So what’s with the ducks?


Several different colors of rubber ducks. Could be a symbol of diversity or cooperation

Those of you that have been to my office know that I seem to have an obsession with ducks, particularly the bathtub kind. My collection of rubber, plastic, glass and paper ducks was mostly accumulated a few years ago when I was working to sell the concept of enterprise architecture. Many of the ducks in my collection are gifts from that period. This post explains the story behind the ducks.

Problem: How to communicate the benefits of Enterprise Architecture.

In the summer of 2007 the Enterprise Architecture and Standards Division, of CIOB TBS GC, faced a dilemma. Over the previous three years they had invested heavily in creating a robust and comprehensive approach to business transformation. Called BTEP for Business Transformation Enablement Program, this approach integrated business architecture and project management concepts into a disciplined method for horizontal change. After several successful implementations it had begun to attract attention and communications with potential adopters became important.

Unfortunately, the brilliant scientists that created the method responded to this interest using the sometimes arcane language of the discipline and simply overwhelmed business people with detailed descriptions of what they had done. A few like-minded individuals got the message and were enthusiastic, however, most business people simply didn’t get it.

In early 2008 the most senior levels of management in the Public Service began to ask questions around alignment. They wanted to know if projects they were being asked to fund were aligned, that is did they follow strategy, use compatible technology, comply with policy, and not duplicate one another? Alignment is a key goal for Enterprise Architecture and the division had been working on ways to measure (and create) alignment as part of its efforts to stimulate coherence. What interests our bosses, fascinates us, so naturally the division wanted to bring its alignment work to the forefront.

The division knew it had important knowledge and useful tools that could help. But they also had learned that selling Enterprise Architecture using the language of the discipline only worked with other architects. Strategically they understood that they needed to change their approach to communications and had hired myself as a senior communications person. I was a recent convert to the idea of Enterprise Architecture and was not steeped in the language of the discipline. Knowing the power of images and metaphor I stumbled upon the idea of ducks in a row and added it to the spider web, gear images, and railroad metaphors as things to try out.

Having previously worked in advertising, I sought to obtain a visual to go along with the words coherent government by design. In order to cut through the visual clutter and get noticed, the image had to be different than what people were used to seeing. The concept of ducks in a row seemed to resonate. The brightly colored ducks were nothing like the complex diagrams and charts that populated most of the decks in the division. There was no question they got attention.

We added the slide to an executive presentation the CIO was giving and while talking to the slide he associated the different color of each duck with the unique personalities of the departments in the federation that makes up the Government of Canada. The argument being that they did not have to give up their autonomy to move in the same direction.

The ducks turned out to be an excellent metaphor, not only because they communicate the central message of alignment, but because they are well suited to an extension into the physical world. The division even gave out rubber ducks as instant achievement awards. These ducks sit on desks and bookcases, as a means of drawing attention and reminding us of the importance of alignment.

As the program rolled out and ducks began to propagate, people started to give me ducks that they collected from their travels. I now have ducks from all around the world, drop by my office sometime and I will show you a few.

The book chapter can be found on the Enterprise Architecture Marketing page.

This post is an excerpt from the marketing communications chapter of Coherency Management: Architecting the Enterprise for  Alignment, Agility and Assurance Edited by: Gary Doucet, John Gøtze, Pallab Saha, and Scott Bernard

About Thom Kearney

Change agent, teacher, arts, science, open government, father, mentor, storyteller, husband, dog owner,collaborator, not necessarily in that order.
This entry was posted in Culture, Marketing & Communication. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to So what’s with the ducks?

  1. Pingback: It’s time to explain the cow… | NuSum

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