An Agile Enterprise Architecture (EA) Delivers Critical Business and Mission Agility
By Bryan T. Miller on Mar 20, 2013
While working with a recent partner, the question came up; "What changes are made to the EA approach if agile methods are required, or otherwise heavily encouraged?" The initial answer at the time was "Not many – we already have an agile approach to EA embedded in our Oracle Enterprise Architecture Development Process (OADP), and our Oracle Enterprise Architecture Framework (OEAF) is independent of project management and project development approaches."
Our OADP has always been agile and therefore supportive of business and government agility – particularly in the current context of severely constrained budgeting cycles. We firmly believe in a "just enough, just in time" philosophy, with collaborative insight and contribution across teams and leadership, and delivery of EA artifacts or guidance tuned directly to prioritized results. This means strategic, useful and reusable guidance modeled and delivered in a manner that supports both longer-term initiatives and near-term objectives.
EA delivered as an agile approach, however, does require continual line-of-sight traceability back to the IT investment strategy – which in turn is aligned to the business strategy.
In other words, a Sprint Iteration approach might be justified (i.e. using the "Scrum" strategy), from all relevant perspectives, to quickly establish a reusable process and metadata model for a common agency function – like "Document Routing and Approval" (DRA). The output might be required to inform a software solicitation (i.e. to explain the requirements). The output might be to establish a reference model and basic governance (business rules) for identifying and improving process efficiencies around the agency where DRA is occurring.
The actual need for this EA artifact (or "Product", in Agile terms) may be driven from an unanticipated mandate or regulatory change, and therefore require rapid response. The need may also be limited in scope to only a portion of the agency's business (i.e. those who actually know they need it).
So, an EA Sprint will work, and deliver what's needed quickly and effectively to the target audience. The highest return on investment (ROI) in this exercise, however, only exists if actual Enterprise traceability and impact assessment occurs. In other words, an agile EA output with a strategic Enterprise outcome.
Note this is a common misunderstanding for Agile software development; Agile programming and project management may deliver useful, rapid and cost-effective "features" from a Backlog of priorities, but much of the supporting infrastructure, integrations and organizational change isn't delivered using Agile methods, but must evolve in a more strategic, methodic manner. Preferably with EA guidance.
Here's what should happen. The common DRA process, metamodel and business rules begin to shape, in a somewhat parochial "requirements-driven" context, heavily leveraging the impacted SMEs for a short period of time. As this occurs, the Enterprise Architect and stakeholders begin mapping and comparing the DRA process design (at appropriately coarse levels of abstraction) to any similar that may exist within the agency, or among agency partners or stakeholders. This may require some additional outreach and communication. The EA may find additional SMEs, risk factors, standards, COTS DRA solution accelerators, overlapping data management projects, etc. – essentially other activities or resources that can be used or might be impacted.
The Enterprise Architect is the Scrum Master!
Strategic oversight and influence is therefore brought to bear on the EA sprint, and by leveraging EA methods, the impacts to the rest of the organization plus any modifications to the focus EA artifact can be addressed – entirely within standard and expected IT Governance. The EA artifact development is a Sprint, but actually leverages our lifecycle methodology – from Business Context through Current and Future States, and then Roadmap (i.e. Transitional Architecture) and Governance. The EA Sprint may actually kick off or modify a more holistic EA maintenance process.
We are therefore avoiding an "agile everything" philosophy, though we're delivering agile results. We contribute over-arching guidance and process for both the DRA project and the organization as a whole, to make sure that all projects underway are still aligned to meet the needs of the business and IT investment constraints.
This is essentially what we believe in applying our EA process, over time or during more Agile response cycles; always raise and maintain focus on the business strategy and drivers to guide the investment of IT budget into those areas that affect the business most – or that are the most immediate priority, such as described above.
Thanks to Oracle Public Sector Enterprise Architect Ted McLaughlan for contributing to this article!