EA Tips: Anchor Models

November 7, 2011

Anchor models are context diagrams that capture the essence of the enterprise as a simple graphic. They should be equally meaningful to both business and IT personnel and should be so intuitive that they don’t require a multi-page text narrative to understand. While we see many models created by EA teams, most are lower level “IT” models of business systems or technology components. Even models that attempt to represent the entire enterprise tend to be IT-oriented. While these models can be very useful, they don’t serve the same purpose as an anchor model.

The term “anchor model” represents a concept, not a specific format.  In our experience there is no such thing as the perfect template for an anchor model. The model must resonate with the broadest audience in as natural a way as possible. Therefore, the model should be in the language of the business it is depicting and is “good” only if it is meaningful to that organization. We have seen wildly different representations from different companies, yet each turned out to be exactly the right model. It’s one of those “you know it when you see it” phenomenon. When it is right, the model just makes sense.

Anchor models are basically top-level context diagrams describing the “enterprise”. They go by various names: company on a page, enterprise value network (EVN), concept of operations, operating models, root models, etc. These diagrams serve multiple purposes:

  • As a consistent view of the company – a context for common understanding, language/terminology, etc. It allows everyone to get on the same page in the simplest, most direct way possible, representing a “big picture, enterprise view”.
  • As a root for other derivative models (business, information architectures, business capability portfolios, etc.)
  • As a credibility building tool for the IT executives in interactions with their business counterparts
  • As a base model to super-impose various information systems, exposing overlaps, duplication, etc.

Creating a “good enough” initial anchor model is more art than science. It is a people-driven, collaborative exercise. A “starting point” model created by a sponsor usually helps kick off a productive session. We consistently observe several behaviors associated with the process, both good and bad, and have several tips to help you. Here are just a few:

  • Anchor models can be controversial and are challenging to create. Don’t let that stop you from trying.
  • Find passionate, business-knowledgeable people to start. Ideally, an anchor model should be something created by the business, not IT. An EA group is often the instigator to its creation and should act as catalysts to the process and not owners of the model.
  • Not everyone is going to be happy. Someone will always object to something in the diagram, and the tendency is to just “make it a little better”. Our advice, work in a small group and time-box the activity. We suggest a few hours initially.
  • Keep it simple, simple, simple, including only the significant parts of the organization. Resist the tendency to try to include everything a business does.
  • Look at value networks, internal and external to the organization. Expose internal functional blocks, flows of information and services in/out/between them. Include the full range of external stakeholders and the interactions with them in the diagram (customers, suppliers, partners, regulators/government, etc.)
  • Catalog your desired “functional hierarchy” to understand the main business functions performed. Avoid organizational constructs (departments, divisions, etc.). They are fluid and will undoubtedly change. Make your models as timeless as possible.
  • Relationships are at the heart of anchor models. Understand the flows of information (not data models) and how functional elements relate.
  • Timing is everything. We have seen good anchor models get no traction when presented to the wrong people at the wrong time.

There are many more tips that we can suggest. If you have a successful anchor model that resonates with your business, let us know. We’d like to hear your experiences and will share any other general pointers back to the community.

A strong anchor model, once complete, appears so obvious that many wonder why it was created. But that misses much of the point. It is the process of creating it that often yields the highest value.

EA Tips – Style AND Substance

July 12, 2011

For an EA practice to be effective EA leaders must pay attention to both the “style” of how their team operates and the “substance” of the work they produce. While that guidance isn’t new, in practice I often find that many leaders don’t have the balance quite right. It is worth revisiting as a general EA Tip.

First, what do I mean by “style” and by ‘substance”? (note: I chose those words because it sounded like a catchy blog title) For the sake of this article, I define “substance” to be the “work product” of the team as viewed by EA consumers wanting hard deliverables like frameworks, models, standards, roadmaps, strategy papers, and other related content. “Style” refers to “how” the team works with the rest of the organization in creating and utilizing their content: engaging business and IT leadership, fostering a collaborative environment; choosing communications vehicles, the words they use, and the “posture” of how they present themselves to the rest of the organization.

Many EA teams disproportionately direct more effort to the substance of the work than to building a sense of ownership and socializing the desired changes. In essence, they under serve the “style” elements. Granted, substance is critical. No matter how good the soft skills are or how convincing the leaders are, if the content isn’t solid then nobody will follow. But what is more surprising to many teams is that even the most elegant and perfect deliverables often don’t have impact. Why? – Because the team hasn’t positioned the larger workforce to embrace enterprise architecture content and to use it in their day to day work.

Improving the EA team’s style is often where we spend time with clients, specifically working on the “art” of practicing EA. Though many EA’s wish there was a methodological approach to these softer elements, there really isn’t one that works in all cases. People, perspectives, culture, and individual skills vary widely from organization to organization. One approach is to look to lessons learned from the organizational change management discipline, particularly as they apply to driving change across and down into an organization. There are tried and true techniques for preparing organizations for change, conducting education and awareness campaigns, gaining support and participation, and communicating effectively through a variety of different channels. After all, one of the valuable outcomes from EA is helping an organization move from an emphasis on tactical execution and silo behaviors to one that includes a larger, enterprise-wide strategic element. Substance is great, but style really does matter.

EA Tips – Substance OVER Structure

July 12, 2011

If you read my post on “Style AND Substance” I stated that an EA team shouldn’t spend disproportionate energy on content creation without also paying attention to the many softer, stylistic elements associated with leadership and influence. One without the other and the team will fail. In this “EA Tips” post on “substance vs. structure” I offer that an EA leader should worry only slightly about organization and team structural issues and spend as many cycles as possible jump starting the EA team and getting them to work together to produce meaningful content (strategies, standards, roadmaps, etc.).

Every EA team I work with these days is overloaded. I believe that much of the time spent worrying about structure and organization is time better spent elsewhere. Yes, I know that there are just some HR issues that must be addressed, team members need job descriptions and performance plans, and frankly most people won’t even join a team unless they have a reasonable understanding of their responsibilities and how performance will be recognized.

Beyond that, though, I find that many leaders find themselves slicing and dicing roles too finely and creating a lot of unnecessary work for themselves. In fact, doing so often works against the team and inhibits their ability to be effective. The team becomes just a container for a collection of individual contributors, basically working alone and rarely interacting. The very essence of EA is that everything, in some way or another, depends on everything else. The more you separate coverage areas, the more difficult it is to stitch it all together.

Basically, I am saying to not sweat the organizational issues any more than you must to get a few strong players onto your core team. Don’t be too concerned about segmenting responsibilities discretely among domains. Let individual assignments adapt to the content needs of the enterprise and allow your core group to float among them, learning, growing, and sharing perspectives. Encourage everyone to work together as a team and dynamically rotate individual leadership and deliverable assignments. The team will be better off and the members will be as well, plus less time will be spent deciding who does (and doesn’t) do what and more time will be spent on results.

Location, Location, Location – Where Should an EA Team Report?

April 4, 2011

At the recent Troux Worldwide Conference in Austin I moderated two panels, one on Top Performing EA Teams and the other on EA Leadership. We had many questions submitted by audience members and were unable to answer them all. In the next few weeks Tim and I will be offering our perspectives on some of the questions the panels didn’t have time for and share thoughts on a few they did. “Where should an EA team report?” was one of the latter.

It seems that many EA teams we talk to ask about reporting structure, either as reinforcement that they are in the right place now, or as justification for reorganization if they are not. If I had to answer, without knowledge of an organization’s specific circumstances, I would say something like “given the latest trends in enterprise architecture towards stronger business architecture, the EA Team should ideally report directly to the CEO or executive committee in some form of a strategy function”. This gives the team the imprimatur of executive authority, strong visibility, and broad reach across business and IT concerns – truly the “enterprise” perspective.

But that answer isn’t realistic in most current organizations. First, we’d have to establish that the team is really doing true “Enterprise” architecture vs. IT architecture. A good discussion on what we mean by this is included in Tim’s blog entry from last year on The Transformational View of EA. Transformational EA specifies business architecture that is owned, driven, developed and maintained by business people as opposed to their IT proxies. It is coordinated in partnership with IT architecture-oriented EA’s focusing on the IT and systems-oriented perspectives. Until that happens it is unlikely that an EA Team will reside at the level of my answer above. If it has happened already, they have probably been moved up to that level or are already well on their way.

The question most EA teams should ask would be “What is the best place for EA to report in MY organization and how do I get there?” The first part of that is a much more straight-forward question to answer. For a Team working on IT architecture the best place to report is directly to the CIO as part of an Office of the CIO, along with the PMO, IT Strategy Group (if not already the EA group), and other CIO functions. This positions the EA team organizationally on par with operations/infrastructure, security/compliance, and development/support.

Many EA teams find themselves deeper in an infrastructure group doing technical architecture or as part of development support organization. Is that bad? Not necessarily. It is the starting place for many EA Teams. It’s only bad if the scope and scale of the team’s reach is constrained by it. I have seen cases where the EA team administratively reports into a supportive infrastructure director (or development director) who recognizes the value of EA, their role, and gives them license to practice something closer to holistic, forward-looking, business-driven EA. After all, good EA teams are not self-contained. They are highly dependent on engaging a virtual community of stakeholders and contributors from across the organization. Where the team reports, provided again that the leader is supportive, is less important than what it does and how it reaches out to influence others.

So, the bottom line answer to the question of where an EA team should report cannot be from a purist perspective but instead should be based on a combination of practical realities along with the vision and aspiration of the team to drive value. Whenever I hear the “where SHOULD we report” question I prefer, instead, to deflect it and work with the team to answer the question “how can they drive maximum value”. If they can’t do it where they are then we determine, realistically, “where COULD they report”, and “what will it take to get there?”

IASA Chicago Chapter Inaugural Event April 7- George Paras Featured Speaker

April 4, 2011

Thursday evening, April 7, marks the inaugural event for the new IASA Chicago Chapter.  The meeting will be from 6:00pm-7:30pm at Illinois Technology Association (ITA), 200 S. Wacker, 15th Floor, Chicago.  The new chapter provides a networking and educational forum for IT and Enterprise Architects from across the Chicago area.  I will be leading a session on “Changing Architects’ Conversations”, sharing tips and techniques on how architects can create and take advantage of opportunities to engage enterprise leadership in strategic conversations.

In addition to speaking at the event, I am honored to have been asked to serve on the Advisory Board for this new chapter.  Please invite your architecture colleagues to come and join us!

Event and Registration Details

Top-Performing EA Teams – A Panel Discussion

March 30, 2011

I had the opportunity last week to moderate two panels at the Troux Worldwide Conference. The first panel included EAdirections’ Tim Westbrock along with Mike Walker from Microsoft, Aleks Buterman from SenseAgility and Paul Preiss from IASA. The theme of the panel was a general discussion on characteristics of top-performing EA Teams. To begin the conversation, I asked each panelist to describe what a top-performing EA team meant to them. What I had originally believed to be a softball question that would show the breadth of issues and perspectives on EA turned out to be more controversial than I had expected.

The panel became caught up in the role of EA and the role of IT architects. Unfortunately, the conversations became focused on the differences in the roles instead of how they work together, diving too far into a differentiation of the “primary” roles and skills of each. It revealed some of the confusion around EA and shone a light on many of the issues that practicing enterprise architects must deal with on a daily basis. What I had hoped would be a conversation addressing how the EA function must be multi-purposed, strategic and tactical, business and IT-oriented, and with an eye to both short and long-term value delivery became overly focused on narrower perspectives. We had a few rough spots as we worked our way through the session, but luckily we ended well. We landed at the recognition that while the roles are different they share some common skills and, after all, they should be collectively working to achieve positive results for their organizations. Individuals in both of these roles will inevitably be working closely with each other.

Personally, I believe that the biggest part of being a top-performing EA team is learning to strike the right balance across the perspectives listed above. It isn’t about doing just one thing or having a “primary” concern as much as it is about how well the EA leaders cover the bases, shifting emphasis from strategic, business-oriented concerns, to helping certain initiatives head down the right path, and then back again as dictated by the situation. It is about breadth, and reach, and longevity.

In future posts Tim or I will examine several of the questions asked by the audience, some answered by the panel and others that we didn’t have time to address.

Improving EA Team Performance

January 12, 2011

With the arrival of the New Year, many EA teams are in the final stages of setting their annual objectives.  This year, we find that many are being asked to perform at a level significantly higher than last year.   They must do so in response to higher expectations placed on them by leaders who believe that EA plays a critical role in moving the enterprise into the future.  

Many annual objectives documents are primarly structured as lists of projects  and deliverables that the team must complete in the next planning period.   While hard deliverables are necessary and expected, every EA leader should also consider adding objectives designed to improve team performance and to address “how” the team is going to accomplish their assignments.   Why?  Because EA success requires predictable and consistent performance by the team as a whole and by its individual members.

One of the most interesting observations from studies of EA team performance is that the typical team profile of a collection of highly skilled and specialized individual contributors isn’t necessarily optimal.  To be successful, teams populated that way must learn to function as a team, supplementing the natural tendency for individuals to work alone.  Enterprise architecture is inherently cross-domain in scope.  Only by working in collaboration across domain specialites will the team be able to quickly address the many dependencies that are part of the modern enterprise.   

We recommend that EA leaders employ the following techniques when striving to improve their overall team performance:   

Develop a common language: Words and concepts are important.  Adopt/adapt a “language of EA” that makes sense for your organization.  A common grounding in EA core concepts can go a long way to unifying a team.  Look to the more widely used and common industry approaches to EA, take a class, or ask us.  We’re happy to make recommendations on practical approaches that will work, and show you how to adapt them to your needs.

Be a Team: Get together frequently, in person and/or virtually.  Eschew “project status reporting” meetings in favor of strategic discussions, cross-domain issues resolution, trend analysis and healthy debate.

Collaborate and Communicate: Actively recruit and engage external parties and bring them into the discussion.  Learn to exploit “social media” style connections to engage with these larger audiences. 

Learn to Lead: EA is a “lead through influence” discipline.  Take a leadership course, but be careful to select one focused on “soft” leadership styles.  It isn’t about traditional personnel management techniques.

With people as the critical element to EA success; it only makes sense to invest in team skills and performance.   Unfortunately, many teams put disproportionate emphasis on templates, frameworks and deliverables.  Make it a practice to visit/revisit the health and productivity of the team.  Don’t wait until next January to start.


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