In the previous blog post of the Enterprise Architecture series, I discussed the role Enterprise Architecture plays on various levels of management and how architecture-oriented thinking can be found embedded in all managerial activities. In this final post of the series, let’s move this to a bit more concrete level by discussing the special role of conceptual modeling in facilitating architecture-oriented thinking. We’ll also take a practical look at how architecture-oriented approaches and Enterprise Architecture deliverables can help managers in tackling real-life organisational concerns across managerial levels.
Enterprise Architecture is essentially about applying systems thinking in order to structure the reality – making the complex world around us just a little bit more understandable. Various Enterprise Architecture models have always been a core part of the Enterprise Architecture practice, to a point that they sometimes tend to get viewed as almost a synonym to the Enterprise Architecture itself. The variety of modeling aspects suggested by certain Enterprise Architecture frameworks makes it easy to quickly become overwhelmed. At the same time, the Enterprise Architecture practice has repeatedly been accused of being too much about “drawing pretty diagrams that don’t really matter in practice”.
In fact, when discussing modeling, we should perhaps start putting more focus on the journey instead of the destination. The process of modeling is all about making the real-world complexity more understandable by conceptualising, abstracting and ultimately making things easier to process and communicate in a certain context. In a way, modeling enforces approaching the real-world complexity in a systematic and a holistic manner, facilitating both individual-level cognitive processes and dialogue between parties involved in a modeling effort. As a result, the modeling process has hopefully led to something that is a lot more than a diagram. It should have created a mental model, enabling an increased level of shared understanding about the reality – providing a baseline for further analysis, ideation and problem-solving. Modeling should therefore be approached more as a social rather than a technical process.
By iterating the above process for a set of concerns of interest, architecture-oriented thinking should ultimately produce actionable insight and support decision-making through an incrementally improved understanding of the holistic system of systems that is an organisation. The role of Enterprise Architecture deliverables is then packaging this understanding so that it can be used to address various managerial concerns. These will obviously vary in both their perspectives and levels of detail depending on the managerial context.
How can Enterprise Architecture help simplifying the complexity?
There is a long list of potential use cases for Enterprise Architecture deliverables, addressing a diverse set of managerial concerns:
- Describing the current state of things – where are we now?
- Defining the target state of things – where do we want to be heading?
- Identifying and evaluating alternatives – what options do we have and how are they different?
- Selecting, prioritising and sequencing activities – what activities should we initiate and in what order?
- Assessing impact – what will be affected if things change?
- Managing risks – what can potentially go wrong and how that could be mitigated?
- Ensuring compliance – what needs to be done in order to meet various requirements?
- Maintaining operations – what is essential for business continuity?
The deliverables don’t carry much value by themselves, which is why “model-obsessive” approaches to Enterprise Architecture work tend to fail. The key of successful Enterprise Architecture work lies in applying the Enterprise Architecture understanding at the appropriate time in various managerial contexts – exploring and formulating strategies and tactics, managing development activities in project portfolios, undertaking development initiatives and designing operative solutions, among others. These are all highly collaborative processes that require the participation of a diverse group of stakeholders coming from various backgrounds and levels of understanding. The central role of Enterprise Architecture models is providing a common language that can be used to address complex organisational concerns – convey ideas, discuss issues, solve problems and ensure commitment.