What is it an architect actually does?

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During a conversation the other day I was asked: what was it exactly you did as an enterprise architect with that organisation?

This question was asked by a manager of a staff department responsible for architecture, especially enterprise architecture.

I attempted to explain my approach to architecture in general: which people to involve, how to ensure alignment with the “floor”, the synchronous establishment of bottom-up as well as top-down transformations, how to grow architecture awareness on all levels of the enterprise, and the establishment of the architecture process.

In itself my explanation was perhaps not too boring, but I could see a growing unrest with my interlocutor. “But what is it you do specifically?”

Only after the conversation I realised what my conversation partner was looking for. What he wanted to hear was: ik built these and those architecture models, held these workshops which produced these documents. I established a baseline architecture with these stakeholders, and based on strategic goals defined these target architectures. In short: this manager might be interested in my “how” story, but was not able to link it with a “what” story.

It is a mistake I have made more often. For me the “how” is evidently so much more important than the “what” that I sometimes forget that making architectures is for many people just about all an architect does. Additionally those aspects (apart from the fact that they are secondary and should be that in my view) are so obvious that I am usually not inclined to make them explicit.

The “what” is certainly important. For me it was definitely a lesson learned not to underrate it when I am asked the question again. What is it an architect actually does? He focusses on the “how”, and uses a plethora of tool for the “what”.

What do you think: what is it actually an architect does?

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