Enterprise architecture (EA) is often portrayed as the chalk to the agile manifesto’s cheese. Any initiative within an organization to bring speed and agility hits a hard stop as soon as it breaches the world of process and standardization. Agile is the darling of digital disrupters, whereas enterprise architecture is exclusive to industry behemoths. The two do not get along and the point of collision is the IT equivalent of Fyre Festival. It’s a narrative we’ve been told over and over.
But this story is now proven incorrect. The two are not juxtaposed, and the notion that EA and agile are incompatible should have been put to bed some time ago. While troglodyte voices may try and shout otherwise, organizations must now be looking at how they can bring agility to the entire enterprise. Those that are too slow will fall prey to startups and unicorns.
Enterprise architecture can be a loaded term, particularly for developers and IT professionals who like their freedom and independence. When done incorrectly, EA is at best, bureaucratic, and at worst, autocratic.
Moreover, it is often assumed that TOGAF – the foremost EA framework – is inherently waterfall, and its principles inflexible, whereas in reality there is considerable overlap between agile methodologies and EA: both are iterative, multi-disciplinary, and collaborative processes. There is no reason why agile needs to be killed on arrival.
Enterprises though are complex beasts, involving a vast number of stakeholders, many of whom do not understand, or even wish to understand, the business relationship with IT. In organizations with immature development teams, software engineers are at a loss as to which frameworks and guidelines will best align their objectives with those of the business. Clearly in these situations, an effective methodology of alignment, visibility and analytics need to be provided. In complex, heterogeneous companies, this is the bread and butter of EA.
SAFe: From Theory to Practice
For the architect looking to also inject speed and adaptability into the organization, it is to find the right balance between a hands on approach and strategic vision. Project by project approaches hold back EA and prevent a wider, consistent application of agile into the business. Instead, agility must be built holistically into the DNA of the enterprise.
People are at the heart of an agile initiative, and therefore collaboration, communication and participation are all practical tenets that constitute this philosophy, which should support enterprise architecture. Therefore, the enterprise architect team to integrate with business and IT departments throughout the organization, ensuring the agile initiative is built from the bottom up.
Nonetheless, the agile manifesto, with its focus on ‘working software’ does not map directly onto enterprise architecture. Furthermore, the focus is very much on small teams (and often small organizations), as opposed to large-scale enterprises, which span different locations, technologies and time zones.
At the same time, the speed at which technology moves creates siloes of legacy systems and data on disparate platforms; operations staff themselves may not always understand the relationships between the different systems. Consequently, the longer the delay in infusing speed and agility into the organization, the harder it becomes.
Against this backdrop, the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) has emerged as the most prominent method of applying agility to the enterprise. It is based on four core values:
Alignment - Ensures that the fast agile teams are pulling in the same direction as the business strategy and roadmap.
Built-In Quality - Safeguards against unreliability and inaccuracy, so that every increment of every process meets the expected standard.
Transparency - Enables trust by keeping open channels of work and communication throughout the enterprise.
Program Execution - Focuses on delivering outcomes and solutions, because otherwise, everything else is redundant.
Agile initiatives that are applied to EA do not suddenly replace all existing practices and processes. Nor does introducing EA into an organization mean current agile projects need to be scrapped.
The two can enjoy a symbiotic relationship, and indeed an effective enterprise architecture brings a host of benefits to agile teams. No longer does agile exist in isolated siloes, but it becomes a holistic company-wide methodology; technical decisions can be made in keeping with the wider business picture. Moreover, it enables transparency, encouraging standards to be set without affecting teams’ choice of tool, while allowing them to utilize a common infrastructure.
When done correctly, enterprise architecture is not a graveyard of agile initiatives, but a place where they will flourish. Similarly, company-wide agility encourages flexible and dynamic architectures, which adapt at the speed of business demands.