>Life Expectancy and Enterprise Architecture

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We all hope and pray for a long and healthy life with our loved ones. Unfortunately, when serious illness strikes, the question is how long does a person have to live?

The Wall Street Journal, 6 June 2007, reports that despite all the diagnostic medical tools today, predicting life expectancy is still “a very inexact science.”

While it does not seem odd to me that “doctors often fumble predicting life expectancy” since this is truly only something G-d can know for sure—what is odd is the magnitude of the discrepancy with doctors predictions. “Doctors overestimated dying patients’ survival by a factor of 5.3”!

Why the gross inaccuracy? And can this provide any lessons for enterprise architecture planning?

  • Forecasting is not a science—“Even some of the best scientific studies of some of the more common medical cases points to one conclusion: we don’t really know.” Similarly, with planning business and technology, we can’t really see into the future or around corners. The best we can do is to extrapolate from events and trends. This is more an art than a science.
  • Old/bad data is a poor basis for planning—“Life expectancy data for such patients are dated. ‘True life expectancy with best treatment is constantly changing.’” Similarly, with business and IT planning, events on the ground are constantly changing, so for planning to be even somewhat accurate, you need real time and quality data.
  • Optimism is an exaggeration—Doctors tend to be overoptimistic with their life expectancy predictions, “in part because they tend to be confident in their abilities and hopeful for their patients.” While we can’t give up hope—ever—we should not be overconfident in our abilities. When architecting the organizing, we must try to be as realistic as we can and not look at the enterprise with rose colored lenses.
  • Overlooking the obvious—“Doctors simply overlook the signs of nearing death.” As architects, we cannot overlook anything. We need to be on the lookout for the latest business and technology trends and plan accordingly for the enterprise.
  • Difficulty communicating bad news—“The pain and difficulty of communicating the prediction exacerbates the error…when estimating life expectancy for patients who, it turned out, had about a month to live, doctors tacked on 15 days onto their private predictions.” Enterprise architects need to be good—no expert—communicators. This is important in translating business-technology speak and in charting a course. If the current roadmap is not right for the organization, architects need to articulate the problems, why and how to fix them.
  • Treatment can cause more problems—“Patients and doctors expecting a longer survival time may agree on more invasive treatment, adding the burden of side effects and complications to patients in their final days.” Similarly, as architects, we may see a business process or technology problem and in trying to fix it, end up doing the wrong thing and exasperate the problem. So like doctors, our first pledge needs to be to do no harm.
  • Feedback and quality control—these “could help hone survival estimates.” So to with planning and governance, doing the assessment/lessons learned and performance metrics can be very valuable for improving practices and processes going forward.

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