Anatomy of Agile Enterprise

Janne J. Korhonen

Espoused EA and EA-in-use

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In their seminal work on human and organizational learning, Chris Argyris and Donald Schön (1974, 1978) make a distinction between espoused theories and theories-in-use. Espoused theories are accounts of a person's or an organization's actions given to others, while theories-in-use are inferred from the actual, directly observable behavior.

In a similar vein, two views of enterprise architecture can be distinguished: "Espoused EA" and "EA-in-use". The former refers to enterprise architecture as the architects and other EA stakeholders wish or claim it to be in the organization and how they communicate it to others. It is a taken-for-granted view that has been accepted as the "enunciated truth" of the EA's state of affairs. The latter refers to enterprise architecture as it is manifested in the actual organizational practice and reality. It is the "enacted truth" that may go unsurfaced. These two views of EA may or may not be mutually compatible, and the stakeholder may or may not be aware of the incompatibility of the two views (cf. Argyris and Schön, 1974).

While the strategic importance of enterprise architecture is increasingly recognized and its recent definitions embrace business-oriented and socio-technical aspects, the organizational reality of EA work is frequently not in a par with this lofty view. The EA-in-use in organizations is often more IT-driven, more operational and more short-term-focused than what the espoused EA implies. In other words, EA is inflated. In some cases, on the other, EA may be downplayed: the organization may have, de facto, a working EA practice at the requisite level, although it is not recognized and called as such.

The disparity between the espoused EA and the EA-in-use can either be pathologically dysfunctional or engender a positive creative tension. If the mismatch is ignored or not recognized, inflated EA may fall flat on its face, as unredeemed promises beget mistrust and compromise the good intentions of the very practice. While downplayed EA is generally less harmful, it may cause redundant efforts, as EA advocates, such as external consultants, may reinvent the wheel and "fix" something that is not broken in the first place.

However, if the mismatch is duly recognized, it creates a creative tension that prompts the organization to positive action to bring the espoused and in-use views of EA into alignment. This alignment can be either low-mode or high-mode. In the low-mode alignment, EA is fairly modest, both in use and as espoused. In the high mode, EA measures up to the strategic capability that it also purports to be.

What is important is that the mode is in line with the complexity of the organization's strategic context. If the strategic context is simple, inflated EA will need to be humbled from its lofty ideal and downplayed EA geared down from any overkill. If it is complicated, inflated EA will need to be stepped up in practice and downplayed EA acknowledged for what it already is.

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References:

  • Argyris, C. and Schön, D. (1974). Theory in Practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Argyris, C. and Schön, D. (1978). Organizational Learning: A Theory of Action Perspective. Addison-Wesley.

Janne J. Korhonen provides insights into how information technology can be applied strategically to catalyze organizational change and responsiveness. Drawing from both theory and practice, he discusses agile enterprise and its governance.

Janne J. Korhonen

Janne J. Korhonen is an independent business and IT consultant,specializing in enterprise architecture, business process management,service-oriented architecture and pertinent governance models. He has over ten years of experience as an architect and consultant in a variety of extensive and mission-critical IT projects. With strong theoretical underpinnings, his consulting encompasses systemic co-development of business, organization and information technology.

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