up:

  • Challenge the purpose of what you are doing. Does it make sense? Think of what you are doing as a service. Who is the customer for your service? Is he aware and would he agree? Would he pay for it?
  • Be ready to stop doing what you’re doing if there’s no customer. Just that it’s there is not a justification for carrying on.
  • Identifying and interviewing your customer helps in delivering better results. Iterations work very well to shape the deliverable as close to his/her needs as possible.
  • Always come to the customer with something in your hands – an example, prototype, draft – so that you can talk about a concrete needs and suggestions with your customer. It won’t be right for the first time, perhaps even third time. But as you get going, you find your common language and you’ll be able to shape the solutions so that the customer is happy.
  • If you need information or some effort or service from others, make them clearly aware of the fact that they are suppliers to your service. Explain the purpose of your service and how it fits in the value chain (or value network). Do not try to make customers from your suppliers though.
  • Use governance and management structures to make your suppliers deliver what you need. It’s transparent, independent of their willingness, but needs an initial effort.
  • Identify additional beneficiaries (they are not customers) to get more support for your endeavour.

As each organisation is different I am really wondering what worked for you? Anybody willing to share experience?

Categories: EA
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