The Open Group Master Architect Certification

mcronin May 6, 2016 Architecture

I had the pleasure to submit and complete the Open Group Master Architect process recently and I have just received my certification. It was a great feeling to finish the process and download the certification!


So is the Open Group Architect certification for you?

The open group certifications are globally recognised objective certifications. While organisations, like IBM, run internal equivalents aligned to public standard, the open group are not directly affiliated to any organisation or any technology vendor and it's excellent way to show an employer that you are the right enterprise architect for the job.

The open group have 3 levels of certification.

  • Level 1 : certified IT architect
  • Level 2 : master IT architect
  • Level 3 : distinguished IT architect

They have also created a dedicated certification stream for business architects.

I do have a bit of an issue with this dedicated business stream, as I believe the business domain is an aspect of enterprise architecture and not separate. However I touch on this later again in the paper submission.

Unlike the TOGAF certification - which are purely exam based - these certifications are experienced based. You will have to write and submit a paper documenting your work, you have to provide references and attend board interviews.

This article focuses on the master architect submission, but would also be useful to anyone applying to the other levels.

If you are working a couple of years in IT Architecture and are planning your career, I believe it would be an excellent idea to approach your employer and suggest they support you through levels 1, 2 and 3. If you are further into your career, have sufficient experience and have discovered your love for all things EA, you can skip level 1 and go straight for master. I believe once you have 5 to 8 years of comprehensive EA experience behind you, you should be eligible to apply for the master certification. The guidance for Master on the site is "able to perform independently and take responsibility for delivery of systems and solutions as lead architect". This does mean exposure to all the domains (Business, Data, Technology and Application).

Why should I get the open group architect certification? Why should my company bother with these certification programs?

Aside from the objective industry recognition, sitting this certification program was an excellent reminder of the extent of the role of an enterprise architect. It is so much more than Visio and Powerpoint prowess.

Frequently enterprise architects are restricted to certain functions within an organisation. This maybe due to organisational reasons or due to politics. Filling out the open group Certified Architect package reminds you of the full extent of the involvement the EA architect should have in company strategy, portfolio planning, program delivery and most importantly dealing with the customer.

Even though there is a separate business stream in the open group, many of the IT master certified architect questions require you to describe how you supported the business to understand and develop their requirements.

For example:

  • Provide three examples where you have demonstrated your understanding of the stakeholders’ business needs, and how these needs relate to the wider context of the business and mission..
  • Document 3 – 5 instances where you created the structures of a solution represented as architectural artifacts (for example with UML or with another modeling notation) that satisfied the functional and non-functional business requirements. The architectural solution was communicated to the development team and reviewed/validated by the client. Only provide examples where your role in the effort was as the lead architect of the project or a significant subsystem or component.

The more technical questions also require you to focus on how you supported the business:

  • Use modeling techniques – such as use case scenario modeling, prototyping, benchmarking, and performance modeling – to describe the problem space, to size the solution and to validate that the proposed architecture addresses the business requirements.

  • Given a technical solution and the underlying business requirements that drove its development, assess the technical integrity and risks inherent in that solution in such a way that the recommendations and findings are appropriate and implementable.

These are excellent examples of how the expectation is that the Enterprise Architecture both supports and guides the business and is involved in major initiatives from their inception. Frequently architects are engaged after these phases - this process is an excellent reminder that the architects role starts long before the waterfall initiation phase and is much more than drawing box diagrams in PowerPoint.

So often Enterprise Architecture is dismissed as an IT function, often Enterprise Architects can be found in the bowels of the IT group, perhaps sitting with the senior IT executives - pushing your organisation to adopt this certification is a good litmus test to establish if your organisation is engaging enterprise architecture in the correct way and if your enterprise architecture team is supporting and guiding the business as they should!

What tips do you have for me now that Im starting my open group master certification journey?

The Open Group Website

The website is terrible, but the online help is good. Its true - I think they should apply some architectural best practices to their own website. It really needs an overhaul. There is a lot of content there and you will find yourself clicking around in frustration. For example the fee schedule is here. The board schedule is here. The templates are here but from either page it is not really intuitive where to submit your completed package. However, every time I wrote for help at I received a speedy and satisfactory response.

The Process

You need to fill out a package (50 pages). You then sit 3 board interviews (face to face or skype).

The Package

Download the correct template from the link above. In your submission you have to remain within 50 pages. This in itself is a test. Architects are not necessarily brief :)

Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 19.55.51.png

Do not edit the template! Do not change the fonts of the text on the template (the questions, titles, descriptions). Do not move the bars of the tables. You are instructed to delete the first 4 of pages of instructions and guidelines - after this keep your editing for your next architectural specification document!

The package has 6 main sections to fill out:

  • Section 2: Compliance With Skill Requirements
  • Section 3: Compliance With Experience Requirements
  • Section 4: Professional Development
  • Section 5: Contributions to the IT Architect Community
  • Section 6: Experience Profiles
  • Section 7: References

The 2 most challenging areas will be section 6 (the experience profiles) and section 2. Once you have done these two the rest of the package will be very easy.

Before starting on the paper (package), first of all sit down and record your relevant experience. Jot down the dates of your involvement, key points about the work, and your role. Keep this document and refer back to it, while completing the paper. Print out the sample package. Keep both of these documents by your side as you fill out the paper.

Begin with section 6.

Section 6 requires you to fill up three experience profiles. Here, via the heading topics, you can record complete project examples that you architected for your organisation. Read the heading topics carefully, for example do not put solution related information under "6.x.2.2 Describe the scope of the problem", rather wait for section "6.x.3 Solution". Think of this document like a New York apartment - space is a luxury, location is key :)

In this section, and in the document in general, document your involvement in the initiative. We are all team players, and in many cases maybe the work you did was only possible as you were part of a team. What the open group is looking for, is what your involvement was. Do not make the job of the reader harder by trying to establish what you did - so avoid "we...." and document "I...". Section 6 is broken down so that you should have to give quite specific answers, avoid copying out chunks of architectural specifications into this document. Where possible do use diagrams but remember the space restriction.

Order your experience profiles in chronological order based on date (most recent as experience profile 1). While you can document more than 3 experience profiles, you probably will not have room in the 50 page limit.

It is ok to use failures(!), sometimes our EA work that did not succeed shows our best learning and exposure.

Finally only use experience from the last 8 years. This is quite tough, if you have some good experiences from before that but it you use these you can expect to be quizzed quite thoroughly on these "older" experiences.

After completing section 6 move back to section 2.

Section 2 is broken up into 17 sections, each section looking for 3 examples. I found this the most challenging section, as it requires brevity but you need to ensure you get the answer across!

  • Each question typically looks for 3 examples, provide these in chronological order (most recent first).
  • You can use this section to refer to your experience profiles - where you were able to write more completely about projects. When you do this, ensure the "Project or Major activity" field contains the same name as the experience profile and refer to the experience profile number.
  • Keep each question and the 3 examples to one page only - if you go over you will probably exceed the 50 page limit.
  • Read the question carefully, a lot of the questions sound similar but are looking for something specific.
  • Where possible you can "bold" the relevant font in the answer text box to emphasise your answer. If the question is looking for an example where you employed known industry standards and tools, then bold the tool and standard names in your answer.
  • Use the first person - "I".
  • Help the reader see how you have answered the question - make it easy for him or her to pass you!
  • Make sure your dates and project / activity names are consistent with those of your experience profile.

Sections 3, 4 and 5 are easier to fill out and will be completed very quickly after sections 2 and 6!

Section 7 - references. While it is tempting to include the raving reviews, the this-dude-is-awesome-references, all the open group is looking for is verification that you are what you say you were for that initiative. They are not looking for verification that other people believe you are an enterprise architect. They are not looking for a character references. Therefore, do not be tempted to include the 2 page rave reviews. Indeed the 50 page limit should see to this, as the references are included in this 50 page limit - OUCH. Use the reference in the sample to guide you, write the reference for your referee. It should be something like this:

"From 02/2012 to 09/2014, Joanne Bloggs performed the role of lead IT Architect for the Lego World project. She was accountable for the architecture and lead a team of 4 people. As head of operations I was her business stakeholder."

It contains the dates, your role, the activity and your referees role. Do not use a line manager as the reference. Provide contact details for the reference and the open group does contact the referee.

If possible I really recommend having someone read your final paper who has been through this process (see below!). It takes a while to put this paper together and after a while it is difficult to see your own errors. Having an objective reader who understands the process and has written a similar style paper is invaluable! To submit your final paper create a log in to the open group site and follow the very (unintuitive) steps. A credit card payment is required at this point for final submission.

The Interview

After submitting the paper you are allocated to a board for interviews. The paper needs to be submitted 45 days before the board. However after submitting the paper someone will review it and send feedback - you have a chance to make these changes and resubmit. Remember you still need to allow for the 45 days after these amendments, so if you are aiming for a board make sure you allow much more time than 45 days for this "fix" cycle.

The interviews take place in London, Paris, Austin and San Francisco predominantly. They typically take place near an open group conference (when board members are in town).

I really recommend attending in person. It makes a difference I believe and its an excellent opportunity to meet some very qualified Enterprise Architects with great experience.

If you are flying in for the interview, fly in the evening before. The open group will typically book meeting space from 8am to noon somewhere and if your flight is delayed it will generate stress for you.

I found the interview the most enjoyable part of the experience. I met some great Enterprise Architects with incredible experience.


If you are about to embark on this journey reach out to us at, we are happy to mentor you and review your paper as an open source activity. It is always great to meet other EAs!

"Always pass on what you have learned" - Yoda

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