Agile Business Facilitated by Business Architecture & SAFe

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I. Introduction:

Business Agility refers to rapid, continuous innovations to gain competitive advantage. An agile business is supported by Agile Development Teams continuously delivering new customer values.

Reflections on Michael Porter's Article on Digitization and IoT - IRM  Connects, by IRM UK | IT Blog.

Eskil Swende, IRM Sweden
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This article is focused on how to achieve a sustainable agility, where the Agile Business and the Development Teams are coordinated by Business Architects. The Application Portfolios should be based on a sustainable platform, where the complexity is reduced and all unnecessary integration between applications are omitted. A rough Business Architecture avoiding all Big Up Front Design (BUFD) is created by Business Architects in close cooperation with the Development Teams.

SAFe is a Framework supporting these ambitions. Big Room Meetings is a forum where Business and IT people meet regularly to plan the development of the Application Portfolios.

The Dependency Board is the main tool, where the efforts are measured to step by step reduce complexity and achieve a sustainable agility.

By putting more resources into Business Architecture at the beginning of the SAFe process, the business agility will be more sustainable.

II. Introducing SAFe

Dean Leffingwell, the Creator of SAFe in 2011, has spent his career helping software teams achieve their goals. SAFe is based on autonomous development SCRUM teams and the Big Room Meetings held regularly. These meetings are a forum for discussions and planning between business managers and the development teams. In this meetings the Architecture teams are participating.

Henrik Kniberg successfully introduced SCRUM at Spotify with development teams in 3 continents. He is an unrivalled pedagogical writer and speaker. His books have more than 500,000 readers globally and used by hundreds of companies worldwide. In 2016 he was invited to LEGO to coach their Big Room Meetings together with their agile coach Eik Thyrstedt. It became a great success! Dean, the Creator of SAFe, calls the presentation “One of the most insightful applications and presentations that I´ve yet seen on SAFe”. Read it at

“The best is of course to coordinate your team structure and architecture to minimize dependencies” by Henrik Kniberg

The team structure coordinated with the Business Architecture

The value of Big Room planning is directly related to how many dependencies between your development teams you have.

III. The City Plan & SAFe version 5.0

Early 2020 Dean Leffingwell, with forty years of experience in the software industry, presented the SAFe version 5.0 built around Seven Core Competencies of the Lean Enterprise. When supported with Business Architecture Competencies a true Business Agility may be achieved.

At IRM we have forty years of Business Architecture experience starting at Scandinavian Airlines in 1980. We developed the first Business Architecture to maintain their aircraft. We called it a City Plan; a “Rough, adaptive architecture” avoiding all Big Up Front Design (BUFD). The detail solutions will be developed by the SCRUM teams.

The harmonization between the City Plan & SAFe agile teams will contribute to the deliveries of successful applications and customer values. Duplicates of sprints and IT solutions may be eliminated.

IV. Information Architecture

A business has often more than 10.000 data elements like customer address, product price or delivery time. Today each data element may be handled in several applications sometimes with various names and definitions. This cause complexity with a lot of integrations with other applications preventing the realization of business agility.

The first step to bring some order is by grouping all data elements in around 25 groups. Some of these groups are Master Data like Personnel (blue), Product (green) or Infrastructure (red). All other groups are Event Data (yellow) like customer order or shipment. Below you see an example of an Overall Business Information Model (OBIM) illustrating the Information Groups at a manufacturing industry.

These Information Groups are very sustainable and if we have each of them managed by a number of specific Development Teams, we will have a sustainable platform. To describe and analyze the dependencies between the Information Groups are very critical.  The Dependency Board shown is an excellent tool to be used trying to reduce or omit dependencies. The dependencies between Master Data are rather low. But the dependencies between Event data are very critical and often very frequent.

Take the Customer Order for example. Customer Order depends on Customer and Product as Master Data. So if you take Customer Invoicing it depends on Customer order plus Customer and Product. If you sit together with business people a half a day you will create a first version of a Dependency Matrix. When you analyze this Matrix you will see in which order you should develop your Applications. For example, if you start to develop a Customer Order application without having applications for Customer and Product ready you will get a complicated Dependency Board.

Of course you can’t always make development in the “ideal” order so you have to compromise, knowing that it will be more expensive, risky and take longer time. So after a number of Big Room Meetings you will see the result of having an Information Architecture in place when looking at your Dependency Board.

The long term strategy is to have the Information Groups coordinated with your team structure avoiding a lot of dependencies between your development teams.

V. Architecture Roles

SAFe defines three architect roles: Enterprise, Solution and System Architects. These roles require all the necessary architectural skills to make technical decisions. System Architects communicate the technical path through the Architectural Runway. The Systems Team realizes the architecture vision by building the supporting infrastructure. System Architects coordinate with Enterprise and Solution Architects to align their solutions with the larger vision.

Business Architecture based on IRM City Plan defines three architect roles: The Information Architects, the Process Architects and the Business Model Canvas Architects. They describe the Business side of the Architecture independent of IT Systems and the technology to build the IT System. Focus is to achieve a sustainable description of the business to be used to develop IT Applications build on a sustainable platform. Business Artifacts like organization, value flow or strategies are not stable and are avoided.

The Coordination of the SAFe architect teams and the Business Architect teams are managed by a Chief Architect. The coordination forum is the Big Room Meeting with a lot of preparation in advance to be done before the meeting take place.

The Information Architects has a key role aligning the Development Team Structure with the Information Groups. Avoiding duplicate responsibility for the same data element, like customer address, is a critical success factor (CSF) to achieve a sustainable agile business.

A Business Architecture City Plan includes the Information Architecture (IA), the Business Process (function/capability) Architecture (BPA) and the Business Model Canvas (BMC).

We have based these Business Artifacts on the scientific research and development.

  • Ted Codd; an English Mathematician and Researcher (the Information Architecture)
  • Michael Hammer; professor at the MIT (the Business Process Architecture)
  • Alexander Osterwalder; Ph.D. at University of Lausanne (Business Model Canvas).

VI. Summary

The SAFe Framework developed 2011 by Dean Leffingwell with 40 years of experience in the software industry and the Business Architecture based on IRM City Plan developed in 1980 at Scandinavian Airlines, are two key success factors to create a true sustainable agile business. SAFe has the software technology to support the SCRUM Development teams to continuously deliver customer values. They have also established the Big Room Meetings, a forum to regularly coordinate the Application development with the business needs.

IRM Sweden has developed the Business Architecture City Plan based on the scientific Business Artifacts Data & Information, Business Processes, and the Business Model Canvas. Business Communicating Artifacts like Story Telling is doing well explaining “what” to develop. Information Architecture (IA) is a scientific approach explaining “how” to develop a sustainable platform, requiring an engineering skill and interest to accomplish.

The SAFe Framework has the proper communication forum and tools to support this IA-approach achieving the stable application platform needed to support a Sustainable Agile Business. The harmonization between Business Architecture and SAFe will contribute to both to the continuously deliveries of customer values and achieving a sustainable business agility.

“Agility allows you to run extremely quickly.

On the other hand,
Architecture allows you to see far enough so that you do not hit a brick wall at full speed.”

An analogy by Daniel Lambert.

Inspired and supported byLars Broman, Carol Dweck, Thomas Eklöf, Henrik Kniberg, Daniel Lambert, Linda Lilliesköld, Benny Lund, Dave McComb, Tomas Nilsson, Alexander Osterwalder, Jeanne W. Ross, Erik Stolterman, Martin Sykes, Jane Theobald, Svein Oliver Vedaa, Peter Tallungs, John Zachman, Marcus Wideroth, and Eva Wohlén.

VII. What’s Next?

This is the second version of an article trying to describe the potential of a common approach using the SAFe Framework and the IRM City Plan to achieve a sustainable agile business.

We are looking forward to your feedback containing questions, comments, missing arguments or disagreements.

Please mail them to [email protected].

At our Conference Business IRM UK in London our next conference on EA/BA will take place on

the 11-13 of October 2021. Call for speakers will be sent out in March 2021.

We are also planning to arrange a workshop around Business Artifacts together with the professor of Informatics, Erik Stolterman at Indiana University Bloomington, taking place in Stockholm in late August or early September 2021. Discussions will be based on his book “the Design Way – Intentional Change in an Unpredictable World”.

Please indicate your interest to participate.

Eskil is one of the founder of IRM – Information Resource Management – in 1982. IRM Sweden is a Scandinavian consulting company focusing on Business Architecture, Business Analysis and Application Development. He is also a partner at IRM UK, a strategic education company in London that provides seminars and arranges yearly conferences on EA/BA, IA, MDM and BPM. He is assisting Cambridge University as a mentor to their Information Architects.
Eskil is a former President of DAMA Chapter Scandinavia and he has developed a global wisdom network of leading experts, inviting them to give presentations and tutorials in Stockholm or Venice. He can be reached at [email protected].

Copyright Eskil Swende and Svein Oliver Vedaa, IRM Sweden

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