5 Best Practices to Achieve Peak Enterprise Architecture Agility

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The concept of ‘agility’ has permeated almost every inch of the enterprise. It’s not hard to see why either. The promise of faster time to markets, better management of change and disruption, and leaner, more efficient operations is clearly an appealing.

Enterprise Architecture (EA) is no exception to the rule. It might have been, for a time – when EA only really concerned itself with ‘keeping the lights on’. But now that the domain has found itself aligned more closely to the center of the business EA has to be concerned with agility too.

Some Enterprise Architecture practices can struggle to really achieve agility because of various reasons. We’ve put together 5 best practices to help architecture teams deliver greater business agility and also become more agile in their own approach to EA.

Just Enough Enterprise Architecture, Just in Time

One of the most common barriers to agililty is doing too much. The complex nature of Enterprise Architecture can lead to some architects building many rabbit holes where too much unnecessary information is captured and modeled that work is never ‘done’. This state is known as ‘analysis paralysis,’ as it effectively slows down the process and time to market of EA business-outcomes. Architects should stay focused on delivering Just Enough EA to support business outcomes, instead of documenting every last detail of the organization.

Of course there are times when very deep EA is required, but as a general rule it is better to focus on Just Enough Enterprise Architecture. Whether through curiosity to learn more, or paranoia that something will be missed, attempting to model and analyze everything is fundamentally at odds with agility.

Enterprise architecture analysis paralysis: Rabbit Hole

To help focus on Just Enough EA and avoid getting lost in the detail, architects should:

  • Separate Enterprise Architecture from Solution Architecture, understand that detail does exist where Architecture meets design
  • Use a goal based decision process, keeps a focus on what needs to be built and by when
  • Concentrate upon interfaces / relationships
  • Define the core properties to be collected and implement quality checks
  • Harvest and connect to records of source

A lean and agile approach to Enterprise Architecture allows architects and non-architects alike to access the information they need much faster too, since EA modeling and content is no longer weighed down by a lot of unneccessary detail. EA is more likely to secure investment this way, too – as stakeholders are more likely to invest when the business outcomes can be translated more clearly and quickly.

Engage and Collaborate with Business Stakeholders

Another hurdle to EA agility is approval. Architects often reach a point where they can’t continue without the approval and buy-in from business leaders. The quicker you can get your stakeholders on board, the faster you can move through the strategic planning process into execution. This efficiency is essential to the agile mantra.

The ivory tower perception of Enterprise Architecture that has traditionally plagued the discipline makes this even more of an issue. Stakeholders are more likely to be reluctant to invest (be it time, money or resources), if the business outcomes aren’t completely clear.

One way to solve this is to help stakeholders get a better understanding and view of enterprise architecture. Getting them engaged and collaborating on the applications, processes or business capabilities they are interest in via an easy-to-use EA tool is ideal. We can also borrow ideas from Just Enough Enterprise Architecture (mentioned above). Your stakeholders shouldn’t have to learn how to do Enterprise Architecture in order to provide input and see its benefits.

Organizations with a collaboratively driven tool can provide stakeholders direct links to specific assets in the architecture. This negates any learning curve stakeholders might have needed to navigate the tool itself, gets them straight to their point of interest, and saves them time.

Enterprise Architecture collaboration

Giving stakeholders the ability to view and contribute directly within the EA tool itself, negates the need to go back and forth with static diagrams and reports. Instead of printing out PDFs and the like (which is actually just sharing), EAs can collaborate with stakeholders in realtime allowing them to see the impact of different changes on the business and to guide investment decisions.

Ensure Your Content is Stakeholder Focused

Although it’s best to engage and collaborate with stakeholders in EA, in some cases, the stakeholders can only really take a passive role. In this case, making sure what you present to the stakeholder is tailored to them, is another great way of removing stakeholder concerns as a hurdle to agility.

View managers are a great quality of life data management system, that can help EAs achieve this. They’re already commonplace in many Business Intelligence tools and CRM Systems, but can be just as useful in EA.

The purpose of a view manager is to streamline both the visulaization and navigation of data. They take a set of user defined parameters, and act as a filter to show only what’s relevant to that view.

View Manager explained

Much of this ties into the concept of showing ‘just enough’ EA and can help users and the wider business stay agile by trimming the irrelevant data that can slow down decision making.

View Managers could also be used as a tool specifically purposed to improve agility and efficiency across the business. For example, a view could be created to always display all business capabilities or perhaps all applications that you own. It could then be sorted to show the most critical capabilities – based on their importance to the business – first.

This helps provide architects with a clear view of their own priorities but similarly which organizational priorities should be tackled first.

A business capabiltiy view is just one possible example. In terms of agility, the view would help improve the efficieny at every stage in strategics planning process, increasing agility and time to market across the board by improving systems and processes.

Kanbans

Kanban Boards are a common form of task management in business. In short, they operate as a visual representation of the current state of a specific task(s). The typical parameters are “to do”, “doing”, “done” and “parked”, but many businesses choose to define their own parameters to better suit their needs. For example, a Kanban board that follows the different stages of the TOGAF ADM.

An example can be found below:

Enterprise Architecture Kanban board

In relation to agility, Kanbans are a great way of organizing and prioritizing your own and your teams activities. This structure is the basis for any credible attempt at a truly agile operation. Without it, organizations often find themselves wasting more time deciding what should be done, that actually doing.

Kanban’s are versatile enough to be used at almost any point in the strategic planning process – including Enterprise Architecture. In EA specifically, Kanban boards could include cards representing business capabilities, or application components, providing a work in progress view of the architecture.

Get the Right Tool

Most organizations start small with EA, repurposing tools such as Powerpoint, Excel and Visio.

This budget approach to managing EA can most definitely get you off the ground. But as the architecture grows, the silos created when fragmenting the architecture across multiple programs and file types stifle progression.

It becomes difficult to work collaboratively, as multiple team members struggle to keep aligned. In many cases, there will be multiple different versions of the architecture that don’t fully corroborate with one another.

The most direct impact on agility though, is the fragmented state of information and assets. The dispersed nature of the data makes it extremely hard to find the information you need, making the EAs day-to-day job harder, as well as introducing further complications when presenting the architecture to stakeholders. EA can be complicated enough for the experts, let alone the stakeholders that are only involved sporadically. These are complications it can do without.

The right tool would be one that unifies the Enterprise Architecture, as well as the architects – allowing them to work collaboratively within one tool, with real time feedback and comment systems across the diagrams, roadmaps, pivot tables,impact analysis and capability models.

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Dan Aston

An enterprise software marketing pro with international experience gained whilst working and living in the United Kingdom, Sweden, and United States.Currently based in Birmingham in the UK, driving Global marketing at Corso.

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