Setting Values versus Enforcing Standards

Too many architects fall in to the trap of believing that the distinguishing value they provide to their respective organizations is in the form of defining and enforcing standards. While there is no doubt a role for standards and governance, these architects miss the fact that their most important role is to define the values of their organization.

When overemphasized, standards can become a death spiral… drawn out cycles of identification (by which time they are no longer optimal), blanket application (leading to loss of competitive advantage in cases where they don’t apply), and loss of faith in the architecture organization. Standards too often contribute to the cult of ceremonial documentation, rather than the culture of working software. Fanatical standards enforcers also drive the most valuable innovation in organizations to the underground – it is demonized and ignored rather than cultivated and matured.

The differentiating value of an architect should be leadership and influence, not law enforcement. This happens when architects define value statements that are more durable positions than moment-in-time solution statements. Values have deeper meaning, and empower people in the organization to make independent decisions consistent with a larger vision, increasing agility. They allow for individual ownership of a stake in the enterprise architecture – every participant is a stakeholder.

Value statements and the leaders who promote them encourage teams to explore, report, refine, and share their decisions with the whole. Enterprises always have a mixed portfolio to manage – the most valuable mix will at least reflect a set of core architectural values rather than be a poor attempt at homogenization. Review of the portfolio should not be a witch hunt for non-compliant technologies… it should be a gardening effort to ensure the values are represented.

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3 Responses to “Setting Values versus Enforcing Standards”


  1. 1 scott 2 February 2006 at 12:10 pm

    Perfect timing – James has a fantastic post on a related topic today – see Thoughts on Agile Enterprise Architecture

  2. 2 James McGovern 3 February 2006 at 6:17 pm

    As two agilists who also work for large enterprises, we need to noodle how to get others to start thinking lightweight.

    Maybe we could consider collectively blogging out what agile governance may look like?

  3. 3 scott 9 February 2006 at 8:04 am

    I’m actually very interested in that topic – goverance is typically seen as a very stodgy and ceremonial process. Get the ball rolling and I’ll follow suit!

    I am having one of those weeks, so just ripped off a quick blog entry, but haven’t had the time I wanted. I think I need to book an hour over the weekend just to comment/trackback your recent posts!


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