Enterprise Architecture – 10 Soft Skills – Part 2: Clean Questions

October 12, 2013

Clean Questions

A key task for Enterprise Architect’s is understanding requirements – perhaps of a business process, service, or product – so that key decisions can be made. In order to gather requirements, questions must inevitably be asked. There is a common mistake many people make (whether conscious or unconscious of it) when asking questions to gather requirements: BIAS. Remember, requirements are the needs of the customer. Not your own needs. It’s key to understand – fully and completely – through the customer’s eyes. Do NOT impose your own map of the world on someone else by asking leading questions, assuming anything, or influencing towards your own preconceived notions of the “right path” to go down. In order to understand the customer, we must ask CLEAN questions.

The goal of clean questions is to understand another’s map of the world. A key attitude one must have when asking clean questions is to be genuinely curious and neutral; to act like an explorer in a new land. To understand someone without bias such as in voice tone, facial expressions, and body language. Assume nothing and simply see through the customer’s eyes by asking clean questions (credit for this technique must be given to David Grove,  http://www.cleanlanguage.co.uk):

Clean Questions

Start at the top of the above diagram and work your down. The key is to identify and define attributes using their own (not your own) words.

… what kind of [their words] is that [their words]?
… is there anything else about [their words]?
… that’s [their words] like what?
… where is that [their words]?
… whereabouts [their words]?

Example: Understanding a business process. It’s pretty clear each step in a business process (e.g. “Create a New Customer”, “Upgrade Product”) can be understood by asking “Defining Attribute” questions and “Locating in Space” (context/scope) questions. The steps in a business process can be related to one another by asking “Evolving Time” and “Pulling Back Time” questions.

Perhaps, the most powerful clean question is the “Shifting Symbol” question, which is essentially a metaphor!  (see this post on Metaphor’s – https://ericweinstein.wordpress.com/2013/09/13/enterprise-architecture-10-soft-skills-part-1/). Metaphor can be used to understand business processes – whether chunking up to a “Conceptual” level to understand the goal of the process or chunking down to a Logical (or physical) level to understand the intent of a single process step.

By using [their] words, with a neutral, exploratory attitude, and following the clean question model and occasionally shifting into metaphor, we can bring to life the customer’s map of the world!

Enterprise Architecture – 10 Soft Skills – Part 1: Story and Metaphor

September 13, 2013

Enterprise Architecture – 10 Soft Skills – Pt 1

A new architect will quickly realize that simply applying an EA framework will not be very effective without effective communication. These next few posts will discuss some “comm-hacks” that may not be so obvious.

1)      Story and Metaphor– As discussed in a previous post, an architect can use the business motivation model (BMM) for the “strategy architecture”; goals/objectives/strategies/tactics – and how they depend upon each other. The BMM is a GREAT way to structure strategy! But, does it light the fire in the hearts and minds of the team? Maybe/probably not. It’s a very analytical, left brain approach to defining strategy.

What about the right brain? The right brain is equally, if not more important (according to me) in setting strategy because it’s easier to directly access the heart – of a person, a team, or an organization. The abstract, right brain is directly tied to lighting a fire in the heart!

How does one light a fire, in the context of a cold, analytical EA strategy (BMM)? Through metaphor and story! Metaphor and story are abstract and often indirect – the message of the metaphor or story need not be stated directly. Instead, one is motivated and unconsciously directed, through the context set by the metaphor, to search for meaning. The meaning that one finds on their own is far more powerful and motivating than the quantitative side of things. Often, the best stories and metaphors are those with very large scope (e.g. the purpose of entire project, mission of the organization etc..)

EXAMPLE – Let’s say a key project is well underway and an Enterprise Architect is now in a governing role for this project. There are some challenges with the project while others parts of it are going fine. If we were to ask a few key managers in the office and extract their metaphor for the overall status of the project, what could we hear?

Manager 1’s metaphor: “Rome is burning”

Manager 2’s metaphor: “This project is like a roller-coaster, you scream every-time there is a bump or throw your hands up and enjoy the ride!”

Manager 3’s metaphor: “This project is like having a baby. It’s coming out all bloody but in the end you get something beautiful!”


Which metaphor is most useful? People often have unconscious metaphors that can be “read” by what they say and do.

And, here is the coolest part: You can choose your own metaphor! Choose one that is most helpful for the outcome of the project – and communicate it to everyone! You will be surprised at how effective this can be.