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Kyle Gabhart

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Agile Enterprise Architecture

Old News.
Long Shorts.
Jumbo Shrimp.
Agile EA.

What’s the common thread?? They are all oxymoronical statements. But does it have to be that way? Does the implementation of Enterprise Architecture, or for that matter Solution Architecture, necessarily have to be a cumbersome and heavy-weight initiative? In my experiences with countless organizations from a wide range of industries, the answer is a definitive – NO. Your architecture practice can be robust, and still be nimble.

Bigger is not always Better

In spite of what you may have been led to believe, a bigger EA initiative is not always better.  In fact, in my experience it is often a liability.

“Big Bang” EA has been proven time and time again to not work — You know what I’m talking about.  This is the epic enterprise architecture initiative that involves one or more of your best and brightest being sequestered into an ivory tower to get the EA approach “figured out”.  Then once a framework has been selected, artifacts and templates defined, comprehensive enterprise models created, governance gate criteria elaborated, a five-year road map developed, and a comprehensive training program established, the entire tome of documentation can be brought down from the mountain to share with the commoners.  Inevitably, the end result is a theoretical model that has yet to see the light of day after 18+ months of time / money / energy and no end in sight where the EA initiative even breaks even on its investment.

“Boil-the-Ocean” EA is also a recipe for disaster — Here we have a variation on a theme.  In this case, the EA initiative may or may not be an 18+ month epic initiative, but its sheer scope (i.e. the ENTIRE enterprise) is enough to cripple its chances of getting any real traction in the foreseeable future. It simply is not practical to attempt to roll out ANY substantial architectural changes across the whole of the enterprise at the same time.  There’s too much risk and far too many stakeholders to manage everyone’s expectations simultaneously.

Simple, Practical Steps to a more Nimble EA

“Start Small and Grow Incrementally” is the only thing we have seen work consistently — Bite off a reasonably-sized piece (i.e. something big enough to matter, but small enough to be successful) of the business.  Achieve success with this initial piece, incorporate lessons learned, and then repeat this pattern.

Specifically, we use the following strategy with our clients at Web Age Solutions:

  • Step 1 – Establish a thin EA at the highest level of the organization. This provides the strategy, high-level roadmap, principles, guidelines, etc.
  • Step 2 – Identify a slice of the enterprise where you are about to embark upon a moderately sized initiative (replacing a key system that is not mission-critical, integrating two LOBs, reworking one or more significant business processes, expanding into new business markets, etc.). Alongside that initiative, engage in Solution Architecture (Portfolio-level) and Technical Architecture (Project-level) in alignment with the over-arching EA initiative. As you are engaged in this effort, begin to populate the repository with enterprise models, governing artifacts, and start documenting guidelines and best practices.
  • Step 3 – Assess the results, adjust your governance approach, re-align your strategy, etc.
  • Step 4 – Select another slice of the enterprise and repeat steps 2 and following.

Taking a more agile approach to developing your architecture practice dramatically reduces risk and shortens the window for realizing value.

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Kyle Gabhart is a subject matter expert specializing in strategic planning and tactical delivery of enterprise technology solutions, blending EA, BPM, SOA, Cloud Computing, and other emerging technologies. Kyle currently serves as a director for Web Age Solutions, a premier provider of technology education and mentoring. Since 2001 he has contributed extensively to the IT community as an author, speaker, consultant, and open source contributor.