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How to Explain Enterprise Architecture To Your Grandmother

        posted by , October 26, 2011

How would you explain enterprise architecture to your grandmother?

Why I Ask

Some years ago I was involved in hiring 200+ developers for a new offshore development center. That meant conducting 300-400 technical interviews over the span of a year.

I quickly realized how difficult it can be to differentiate true talent from cut-n-paste developers (within a 30 minute phone conversation). The reason: communication skills. Common problems include:

- jumping into low level details with no context
- using obscure proprietary terminology
- insensitivity to audience feedback

Communication skills are important but in this case it was a minor consideration. I was more interested in core technical understanding. Whenever an answer was difficult to understand — I asked the interviewee to explain it like they were explaining it to their grandmother.

It worked well — developers often assume that other technical folks are on the same page. They may also assume that business and technical terms used at one organization are common industry terms when they are not. However, when asked to explain their projects to a layman — things get much clearer.

Implications for Enterprise Architecture

Enterprise Architects must regularly explain complex technical concepts in the most simple of terms. At times, I have found it useful to ponder — how would I explain this to my Grandmother?

Not everything an EA communicates should be in layman terms. However, it is a useful exercise to think-out an explanation that doesn't rely on specialized terms.

Enterprise Architecture for Grandmothers

How I would explain EA to my grandmother:

A Enterprise Architect is like a city planner. A city planner sets building codes and plans common services such as roads and water. Enterprise Architects do the same thing for technology.

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