Enterprise Architecture Body of Knowledge
Planning an EA

Perspective Taking

Author: Con Kenney

Enterprise Architects face a big challenge in selecting what information to present to a decision-maker. Each of us is limited in how much information we can remember and use, and we are selective in what information we pay attention to. The enterprise architect must provide useful information in a manner suitable for rapid decision-making. How does an enterprise architect figure out what information to provide?

Enterprise architects provide information for use by other people in the organization. Some of it is for planning purposes, some of it is directional, and some of it is used in making decisions at the strategic level. Some of this information is factual, and the enterprise architect can verify it by inspection or counting. However, much of the EA information concerns events that have not happened yet so the information is not strictly factual or verifiable. None of us knows with certainty what will happen. EA helps guide the future by making available the information needed to deal with the inherent uncertainty in any rapidly changing business environment.

For decisions dealing with established processes, the information requirements may already be defined. Even if the requirements for these decisions are not defined, the enterprise architect can identify the types of information the decision-maker seeks by studying the information used in earlier decisions. In any case, asking the decision-maker about his or her preferences for information in different decision situations is helpful, but the enterprise architect does not always have the chance to do this. An experienced decision-maker is likely to have thought carefully about his or her information requirements and has often communicated those requirements to others.

Unfortunately, many of the most important decisions people in organizations make do not fit into established processes, and their information requirements are undefined and likely to be complex and uncertain. Another complication here is that many of these types of decisions depend on information that is ambiguous and cannot be verified.

It may be tempting for the enterprise architect to think about what information he or she would seek for an open-ended decision, and this is a reasonable place to start. Not to go further would be a mistake because another person is much less likely to make the same assumptions as the enterprise architect. In other words, everyone has their own belief-system. Differences in life experience, role, personality, and thinking style only increase the likely differences. As a result, the information requirements of the decision-maker may not match what the enterprise architect assumes is needed.

The enterprise architect may bridge this gap by taking the perspective of the decision-maker. Perspective-taking is an innate human skill that enables us to talk to each other by both listening to what the other is saying and imagining what the other is thinking but has not said. Research has shown that infants are capable of perspective-taking, and human social interaction is based on this ability to theorize about what is in someone else’s mind.

The enterprise architect can start this process with observing the environment, actions, communications, and relationships of the decision-maker. Given these observations the next step is to think about the underlying assumptions someone might be making that would give rise to these choices. Then the enterprise architect can generate some ideas about what is important to a decision-maker and test these ideas with someone who works with that person. It helps to focus on a particular decision that the decision-maker may have to make, is making, or has made in generating these ideas. Now the enterprise architect can review the available information and determine whether any of it might be relevant to the decision-maker. Assuming that there is some relevant information, the enterprise architect can summarize it and informally inquire whether the decision-maker finds the information useful; a brief, carefully-written email may do the trick. Being ready with approaches for obtaining additional information is also an important preparation here.

However, assumptions about other people’s assumptions may not be accurate. Making assumptions by taking the other’s perspective, writing them down and discussing them with the decision-makers can help the enterprise architect connect and learn what they really think. In addition to decision-makers, the enterprise architect, has to communicate with people in operations, for example, to understand the ground truth of how things work, which can be very different from the perspective of executives. Understanding different perspectives enables the enterprise architect to effectively engage not only decision-makers who will use the information provided by the EA for policies and governance rules, but people at all levels who will use the information provided in the EA.

Developing a relationship with key decision-makers by using his/her perspective-taking is a crucial step. This kind of relationship is the key to a sustained, effective EA effort.

Further Reading

  1. Audia, Pino G. (2013). Train Your People to Take Others’ Perspectives. Harvard Business Review. November 2012, Vol. 90 Issue 11, p26-26.
  2. Waytz, Adam. (2016). The limits of empathy. Harvard Business Review. January 2016, Vol 95 Issue 1, p68-73.
  3. Frith, Chris D. and Frith, Uta. (2007). Social Cognition in Humans. Current Biology. August 21, 2007. Vol 17, R724–R732.
  4. Nickerson, Harold. (1999). How We Know—and Sometimes Misjudge—What Others Know: Imputing One's Own Knowledge to Others. Psychological Bulletin.Vol. 125, No. 6, 737-759.

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Planning an EA