How effective is your architecture operating model?

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Is your architecture operating model ticking along like clockwork? Discussions with colleagues and clients over recent months suggest this is not always the case and have highlighted three core points to consider in any architecture operating model.

Value

First, let’s address the issue of the value of architecture and how the centre of gravity has swung towards delivery and outcomes. In recent years with the adoption of Agile methods, people have questioned the role of the architect and the value architecture adds.

This has come from two things: –

  1. A growing number of architects spending more time in PowerPoint than with the technologies they were looking at.
  2. Agile methods coming out of start-up companies with small teams and no legacy or technical debt

My view is architecture skills are a critical requirement for any but the smallest of organisations. That is not to say you need architects or an architecture team, it is that architecture skills are critical to realising longer-term business value with solutions that are on point at an appropriate cost, right across a technology estate.

The need for a separate architecture role is driven by the scale of an organisation, the amount of architecture work needed and the skills of the team. For a small-scale organisation with a limited technology estate, the amount of architecture work is relatively small. An advantage of smaller organisations is that they tend to have faster delivery cycles so bad decisions in technology strategy have a limited time and cost impact.

The required skills can be provided by the engineers collaborating to set technology strategy and define the architecture for the organisation. However, demand for these cross skilled people is fierce and very few organisations have the recruiting power to get enough of these people into their organisation.

In larger organisations with a significant technology estate and many years of legacy, the scale of the enterprise architecture challenge and stakeholder engagement becomes a full-time role. It is difficult for senior engineers to take responsibility for the architecture on top of their other duties. This is where a team of architects focused on the enterprise architecture work is critical to set the direction and ensure the technology supports the business strategy and costs are managed.

It is still possible for the engineering teams to take responsibility for solution architecture, however, the challenge of recruiting cross skilled people at scale is still significant. There is also a benefit to organisations with separate teams of people responsible for delivering the immediate needs of the business and people responsible for the longer-term outcomes. This sets up a (hopefully) healthy tension between the teams and helps arrive at reasonable compromises between strategic outcomes and immediate value delivery.

Structure

There is a lot of debate about how the architecture team should be structured. Should there be a central team of architects or does each business area or product team have its own architects? My view is it does not actually matter if organisations have the people with the right mindset and intent who collaborate independent of team structures. However, this requires a level of skills and maturity from both architects and stakeholders which not all companies will be able to achieve.

Where skills and maturity exist, a federated model can help build stronger links between the architecture team and business stakeholders. Where the required skills and maturity do not exist, which, in our experience, is most organisations, then centralising the architecture team drives collaboration and alignment allowing organisations to achieve better outcomes.

Funding

The funding model for architecture teams can influence people’s behaviours for the better or worse.

There is a tendency in many organisations to use business-aligned investment spending to fund architecture work. This makes sense for architects focused on shaping the architecture for programs of work or delivery teams. However, where architects are focused on broader strategy not aligned to the delivery of direct business value, this creates challenges.

Stakeholders will expect work of direct value to them to be delivered based on the funding they provide which sets up a potential conflict with the cross-organisational strategy work that enterprise architects should focus on. It is better to carve out a small amount of money from the overall investment pot before it is allocated to business areas to ensure these architects have the autonomy to focus on the things that matter for the wider organisation.

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These are three core elements that an organisation needs to be paying attention to if they want to get the best results from the architecture work going on in their organisation and improve their business outcomes as a result. There are many other areas to consider for organisations looking to improve their architecture maturity, however, these three should be at the top of the agenda.

Here at Enterprise Blueprints, we have architecture capability models to structure discussions on architecture capabilities to drive a step-change in an organisation’s architecture team. Please contact me to drive more focus and value from your architecture operating model.

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Enterprise Blueprints is a specialist IT Strategy and Architecture consultancy helping clients create business value by solving complex IT problems. If you would like to discuss how we can help you with your cloud migration programme, drive out cost from your legacy estate, or accelerate your digital transformation then please contact [email protected]

The Author

Neil Mulholland

Chief Architect

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