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Four Tenets to a Successful Enterprise Architecture Program

By February 23, 2022Articles

by Brett Brunk, Ph.D., Expert Architect & Program Manager

Recently I was discussing enterprise architecture practices with a less experienced colleague.  They were experiencing a lot of change at his organization: a new CIO with a new mandate and budget challenges IT-wide.  Their enterprise architecture program would probably need to evolve to stay relevant in the face of these external changes.

Enterprise architecture programs are often cyclical; waxing and waning with EA team performance and shifting IT, business and CIO priorities.

Much of my 15-year career in enterprise architecture has been focused on creating, reinventing or revitalizing enterprise architecture programs.  As I was thinking about how to respond to this new Enterprise Architect, I reflected on four tenets that have helped me establish world-class architecture programs:

  1. Start at the top – enterprise architecture spans the (IT) enterprise so ensure your priorities are the CIO’s priorities
  2. Build consistency and high performance in your team  – enterprise architecture is a profession, and the work produced by the enterprise architects should be anchored in EA best practices
  3. Deliver value – quickly and often – it sounds obvious but the value of EA is not a diagram, it is seeing your recommendations or results impact the organization
  4. Don’t let them forget – Communicate your successes and build on them

Start at the Top

Done well, enterprise architecture activities will have organization-wide impact.  Because of the cross-cutting nature of enterprise architecture, it is critical that you anchor your priorities and work at the top of the organization.  The CIO’s priorities should be your priorities.  Take time to understand the challenges facing your CIO and the IT organization.  Ensure your enterprise architecture initiatives support and align with IT strategy.

If you are not sure where to start, book a meeting with the CIO.  Ask about the challenges facing the CIO and be ready to offer ways you can help.

  • If the CIO is concerned about project delivery and project value realization, talk about Solution Architecture practices designed to ensure the right solutions are created.
  • If the IT department struggles with technical debt and complexity, suggest Application Portfolio Optimization. Or recommend that IT reign in the chaos with an emphasis on IT Standards Management.
  • If the business is complaining about IT value, consider partnering with the portfolio management team to roll out Business Capability Roadmaps tied to investment planning.

As you meet with the CIO and her executive team, think like a consultant.  Ask questions, use active listening and talk about how you can solve some of the problems that face IT.

Build Consistency and High Performance in your Team

As you look to provide value to the enterprise, it is important to turn your attention inward to ask the question “Now that I understand the CIO’s priorities, do I have the right team and capabilities in place?”

Treat Enterprise Architecture like a Profession

Some organizations treat enterprise architecture as the apex of a technical career promotion path for IT engineers.  While IT engineers often make good architects, I contend that enterprise architecture is a profession requiring knowledge, skills and abilities separate from a traditional IT engineering role.

Create a consistent architecture practice by ensuring enterprise architects are certified in a standard architecture framework.  TOGAF, for example, provides an architecture development methodology and a meta-model that can be used to bring rigor to your practice.

I was leading one architecture team where we started each engagement with the question:  Which parts of the TOGAF metamodel apply to the problem I am trying to solve?  By answering this question, the architect 1) better understands the data needed, 2) can reuse artifacts from similar engagements and 3) can use the metamodel as a framework for facilitating conversations with the customer.

Build consistency in your artifacts and diagrams by standardizing how architecture is represented.  ArchiMate, for example, provides a rich visual language that mirrors the TOGAF metamodel.  Much like UML for software engineering, ArchiMate can ensure your artifacts are consistent and reusable.

Don’t forget about the soft skills.  As an architect, you need to be comfortable communicating your recommendations at all levels in the organization.  Active empathetic listening is key as you address the concerns of your stakeholders.

Understand your Service Offerings

The activities and services provided by the enterprise architecture team should be distinct from your software engineers, with a focus on value at the enterprise level.  Be clear about the services enterprise architecture offers and align these to your CIO’s priorities.

As a starting point, consider these 5 essential services for enterprise architects (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/5-essential-enterprise-architecture-services-brett-brunk):

  1. Supporting business strategy – Visualizing and making organizational strategies actionable through target architectures.
  2. IT Investment Management – Ensuring effective IT delivery by defining, rationalizing and assessing portfolios, programs and projects.
  3. Roadmapping and Transition Planning – Developing and visualizing a transition plan from the current state to the target state.
  4. Standards Management – Developing, maintaining and promoting catalogs of standards and best practices to improve reusability and coherency of IT solutions.
  5. Inventory Maintenance – Providing a secure and stable IT environment by maintaining a repository of architecture building blocks, interface specifications, and software assets that form the current IT landscape.

Other services might include: Technology options analysis, technology procurement consulting and IT strategy development.  Pick the services most important to your organization – develop architecture capabilities and measures of value for the services that you are offering.

Deliver Value – Quickly and Often

“Ivory tower” is a label often applied to enterprise architecture teams by skeptics.  Detractors can be concerned about:

  • Architecture teams that fail to come to recommendations and decisions
  • Lack of transparency and a tendency to issue architecture edicts rather than collaborate
  • Theoretical architecture recommendations that are not grounded in business reality

Starting at the Top, Establishing your Service Offerings and Building High Performance in the architecture team are foundations to avoid this perception.  In addition, consider the following steps you can take to ensure enterprise architecture delivers the right value for the organization:

Create a Sense of Urgency in your Team 

Ensure the enterprise architecture team is focused on outcomes.  Architecture team members who originated from developer or engineering backgrounds may be particularly detail-oriented, which could lead to some inefficiencies in the design work.  An architect must be comfortable with ambiguity and skilled with systems thinking.  Encouraging your team to document assumptions and risks may be a way to make them more comfortable providing architecture recommendations without having all the details worked out.

Leverage an EA Tool as an Accelerator

While Microsoft Visio and PowerPoint may be adequate diagramming tools with which to begin, accelerating enterprise architecture value will depend more on having the right tool for the job.  Key characteristics of a good tool include:

  • Easy to build models and diagrams.
  • Ability to facilitate design thinking sessions with colleagues and stakeholders.
  • A repository that enables architects to exchange and share models.
  • A sound basis in a meta-model and diagramming language such as TOGAF and/or ArchiMate.
  • Flexibility to handle a variety of architecture artifacts from heat maps, to matrices, to box and line diagrams, to roadmaps.
  • A way to publish results to PowerPoint and websites to support collaborations with non-architect stakeholders.
  • Ability to support both enterprise and solution architecture needs.

Don’t Dictate – Coach and Co-Create

Architects are more effective when they collaborate with their stakeholders.  Co-creation is a powerful tool enabling key stakeholders to have a sense of ownership in the recommendations produced by the architecture team.

One organization I worked in was struggling with delivering mobility solutions for their customers.  Security was concerned about data leakage, infrastructure didn’t want an increased device management burden and applications lacked a framework for mobile app development.  I led collaborative workshops with influencers from these organizational silos along with industry experts.  Together we co-created a mobility standard and reference architecture that broke the log jam and catalyzed modern mobility solutions.

Don’t Let Them Forget

Gartner notes that enterprise architecture “delivers value by presenting business and IT leaders with signature-ready recommendations for adjusting policies and projects to achieve targeted business outcomes that capitalize on relevant business disruptions.” (https://www.gartner.com/en/information-technology/glossary/enterprise-architecture-ea)

Enterprise architecture done right can have organizational wide influences and operate at all levels from the C-suite to the frontline developers.  Because architects recommend while others execute on the recommendations, your organization may forget that it was EA’s recommendation in the first place.  It is important that you have a strategy for reminding leadership of the perhaps indirect value that architecture has delivered.

Remind the Executive Team of Your Value

If you Started at the Top then you already have a relationship with your CIO and you have tailored your practice to meet her top concerns.  Establish a regular cadence of check-ins to report on the results of your effect and adjust your practice based on emerging priorities.

At one organization I worked at, we set up quarterly touchpoints with our CIO to review architecture results, workforce planning, governance and recommendations.  Our CIO appreciated the opportunity to pull away from the day to day operational issues and have some time to think about IT strategy.  In addition, this was an opportunity to communicate EA team outcomes and also align on next steps.

Build Alliances and Partnerships

Architecture is more effective and seen as most valuable when it works with others.  Identify and nurture strategic partnerships as a way to demonstrate value and also anchor the architecture team’s reputation within IT.  Here are some examples:

  • Position solution architects as a partner to the project manager.
  • Leverage capability frameworks and roadmapping techniques to assist the IT portfolio management office.
  • Combine forces with information security to operationalize security control adherence as part of solution delivery and operations lifecycle processes.
  • Partner with application leadership on system health and application rationalization activities.
  • Work with your service management (ITIL group) to leverage architecture standards as a foundation for the configuration management database.

Maintain, Market and Build on your Success

If the architecture team is high performing, then they are creating a lot of value through several timely work products, such as:

  • New reference architecture and standards for technology implementations
  • Product selection standards and options analyses
  • IT strategy recommendations
  • Technology and business roadmaps

Ensure you have a sustainable approach for architecture deliverable management and maintenance.  Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are your recommendations centrally located, and is it easy for your customers to find what they are looking for?
  • Do you have a plan for keeping your recommendations maintained and refreshed?

I’ve seen architecture programs lose momentum when they don’t make it easy for their customers to access the latest architecture guidance.

Engage your communications organization to help market the value enterprise architecture is delivering.

  • At one organization I worked in, we provided the C-suite with a one-page business capability model useful during strategic planning conversations. In more than one office, I would see this architecture viewpoint hanging by their desks – a valuable tool for them but also a reminder of how enterprise architecture supports business planning.
  • At another organization we created a tri-fold brochure describing the role of solution architecture in the project delivery process.

Four Tenets – Revisited

The future is bright for enterprise architecture:

  • Technology is becoming more powerful and complex. Many organizations are integrating cutting edge cloud technologies while also having to maintain and manage heavyweight legacy applications.
  • Businesses are becoming increasingly digital – there is virtually no part of the business that hasn’t been touched by technology.
  • IT organizations are undergoing transformation – IT needs trusted internal consultants who can support shifts to agile, DevOps, and SRE (Site Reliability Engineering).

Keep your enterprise architecture practice relevant by practicing these four tenets:

  • Ensure your priorities are aligned with CIO priorities by starting at the top.
  • Ensure enterprise architecture quality by building consistency and high performance in your team.
  • Make your work impactful by delivering value quickly.
  • Maintain relevancy through effective communications to ensure the organization doesn’t forget about the value EA provides.

About the Author

Brett Brunk is a results-oriented leader with a passion for leveraging enterprise architecture to drive better business outcomes through technology.  Brett is TOGAF and ArchiMate certified with over 15 years experience building architecture programs in aviation, government, healthcare, oil & gas and electric utilities – both in the United States and overseas, in government and the private sector.

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