Recently, I interviewed a half dozen top service design agencies to better understand how they work with enterprise architects and business architects inside the client firms they serve. All of the agencies I interviewed focus on helping their clients transform customer experience and introduce new products and services.  I wanted to interview these agencies because they represent the tip of the spear when it comes to introducing new innovation inside of companies looking to take advantage of disruptive drivers – both competitive and digital – and rethink their business models. 

I asked each agency for examples of how they worked with their clients’ enterprise architects and business architects when introducing new innovation.  When I posed this question to each agency, I could hear crickets chirping in the background.  In short, they all indicated – in as nice terms as possible – that they try to avoid the IT organization in general, and had no contact with specific enterprise architects or business architects. 

For me these interviews painted a picture of a school yard where team captains are picking players for kickball, and a small group of kids were being left on the sidelines, not picked for the team.  Using this analogy, the business – in many cases the CMO and CXO leaders – are the team captains.  And enterprise architecture, including business architects and process architects, are the kids being left on the sidelines. 

In addition to the design agency interviews, I also interviewed enterprise architects and EA programs to understand the role they play when brought in to participate in customer facing and digital initiatives.  These interviews revealed that in most cases the enterprise architecture team was brought in only after the initiative washed up on their shores, and the EA team was left to shoehorn the solution into existing locked-down architectures.

When I analyzed the two different sets of interviews, I could see a big gap in the thinking and general approach to problem solving.  In short, the design agencies used “Design Thinking” practices, such as empathy and prototyping to experiment and whittle away at possible solutions; while the enterprise architects used “Systems Thinking” practices, such as deductive reasoning and quantitative analysis to architect a solution.

I’m currently wrapping up a set of research reports that outline what “Design Thinking” means for enterprise architects and business architects, in addition to providing proven strategies and case studies on how and when to shift your thinking when responding to customer-facing and digital opportunities.  The reports will go live later this quarter and I will present the research at our upcoming Enterprise Architecture Forum in Washington DC, May 6- 7. We will also host subsequent Forum for Enterprise Architecture Professionals in London, June 10- 11. 

As I’m wrapping up these reports, I’d love to hear from you if you’re an enterprise architect or business architect and have a great example of how your team “got picked for the team” and worked alongside a design agency – or alongside your CMO – at the beginning of a customer-facing initiative.  I’m also interested to hear from you if you have an example of how a customer-facing or digital initiative washed up on your shore and posed real challenges to the existing architecture.  If you have an example or feedback you want to share, e-mail me at