The Value of EA Can Be Elusive
In our seminars, the most common question is how to demonstrate the value of architecture. When we ask ‘value to whom?’, we often get an unhelpful answer of ‘the business’, which is a style of thinking that deepens the (perceived!) divide between IS/IT professionals and the rest of the business. It also tends to further embed enterprise architects ‘in IT’, at least in the minds of, well, ‘the business’.
Philip & Sally will be speaking at the Enterprise Architecture & Business Process Management Conference Europe
22-25 October 2018 in London on the subjects; “Getting Started in EA: Designing an Architecture Function to Fit your Enterprise” and “Behavioural Approaches to Building Effective Architecture Teams“
The question of ‘to whom’ and ‘what value’ are rarely asked, so can be difficult to answer, not least because value is often in the world-view of the beholder. It’s the age-old sales question of ‘what’s in it for me?’ that architects often want to side-step in favour of pure logical argument.
Some of the work that the two of us do as consultants centres around demonstrating value to particular individuals or groups, based on what they value, what their organisation values, and the behaviours and competencies that will help that value to be recognised and understood.
Many organisations default to transforming all questions of value into questions of financial quantification. Even places that think about social, environmental, and other forms of value often want to establish some kind of conversion factor so that they can do a pro forma pseudo-financial comparison of business cases.
All of which suggests that value is subjective and hard to measure. When we ask architects in our seminars for examples of business value, we generally get descriptions of IT-centric value, architectural artefacts, and so on. So, what’s the link between what architects do and the business value that gets produced?
Architecture provides flexibility and degrees of freedom for future decisions. It can make things more efficient, and it can help optimise risks and increase certainty.
More than anything, architecture helps an organisation become more coherent, a harmonious alignment of its processes with the expectations and experiences of its customers, partners, and workers.
That’s part of why architecture value can be difficult to convey. Its chief contribution is coherence, but people are far more interested in buying efficiency, flexibility, and certainty. Maybe that’s because coherence is easier to notice when it’s missing.
Lack of coherence surfaces as what Milan Guenther of EDA calls ‘enterprise awkwardness’, most easily seen in the interactions with an organisation. Consider a contact centre as though it were a single human being. How stilted and incoherent that person is, asking you repeatedly for your name and a description of your problem, answering other calls mid-conversation, and never actually behaving as one helpful human would to another. In a word: awkward.
Coherence surfaces in the stories that people tell, the ones that smooth over rough edge cases to convey a vision, an ideal future that no change programme can fully achieve. Coherence is always a story that abstracts away some of the messy detail, but the better the story, the more impact you can have.
Value follows from Effectiveness
Rather than trying to tell stories about value, it may be more convincing to talk about effectiveness. Effectiveness is about having an effect, and effects are things that you can see and describe and possibly hope to measure. Effects are a delta, the difference between the world as it was and the world as it will soon be.
In physics and elsewhere, they talk about ‘cause and effect’, so where’s the cause in this model? There are the effects of establishing an architecture capability, the things that architects do. There are direct effects of applying architecture. Most powerfully, there are business outcomes, the indirect effects of our architecture practices. Those business outcomes are never the result of a process redesign or a technological change project alone, but always involve a range of different people and activities. The ripple effects can be expressed in a simple Architectural Effectiveness Model:
It’s useful to look at these different types of effect in more detail. Firstly, the effects of establishing an architecture capability are immediately visible. Architects are valued when they do provide good meaningful visuals, often revealing the enterprise to its people and helping them understand it better. Architects also clarify what’s important and improve governance and risk management, working with a wide range of stakeholders. To a large extent, these are the things that are under the direct control of architects. These may require investment, but ultimately it’s in their gift.
Secondly, the direct effects of applying architecture are also reasonably clear. IT-centric decision making gets better. Investments in change are more coordinated, faster, and less risky. New capabilities can be introduced. Architects and the governance system have some influence over how these effects are achieved, but they are largely under the control of others.The immediate effects of flexibility, efficiency, certainty, and coherence become visible.
It’s at this point that people often stop telling the story of architecture value, when they reach the direct effects of applying architecture. There is what Geoffrey Moore might call a ‘chasm’ between the direct effects of architecture and its indirect effects in terms of business outcomes.
Business outcomes are the indirect effect of realising the change and exploiting new capabilities in decision-making and operations. Done well, you should see improved or innovative products and services, the efficient use of resources at all levels, and more loyal customers. You will also see some beneficial effects you may not have expected.
Of course, all of that is outside of the control and often beyond the influence of architects. And yet it is, or ought to be, their chief concern, even though the ‘downstream’ work is actually done by a wide range of different people. Maybe they should even go so far as to hold themselves accountable for achieving those outcomes. Not in a fall-on-your-sword sort of way, but in a way that recognises that the business outcome is the necessary thing to achieve and that architectural efforts are not finished until the outcome has occurred or been formally abandoned.
Architects must balance humanistic and mechanistic world-views
So how does an architecture team influence the effects of architecture outside their immediate area of control, particularly when the complex relationships and hidden dynamics between the different elements of change mean that achievement will always deviate from expectation? Much has been written by analysts and experts about how to map this network of effects, work out intermediate transition states, and measure outcomes. But there’s also a network of people implementing the changes, who are also affected by them, to be considered and influenced. The people whom architects need to influence directly to adopt architecture will themselves need to influence other people to adopt new ways of working and to exploit the new capabilities achieved. Architects also need feedback on how changes are actually working.
To achieve this, EA must be viewed as a diverse practice which is an integral part of managing change. Different aspects of it extend beyond the core EA team to business management, solution architects, organisational designers, and anyone involved in implementing change.
EA teams therefore need to adopt a dual approach, one that bridges between mechanistic and humanistic world-views. The mechanistic view describes and monitors the network of effects while the humanistic view motivates and energises a network of diverse people to work together to achieve them. These world-views need to be combined, or at least alternated between. Think ‘context switching’ between radically different perspectives.
Looking beyond the direct effects of architecture to work collaboratively toward the business outcomes in an emergent way can be a challenge for people who are used to working in relatively concrete, predictable, and knowable realms.
The key is to work with stakeholders to build a coherent and compelling story and a flexible roadmap (written in pencil!) around themes of change that inform and inspire people about the expected effects, involving relevant situations and characters. Some useful questions include:
- How are things working, or not working, today and what effect does that have on people?
- What are the relationships between things that aren’t working?
- What are the fundamental assumptions and principles underlying the changes you are proposing and are these shared?
- Where and when will things be different in the future? Who will be doing what?
- What are the early signs of success, that the outcome is unfolding in a desirable way?
Then build and foster relationships with networks of stakeholders at all levels, both inside and beyond the organisational boundary and update the story as things change. Monitor and learn from what does and doesn’t work, and be ready to highlight opportunities that arise.
This has to be a team effort with excellent communication inside and outside the team. However, neuroscience research shows an inherent tension between analytical reasoning skills and socio-empathetic behaviour. Some people with strong analytical skills may be completely blind to behavioural aspects of their work and how it affects their relationships with stakeholders. For example, they may not detect when their ideas are not being understood clearly, perhaps because they’re unskilled at deep listening to people’s responses. So, to be really effective, architecture teams need to find ways of paying more attention to their own and other people’s patterns of behaviour – how they think, communicate, collaborate, and exert influence.
We have been exploring various ways of meeting this challenge and are currently looking at how personality profiling tools might help to increase self-awareness and improve communication and relationship-building skills. If you would like to learn more about this or are interested in participating in our research on the relationship between personality and effectiveness, contact us.
Sally Bean is an independent Enterprise Architecture consultant. She advises large organizations in the private and public sector on how to develop their EA capability and embed EA approaches into their ways of working. She specialises in the more socio-technical aspects of EA, with particular interests in systems and complexity thinking, and the development of soft skills and team-working capabilities for architects.
Philip Hellyer is an enterprise business architect specialising in whole system change. As an independent consultant, he works with organisations in public and private sector seeking a ‘sea change’ in their structural performance. His 2017 training course on systems thinking and storytelling was adopted as standard by a bank’s architecture group. As a coach and mentor, he accelerates the careers of smart people with deep technical skills.
Copyright Sally Bean, Sally Bean Ltd & Philip Hellyer, Philip & Finch