Sep 082015

Perceptions of Time
We all have different perceptions of time, and our individual perceptions are influenced by the culture and norms of an enterprise. Our experiences of time have been researched and studied from many perspectives. For example, think about attitudes to the following in various enterprises or cultures:

  • What is the attitude toward time-keeping? Do meetings start on time, stick to their agenda, and end on time? How many clocks are there in a building or meeting room? Do people keep checking the time? Is it acceptable to arrive late for meetings or appointments?
  • How much time is allocated to different tasks? Do you have enough time to think properly about the vision? How often does it feel that tasks are rushed or unfinished?
  • How fast do people work? Are they rushing to fit everything in, or do they have enough time for each task? Do people work on one task at a time, or are they engaged with several architectural concerns at once?
  • How much time is available for conversations with key stakeholders? Is this enough time? Who does the talking? Who initiates or ends stakeholder meetings?
  • What does the normal working day look like? Do people follow a 9 to 5 schedule? How flexible are working hours? Are there scheduled breaks? How much is driven by the schedule or a calendar (including things like budgetary planning cycles or fiscal years)?
  • How fast do people walk? Do people have time for informal discussions around the water fountain?

All these questions reveal attitudes toward time. Broadly, the answers will lie somewhere on a range from rushed and frantic to slow and tranquil. Some enterprises will be predominantly at one extreme or the other. Based on the research, there is a likely expectation that EA teams in Japan, the US, and some Western European countries — such as Switzerland, Ireland, Germany, Italy, England, Sweden, Austria, and the Netherlands — will produce results comparatively quickly. EA teams in other countries with slower-paced cultures, such as most Mediterranean and Arab countries, are more likely to work at a comparatively gentle or slow pace.

The key point is that pace is relative — it is likely to be comparatively fast or comparatively slow, but there will always be some EA environments with a mixture of both fast and slow, and some that fluctuate between the two extremes. There will also be variations among cities within countries — for example, Boston and Kansas City are supposedly two of the faster-paced cities in the US — and possibly between one EA team and another within the same organization. (These comments are based on the many studies into perceptions of time in different cultures. For further reading, see: A Geography of Time and “Transcending Cultural Barriers: Context, Relationships, and Time.”)

As a broad guideline, the more industrialized and economically developed countries are faster-paced than less developed countries, or countries with slower-paced lifestyles. Another influence is the degree to which things are determined by the past or the future.

Figure 1 shows some considerations particularly relevant to the EA team. Each enterprise is defined, in part, by its unique history and culture.

Figure 2

Figure 1 — Perceptions of time.

The first time continuum example in Figure 1 illustrates a main focus on the present, covering maintenance, repair, and minor architectural improvements. There is little connection with the past or future, so EA is not learning from the past to address the causes of limitations with the current architecture, and there are few coordinated plans for the future. This represents an EA team that is caught up with day-to-day issues and doesn’t have a good sense of architectural time scales.

The second example is a more balanced view of time: the past informs the present and the future plan evolves out of the current state. While the main focus is on present demands (shown by the larger size of the blue oblong), the future is also comparatively important. This is the balance of a typical EA team of average maturity.

Some enterprises are dominated by their heritage and legacy. This is shown in the third example, where the past dominates the present, and the future is not really seen as anything very different from the present. In this example, a financial institution had grown through a succession of mergers and acquisitions over the previous 20 years with little rationalization or simplification of its architectures; consequently, the EA team had to deal with the overheads of outdated, inefficient, replicated, incompatible components from the past.

The final example shows an enterprise that puts a high premium on leading EA through a strong vision of the future, but which is balanced by the day-to-day needs of the present and informed by an understanding of EA actions and decisions from the past. This is the pattern for a more mature EA team engaged in the wider strategy planning cycles of the enterprise.

It is useful to think about how you or your enterprise would place the past, present, and future in this time continuum. You might consider the relative importance of past, present, or future architectural states; whether there is a clear understanding of how one state leads to another, which is shown by the proximity of past to present and present to future; whether EA activity is largely controlled by EA actions in the past; whether the enterprise is constantly rushing toward its future, or whether it is relaxed and reaping the rewards of a sound architectural present; and cultural factors, such as fixed or flexible attitudes toward schedules, meetings, and events.


Roger Evernden

Roger Evernden is a Senior Consultant with Cutter Consortium's Business & Enterprise Architecture practice. He specializes in the highly practical use of EA to manage organizational transformation.


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