Models of EA

One thing that I’ve noticed recently is that there is no standard approach to Enterprise Architecture. Some organizations may have Enterprise Architecture on the organizational chart, other organizations may merely have an architectural committee. One architecture team may be all about strategic planning, while another is all about project architecture. Some EA teams may strictly be an approval body. I think the lack of a consistent approach is an indicator of the relative immaturity of the discipline. While groups like Shared Insights have been putting on Enterprise Architecture conferences for 10 years now, there are still many enterprises that don’t even have an EA team.

So what is the right approach to Enterprise Architecture? As always, there is no one model. The formation of an EA team is often associated with some pain point in the enterprise. In some organizations, there may be a skills gap necessitating the formation of an architecture group that can fan out across multiple projects, providing project guidance. A very common pain point is “technology spaghetti.â€? That is, over time the organization has acquired or developed so many technology solutions that the organization may have significant redundancy and complexity. This pain point can typically result in one of two approaches. The first is an architecture review board. The purpose of the board is to ensure that new solutions don’t make the situation any worse, and if possible, they make it better. The second approach is the formation of an Enterprise Architecture group. The former doesn’t appear on the organization chart. The latter does, meaning it needs day to day responsibilities, rather than just meeting when an approval decision is needed. Those day to day activities can be the formation of reference architectures and guiding principles, or they could be project architecture activities like the first scenario discussed. Even in these scenarios, however, Enterprise Architecture still doesn’t have the teeth it needs. Reference architectures and/or guiding principles may have been created, but these end state views will only be reached if a path is created to get there. This is where strategic planning comes into play. If the EA team isn’t involved in the strategic planning process, then they are at the mercy of the project portfolio in achieving the architectural goals. It’s like being the coach or manager of a professional sports team but having no say whatsoever in the player personnel decisions. The coach will do the best they can, but if they were handed players who are incompatible in the clubhouse or missing key skills necessary to reach the playoffs, they won’t get there.

You may be thinking, “Why would anyone ever want an EA committee over a team?â€? Obviously, organizational size can play a factor. If you’re going to form a team, there needs to enough work to sustain that team. If there isn’t, then EA becomes a responsibility of key individuals that they perform along with their other activities. Another scenario where a committee may make sense is where the enterprise technology is largely based on one vendor, such as SAP. In this case, the reference architecture is likely to be rooted in the vendor’s reference architecture. This results in a reduction of work for Enterprise Architecture, which again, has the potential to point to a responsibility model rather than a job classification.

All in all, regardless of what model you choose for your organization, I think an important thing to keep in mind is balance. An EA organization that is completely focused on reference architecture and strategic planning runs the risk of becoming an ivory tower. They will become disconnected from the projects that actually make the architecture a reality. The organization runs a risk that a rift will form between the “practitionersâ€? and the “strategists.â€? Even if the strategists have a big hammer for enforcing policy, that still doesn’t fix the cultural problems which can lead to job dissatisfaction and staff turnover. On the flip slide, if the EA organization is completely tactical in nature, the communication that must occur between the architects to ensure consistency will be at risk. Furthermore, there will still be no strategic plan for the architecture, so decisions will likely be made according to short term needs dominated by individual projects. The right approach, in my opinion, is to maintain a balance of strategic thinking and tactical execution within your approach to architecture. If the “officialâ€? EA organization is focused on strategic planning and reference architecture, they must come up with an engagement model that allows bi-directional communication with the tactical solution architects to occur often. If the EA team is primarily tasked with tactical solution architecture, then they must establish an engagement model with the IT governance managers to ensure that they have a presence at the strategic planning table.

3 Responses to “Models of EA”

  • You shouldn’t refer to staff turnover as a bad thing. Sometimes this could be the intent…

  • Okay, I missed an adjective there. It should read “unwanted staff turnover.”

  • Hey Todd, the “Enterprise Architectre of the Future” working group of the SOA Consortium (which you should be a member of) just opened a survey on current EA orgnizations, practices and people. The results will be used as input for “EA of the Future”. check it out. Feel free to fill it out from your corporate experience, or with a particular client in mind.

    Here’s the link:

    Oh, in full disclosure the SOA Consortium is a client of mine.

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