WHAT IS AGILE ENTERPRISE ARCHITECTURE?
(AND WHY SHOULD YOU CARE)
In light of the work and results we have delivered to our clients over the past year, today we are introducing a new blog series focused on the impact of successful and strategic Enterprise Architecture.
Being successful in the current business landscape demands agility, a deep focus on customer value, and the ability to build and deliver adaptive strategies.
If you haven’t considered the way these trends are affecting enterprise architecture (EA), you’re already behind.
In this article, we’ll explore a new paradigm: agile enterprise architecture. But before we explain the value of this approach, it’s critical to get on the same page about a few core concepts.
What is enterprise architecture?
Essentially, enterprise architecture is the practice of understanding and documenting components of an enterprise — and the relationships between these components — in order to improve strategic planning and decision making.
The practice of enterprise architecture encompasses discovery (what does the enterprise have now and what will they need in the future?), design (what’s the best way for the enterprise to achieve its goals?), implementation (how do we put this plan into action?), and documentation (how do we synthesize this information in a useful way?).
Enterprise architecture is usually focused on information technology and the relationship between IT and business goals. One major goal of EA is to reduce technology debt, a term used to describe the ongoing costs associated with hastily chosen IT solutions (as opposed to those considered in the context of a long-term plan).
What is agile?
The agile methodology is an approach to the development of products or systems that emphasizes adaptation, evolution, and flexibility.
The first use of the agile methodology was in software development. However, the spirit of agile — as described in The Agile Manifesto — can be applied to many different practice areas, including enterprise architecture. Frameworks like SAFe® provide guidance for applying these principles to different parts of the business.
To boil it down to one key element, an agile approach values responding to change over following a plan, delivering incremental value throughout the entire improvement process. In other words, it is an iterative, ride-along approach rather than a prescriptive, point-in-time approach. Value is created along the journey, instead of being solely located at some distant destination.
The trouble with traditional enterprise architecture
What does EA look like in reality?
Most often, enterprise architecture is the responsibility of one individual or a small team within an organization, or an additional role added to the many on an already overburdened leader. They conduct point-in-time exercises and apply EA “best practices,” which are typically academic in nature rather than drawn from contextualized real-world experience.
The outcome of these exercises is usually a monolithic document that’s difficult to apply to day-to-day decision making. This document purports to “solve” the enterprise’s technology problems, but too often ignores the fact that every solution has a lifecycle, and that the usefulness of solutions changes over time.
Because traditional enterprise architecture plans don’t flex and adapt, the technology solutions proposed by the EA team tend to become disconnected from the strategic pulse of the business. These legacy approaches structurally ignore the fact that what you know now is almost invariably going to be significantly different than what you’ll know later on.
As a result, despite being expected to own the long-term technology strategy for the enterprise, EA teams often slide down the slippery slope towards being perennial meeting floaters, sitting on the sidelines of decisions rather than contributing real value.
What is agile enterprise architecture?
Agile enterprise architecture is a new approach to EA developed by The Gunter Group. Agile EA applies the principles of the agile methodology to enterprise architecture in order to improve business outcomes.
Agile EA focuses on iteration and continuous improvement. In this approach, the job of an enterprise architect is not just to deliver a roadmap — it’s to ride along with the roadmap, continuously closing the gap between the plan and reality as it unfolds.
In addition, a major goal of agile EA is to create a set of architectural patterns that help define business problems and orchestrate their solutions. Agile EA decenters specific technology recommendations in favor of methods and frameworks for finding the right solution in any situation.
To put it another way, an agile enterprise architect understands that “owning” the long-term technology plan for an organization is not a sustainable responsibility. Instead, agile EA focuses on enabling internal teams to generate their own solutions to complex problems in alignment with broader strategic goals.
Agile EA dispenses with outdated and ineffective elements of traditional enterprise architecture practices. Whereas traditional EA is academic, agile EA is pragmatic. Whereas traditional EA is prescriptive, agile EA is adaptive. Whereas traditional EA often becomes decoupled from business strategy, agile EA is solely focused on the ways technology enables business outcomes.
Ultimately, successfully practicing agile enterprise architecture ensures the organization has the technology runway it needs to achieve its strategic goals.
Enterprise architecture as a service (EAaaS)
One manifestation of agile enterprise architecture is enterprise architecture as a service (EAaaS). As opposed to project-based consultants who are rarely around long enough to see the execution of their proposed roadmaps, EAaaS provides ongoing support in a scalable subscription format.
EAaaS can augment or transform in-house EA teams. There are several advantages to this approach, including:
- Knowledge: EAaaS provides access to a broad base of skills that are constantly being honed in real-world environments
- Change: a third-party team can act as a change agent, helping organizations overcome internal roadblocks
- Scalability: EAaaS can be scaled up or down according to current business needs (for example, increasing service following M&A)
- Cost: The Gunter Group’s EAaaS approach will typically cost less than the full-time salaries of an in-house team
Through enterprise architecture as a service, The Gunter Group has the ability to transform an ineffective, impractical enterprise architecture function into an agile driver of positive change.
A new era in enterprise architecture
We believe that agile enterprise architecture — which is best realized through EAaaS — represents a dramatic improvement over the status quo.
More than that, however, we view the shift to this approach as a necessary component of a successful enterprise.
The old models and best practices of enterprise architecture were developed in a different era. They were not built to handle the strain of the rapid growth and change made necessary by the pace of and competition in the modern landscape.
However, by treating your EA capability as a strategic enabler rather than a tactical function, you will unlock business agility, customer value, and long-term success.
Agility is the hallmark of today’s most successful businesses — and you simply cannot have an agile enterprise without agile enterprise architecture.
More about Matt Jamison:
Matt is an experienced solutions architect with a results-oriented understanding of the intersection between reality and architectural theory. He has the ability to plan, develop, and implement large-scale projects while maintaining impeccable attention to detail. With 20 years of functional information technology experience, Matt has end-to-end IT knowledge from layer 1 networking to application API interaction. An expert in mapping technology solutions to business needs, Matt is also able to conform to required regulations while maintaining IT best practices. Matt’s experience spans multiple industries, including healthcare, telecommunications, and security and software. He is an AWS Certified Solutions Architect. Outside of work, Matt enjoys the outdoors and all things bike-related.
THREE KEYS TO SUCCESSFUL ENTERPRISE ARCHITECTURE IMPLEMENTATION
Over the last year we have supported clients spanning a variety of industries. Some of our most impactful client engagements have been in the area of Enterprise Architecture.
As a way to further support our clients, we hosted a special Idea Exchange focused solely on the process of transforming Enterprise Architecture and increasing value to organizations with a more agile approach.
In that Idea Exchange we discussed three keys to improving Enterprise Architecture:
1. The quality of Enterprise Architecture should be determined by the outcome it enables.
Successful outcomes result from leadership teams and stakeholders clearly aligning upfront on the problem or opportunity. Identifying the desired outcome can be supported through an upfront planning process which asks questions such as:
- What are we trying to do?
- Why are we doing this?
- What is the business value and cost proposition?
- How and why will users adopt or embrace the end result?
2. Evolving roadmaps = useful roadmaps.
An agile enterprise architect can leverage the “perfect” roadmap as inspiration to identify a good solution which enables short-term benefits and sets the business up to realize the perfect solution.
For example, a five-year roadmap that started two years ago is not valid anymore and COVID-19 is a dramatic example as to why.
Additionally, new technology and capabilities that can help your business operate more effectively will come to market, which were not part of your original roadmap. For this reason, it is important to regularly review and update roadmaps incrementally.
3. Changing direction is an essential activity.
Agile methodology is not only about making it okay to change direction, it is about encouraging and supporting this behavior. Identify your “North Star” but recognize over time the path to your “North Star” will change.
A critical part of the agile mindset in Enterprise Architecture is that it can be preferable to have assumptions, even if some of the assumptions prove to be wrong as progress and developments are made.
Institutional acceptance of this creates the healthiest, most productive, most agile Enterprise Architecture process. The team should be inspired and supported to change direction when it makes sense and explore preto-typing and interim testing as part of their evolving problem solving processes.
In closing we have been inspired and motivated by the proliferation and maturation of agile practices in recent years. Unfortunately, Enterprise Architecture has lagged behind in its own progression and application. While some see this misalignment and move on, we see it as an opportunity to help organizations effectively transform their architectural activities and support clients in an effort to successfully drive innovation across their technology ecosystem.
UPCOMING PORTLAND EVENT: APPLYING AGILE TO THE NON-IT PARTS OF YOUR BUSINESS
You love agile. You love the iterative approach to problem-solving. You love the way it empowers your IT teams to find solutions. You wish that you could see the same benefits in other parts of your business, but the problem is that agile seems stuck in the world of developers and technical teams.
Matt Jamison, Tech Services Lead at The Gunter Group, has been thinking about this problem for a few years. In conversations with clients and peers in various industries, Matt has started to break down the principles, roles, ceremonies, and functions of agile into a series of “Whys” that add value in a broader business context. By deconstructing the structures of agile into their purposes, Matt is able to apply aspects of agile to lines of business that fall outside of tech.
Excited to hear more? Join Matt as he explores how these agile concepts offer a fresh approach to building bridges between strategy, processes, and the realization of business goals. Matt provides examples that illustrate how agile can spill over the boundaries of tech into non-IT parts of the business, providing use cases from HR.
Come join the conversation! The event will take place at Puppet on Wednesday, November 20th from 6:30pm to 8:30pm. Click here for more details, and to register for the event!
Matt Jamison is an experienced solutions architect with a results-oriented understanding of the intersection between reality and architectural theory. He has the ability to plan, develop, and implement large-scale projects while maintaining impeccable attention to detail. With 20 years of functional information technology experience, Matt has end-to-end IT knowledge from layer 1 networking to application API interaction. An expert in mapping technology solutions to business needs, Matt is also able to conform to required regulations while maintaining IT best practices. Matt’s experience spans multiple industries, including healthcare, telecommunications, and security and software. He is an AWS Certified Solutions Architect. Outside of work, Matt enjoys the outdoors and all things bike-related.
TGG LEVELS-UP TECH PRACTICE
Gunter Group consultants converged on the Portland area last weekend to attend a 16-hour 2-day training on agile. The course, provided by industry leader Rod Claar, included a deep dive into agile best practices and featured hands-on learning experiences.
Participants learned the fundamentals of agile project management, especially with regard to the rules and roles of Scrum. This course positions TGG to continue providing the best possible service to our clients, by helping us to integrate proven best-practices with the experience many of us already have in agile environments.
What did you do with your weekend?
Part of a Larger Growth:
Half of TGG consultants in the field are trained or experienced in agile, as of last weekend’s course. This class was one of many steps made by TGG to grow its expertise in technology.
Over the past several years, we have seen technology become an important part of every aspect of business. More than 90% of employees in the US use the internet to do their job in some way, which means that IT isn’t just a single department in your business. Technology permeates every aspect of your business, from your customer-facing sales tech to your enterprise resource planning solution.
Tech Practice Lead Matt Jamison spoke about this just last month in a thought article about the transformation that agile is undergoing in the business world. Modern agile methodologies, now more than 3 decades old in American business practice, are starting to see widespread adoption by organizations of every size.
Jamison believes that agile will begin to change as more and more non-software teams embrace iterative project systems. TGG consultants are committed to integrating their consulting experience with industry-tested methods for proper tech strategy and methods.
Included in this commitment is our new service: Agile Methods in Business. We blend our experience in agile environments with quality training and development (like last weekend), all with the goal of helping our clients select the aspects of small-team structure and iterative planning that best fit their situation.
TGG offers these services in the Portland, Bend, Reno, and Sacramento areas. If you could benefit from consulting services in your agile practice, or need help implementing agile best-practices in your team, reach out today to start a conversation!
STOP GETTING TECH STRATEGY WRONG
If your IT department is doing a phenomenal job then you probably never see, hear, or even think about them. They’re out of sight and out of mind.
Then something goes wrong and everything changes.
When systems fall short, IT comes under the microscope. This usually results in knee jerk change: organizations quickly ditch failing solutions in favor of new ones. In doing so, they often unwittingly cause themselves more headaches.
Matt Jamison, Tech Services Lead at the Gunter Group, has been grappling with this problem for a long time. After 20 years working in enterprise architecture, he knows that most problems are business problems with an IT facade. Technology is often where issues are first discovered, so the first instinct is to treat technology as the problem. This often misses a deeper cause.
Jamison has seen it many times: “Most people skip to Step 3, jumping 30% of the way into the process and running from there in a detailed fashion. This forgets the common sense questions: ‘How does this align to our greater portfolio? What are my business requirements? Who are my stakeholders?‘ When people skip these questions, it has consequences a year or two later when the new solution fails. They assume they know what they need, and they’re almost always missing something.”
That’s why Jamison always starts with an assessment. This is meant to familiarize himself with the organization, but it also gets the organization thinking about the basics. Jamison takes the time to (1) map processes, (2) gather requirements, and (3) put together a big picture that integrates the organization’s strategy and goals. He can then use two decades of experience to match that picture with a right-sized solution.
The goal is alignment: “If a tech solution doesn’t clearly support greater business goals and strategic objectives, then it’s not worth the investment. Ideally, if I ask the right questions, the business can start to see the solution for themselves. I just help them align with their own goals.”
Jamison’s approach is grounded in an agile mindset: frequent reassessment is key. “The first step is identifying the end goal. From there you can figure out how to solve the immediate problems in a way that moves you in that general direction. Which specific roads we drive on after the first couple months is less material because there are lots of roads. You move forward, then check the map to see what has changed.”
While many organizations forget the assessment, an even greater number forget the reassessment. After selecting a solution, organizations rarely revisit their roadmap to reassess. “That’s not responsible management of your investment.” Jamison not only favors building a tech roadmap, but he then revisits the roadmap on a regular basis. “Every 3 or 6 months, you have to come back to the table to see what’s working and what’s not, in order to make sure you’re getting the most from the investment. This is regularly skipped, and that’s not appropriate lifecycle management.”
The result is success. Jamison’s common-sense approach has helped many Portland-area companies find right-sized solutions that benefit more than just one particular business unit. Taking these basic steps can save from investing years and millions of dollars into narrow solutions. He now spends his time serving clients in Portland, Vancouver, Bend, Reno, and Sacramento.
Thanks in part to Jamison, the team at TGG is well-equipped for today’s challenges in Tech Strategy. He is helping us integrate enterprise architecture best practices with business needs. Our analysts map processes and steward discovery. Our strategists help clients align their knowledge of themselves with actionable strategy. Our change managers help plan next steps, and our project managers drive execution and adoption.
Could you benefit from our expertise in helping organizations to adopt right-sized solutions that advance their strategic goals? Perhaps we can help you better understand the business value of the solutions that either you or your clients are weighing. Reach out today to learn more!
Matt is an experienced solutions architect with a results-oriented understanding of the intersection between reality and architectural theory. He has the ability to plan, develop, and implement large-scale projects while maintaining impeccable attention to detail. With 18 years of functional information technology experience, Matt has end-to-end IT knowledge from layer 1 networking to application API interaction. An expert in mapping technology solutions to business needs, Matt is also able to conform to required regulations while maintaining IT best practices. Matt’s experience spans multiple industries, including healthcare, telecommunications, and security and software. He is an AWS Certified Solutions Architect. Outside of work, Matt enjoys the outdoors and all things bike-related.