Can Enterprise Architecture be agile? What a question.

In a nutshell: Enterprise Architecture Management (EAM) must be agile. Otherwise, it is not EAM, since an Enterprise Architect (EA) has to be committed to her*his company’s vision, mission and values and the challenges of the dynamics of today’s markets.

“Can EAM be agile” was a question of an enterprise architect on one of my most recent events in Switzerland. What a question.

For me, the answer is clear: Only EAM in an agile way can generate impact in the direction of a company’s vision, mission and values. Hence, the right question is: “Can traditional-orientated EAs provide Agile Architecture to companies?” and my typical answer is: “It depends…”.

“Agile” is a culture clash for “traditional” EAs. Amongst others, these traditionalists are used to set standards and act as (quality) process guards. What if “agile” and “transformation” eliminates these purposes of an Enterprise Architect? They have to get part of the change and transformation journey.

For me, an essential core of “agile” is to accept that not everything can be planned. The further you think into the future, the more blurred a plan becomes. That seems easy to understand but is not in practice for an EA. There are questions around like the following. “What about the budget prognosis for three years?” does the CFO ask. “And what about the project and product roadmap for the next three years?” does the board of directors ask. Hence, I understand the traditionalists – but only in theory.

From standards to emergent architectures.

“We do not use JAVA technology”, said the “traditional” CIO of a mid-sized company to me in my role as an external consultant. “We want everything on the Microsoft-, .NET- and Azure-stack – full stop and end of discussion.” The agile coach in me thought: “How arrogant is that? Who cares about this standard?” In the afternoon after this statement of the CIO, I went for an outdoor walk to think about Agile Architecture.

Traditional architecture standards like those mentioned above do not work anymore. Architecture does not only have to manage standards and the quality of technology, but also business value and business agility. The board of directors does not care about JAVA, .NET or things like that. Business value matters — and when there is a good technology product based on .NET that matches the requirements for business innovation, the management does not discuss the “JAVA vs .NET question”.

Today, “done” is one billion times more important than “perfect”.

If the CIO does not provide a solution promptly, they will get their answer from an external provider. In today’s environments, companies with traditional orientated technology units and/or Enterprise Architects cannot compete. For these EAs, that is a mess. It might happen that they cannot accept the dynamics and change in the company. Suddenly, “their” standards are obsolete.

This is a chance for Agile Architects.

From my point of view, here is exactly the chance for an Agile Architect. She*he takes this chance and plays the role of a servant leader, coach and moderator. She*he moderates the discussion in the management, enables agile thinking and finds out, what she*he could do to catalyze finding and implementing new value-driven solutions for the company and the corresponding business model.

There is no workaround.

Every architect has to learn about agile leadership and take this new Agile Architect role. Architectures in agile and dynamic environments are emergent now. The EA has to detect patterns and best practices from self-organizing teams and provide them globally. In this situation, it helps to establish Architecture CoP (Community-of-Practices) or Architecture Scrum-of-Scrums. And, maybe frameworks like OKR (Objectives & Key Results) can help to organize work in the architecture CoP or team.

EA Scrum-of-Scrums or CoP *

EA Scrum-of-Scrums or CoP *

And, there is much more to say about “Agile Architecture” and the new role of the Enterprise Architect. Hence, I hold a lecture at the Hochschule Luzern (HSLU), where I explain the new role of an EA in an agile world. This lecture is also available in workshop-form. Besides, I am open to helping you to establish this in your company.

Interested? Just let me know…

Useful links:
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*) (Bente et al.)

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