Enterprise Architecture by Design

It has been a very useful process for us taking Enterprise Architecture (EA) as our theme this month. Not least because its given us the opportunity to review what we have been doing, what we have noticed about what really adds value from doing EA and to consider what’s next. Especially as the rhetoric that EA is only relevant in the so called “old-fashioned”, “largely rejected” and “out-moded” world of waterfall, heavy upfront planning, with governed, gated delivery methods etc. continues and conversations about EA “being dead” persist.

In practice, we know EA as an organisation level capability continues to be relevant, continues to deliver value and it does need to be continually evaluated, redesigned and developed to match the context and strategy of the organisation it serves.

In some ways organisations always have an “EA in use”. They always have a way, no matter how sub-optimal, that designs and plans are evaluated and decided on. Our work as professionals in making sure our organisations have the digital technology they need to support their strategy means we have to get EA right, too.

Our insight is that organisations should take a moment to define what they mean by EA. Engaging the organisation in answering key questions including: What it is for? How will we see value? And in parallel, design the key products and processes that the organisation will use to deliver that value. EA by design. In all our experience comprehensive implementation of any of the frameworks such as The Open Group’s Architecture Framework (TOGAF) rarely is in the interest of the organisation. And as our TOGAF certified colleagues would say – “you were never supposed to do that anyway!”.

Yet selecting specific approaches, designing their implementation to match the business strategy does and will deliver value, fast. Whether its engaging key groups in setting EA principles and integrating them into critical design and delivery processes or initiating an application portfolio review and planning process for say your top 20 most costly services, doing what matters most, well, fast and showing key stakeholders in your organisation how EA delivers value is key.

Time and again we come back to the guiding thought that EA is an enterprise level capability. It’s not a technical one. It may be staffed and supported by largely technical resources but it has to be connected, integrated into the organisation strategy setting, plan making and delivery governance. And as with all areas of organisational development and change, language matters. Language shapes how our colleagues see things and most importantly impacts what they do.

In many ways this builds on our call for “zero-based” EA from a few years ago see


EA by design, getting the right EA in use, depends on these five things:

  • always ground the language you use to label EA as business process or capability, not an IT one;
  • design and find your own way to do EA, do talk to your peers and learn from others, but literal adoption of generic best practice will not cut it;
  • make sure you are always explicit about how and where the organisation will see value from EA;
  • use agile, emergent approaches to the implementation of EA, start fast, engage others early, help the organisation to learn by doing EA, rather than making the case for EA in abstract;
  • prepare for and confront the implications of taking a principled, design led approach, choose your battles to assure the long term, sustained delivery of value from digital technology, that’s the point.