Here’s a fun game to play: Sit two Enterprise Architects in a room and start the clock. Then scribble a best guess for a time until THE QUESTION ‘How do you get anyone to understand the Value of EA in your business?’ is asked. Hint: write fast, it won’t take long.

I’m not poking fun at my fellow practitioners, rather highlighting the problem of a function launched from the wrong place and struggling to find somewhere useful to land ever since. If the very people who are passionate about EA cannot agree on the value of it, it seems somewhat churlish to blame the wider business for ‘not getting it’.

And it drives some undesirable behaviours. Many of these we see on well meaning forums lamenting the lack of traction EA gains in strategy, organisational design, operating models or merely influencing the change agenda. Which understandably triggers a desire to wrap EA up into some kind of sound-bite, to create features and benefits to create a product, to muscle in on the closely guarded turf of other functions, and ultimately to provide an answer for the perennial question ‘What is EA for?

There’s some useful context in the answers. Even some broad agreement that EA shouldn’t be considered an IT discipline, how it must not become a flag-waving standards body or some kind of ‘shadow strategy’function. But do you notice how all these answers are about what EA isn’t?

That’s because we’re asking the wrong question. The question is not ‘What is EA for?’ but ‘What can EA DO?’ Now that is a great question because EA can do much to secure an organisations future through the tools, techniques and frameworks of both its practitioners and – for it to be successful –the rest of the organisation.

But we mustn’t start there. Executives and management boards have been PowerPoint’d to death with frameworks that will – honestly this time – change the world. Most have methodology fatigue because these great concepts historically deliver little obvious or material business benefit (there’s good reasons for this and I’ll be back to it in a later article).

So let’s not talk about that either. Let’s find someone with a problem, a level of authority, a deadline and an air of intense frustration. And explain to them where we can help break out from traditional organisational lines and plot a route not governed by standard organisational metrics. It is exactly because EA does – and should – mean different things to different people, we must root it in pragmatism and deliver it with passion, rather than define and limit it.

There will be time to explain more about how an EA practice is set up, who sits in it, what they do and why they do it, which tools are in use and what frameworks are followed. But that time is not now, and it’d be far better delivered by the very people you’ve just helped. We need advocates and referenceable work, not airy outpourings of recycled corporate-speak.

Let’s not kid ourselves; this is a tough job. As an ex-IT guy, I have watched with resigned horror as people we need to help disengage because even the senior IT leaders are talking in code. EA hasn’t completely thrown off that whiff of the technically obscure or wilful miscommunication.

I don’t have all the answers of course. None of us do. And we are trying to hit a fast moving target. But we must start asking the right questions of the right people. We need to get our sleeves rolled up and start solving business problems in a new way that will delight our sponsors, and lock their success in with ours. EA becomes a success story when it has enabled others to be successful, not because of what we tell them it can do on its own.

There has never been a better time for EA to showcase this. We’re living in a fascinating vortex of changing business models, borderless nations and unheralded data and technology assets. EA has never been needed more than it is right now.

So the question is not ‘what’ but ‘how’.