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Applying EA to Your Life

by Philip Allega  |  August 20, 2010  |  7 Comments

Recently, I was asked to help a friend out.  The conversation began with a grand vision of where this person saw himself in a year’s time.  I was excited by the vision and we discussed what it would feel like once he was there, what he would with his time, his money, and how wonderful his life would be when everything came together and he will have achieved this wonderful vision.

It struck me that this was much as we have advised clients for years, use EA to help determine the future state first. It’s a very common mistake by new practitioners to EA to focus upon the current state as the first activity in EA.  

If you have started your EA program and your first activity is to document the current state, STOP NOW. Refocus your team on analysis of the business strategy and development of the future state architecture.

Current-state analysis done first limits your ability to see future possibilities.  Developing future state first will constrain the level of detail required for current state.

We often talk to clients who are beginning their architecture program and they’ll say “Our first order of business is to get a detailed analysis of our current environment.” This is a mistake for several reasons:

  1.  The team will invariably expend a great deal of effort on a deliverable of limited business value.
  2. An analysis of the current state tells you nothing about what your future environment should look like to best support the business strategy.
  3. Doing the future state first allows you to think about the requirements of the business strategy and how they can best be supported by EA, without constraining your thinking based on the limitations of your established environment
  4. Current state exercises, done first, will place limits on the development of a target future state, thus reducing the effectiveness of the future state exercise

The primary goal of the EA is to facilitate change. Analysis of the current state is important only in the context of gap analysis. For that reason, we advise that documentation of the current state be confined to the minimum that is required to identify the gaps between the current state and the future state. By doing the future state first, you essentially enforce that minimum level of documentation, since it is impossible to plan the future state in tremendous detail. 

This is so counterintuitive to most EA practitioners that it’s important to provide some external evidence as to why a current state fixation, before considering the future state, is limiting:


In the paper “Causal Reasoning in the Context of Future Thinking” by Cristina M. Atance and Andrew N. Meltzoff, at the Center for Mind, Brain & Learning at the  University of Washington, the researcher created an experiment that proves that knowing your current state invades judgments about the future state (see

Wasting time worrying about the details of where you are when most intuitively know it already is an exercise in naval gazing. If someone is large and they want to be thin, they don’t need detailed scientific measurements about where they are in order to know where they want to be. 


Turning back to my conversation with my friend, I thought about the application of EA in achieving his grand vision.  Little time was spent in cataloging everything about his current state, but we did enough to realize where he was today: out of work, broke, no money, skills that held little attraction to industries that are hiring and, basically, in a difficult position.


This immediately launched us in the formation of a plan to close the gap between where he is today and where he wants to be tomorrow.  We discussed techniques, approaches, alternative scenarios, and action items, all in support of moving from today towards the vision.  The resulting plan was ready to execute.


Unfortunately, unlike mature EA programs, there’s only my friend left to govern the execution of his transition from today towards his vision. His choice of a year time frame to turn things around is, in my humble opinion, ambitious.  And, the alternative scenarios we discussed were none too pleasant given where he’s starting from; however, difficult the challenges that lie ahead, that vision is helpful and motivating.  It will also give him something to mark his place against as the transition is underway.


Rudy Ruettiger is an inspiring story about a person who, against many odds and with many obstacles in his path, overcame his limitations and succeeded in playing two plays for Notre Dame football, earning him the honor of being the first of only two Notre Dame players to ever be carried off the field of play by his teammates. Today, the Rudy Foundation raises monies to recognize and reward those individuals who “…overcome obstacles, set goals, stay on track to reach their Dreams…”.


Isn’t that much like what enterprise architects try to do in their EA programs?


Having a dream (the future state) and setting goals, overcoming obstacles, and staying on track (assurance, governance) in the face of overwhelming odds (funding models, reporting structures, culture, politics, misperceptions, etc.) is what we do as people and what enterprise architects work diligently at within their organizations today.


Philip Allega
Research VP
12 years at Gartner
27 years IT industry

Philip Allega is a research vice president responsible for teaching, coaching and critiquing Gartner's clients to help them realize the value of enterprise architecture as a strategic discipline. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Applying EA to Your Life

  1. It is often said that “life imitates art”. According to you we should apply Enterprise Architecture techniques to plan our acts of life or achievements. I sincerely hope we don’t come to that, that is use TOGAF or a look alike to plot our lives.

    Since the dawn of time people established goals, assess where they were and what they have to do and then worked on it. The good news is that they could do without EA, especially given its failure rate today. Otherwise we would have reached our venerable ages and current positions by chance alone.

    Then you say that “If you have started your EA program and your first activity is to document the current state, STOP NOW. Refocus your team on analysis of the business strategy and development of the future state architecture.”

    I hope this piece of advice was not meant to be taken literally. Imagine going to your CIO or senior manager telling him that you have to stop the current state documentation work, now.
    If you catch him on a good day, he will probably explain to you that you need to discover your IT landscape to reduce the undesirable diversity in platforms and applications and introduce standardisation, eliminate unnecessary duplication, and costs as such, enable integration of various applications, document processes for improvement, establish a common vocabulary, an inventory of assets… And he is right, of course. Not that it is a matter of your choice, that is, as an Enterprise Architect you don’t do the decision to stop working.

    The target architecture cannot be established based on Vision alone. It is not practical or economically viable to start from tabula rasa each and every time you implement a new strategy. Competitors would be delighted though.

    Questions arise, like how do I know how the future architecture looks like, without the current one, what do I do about the ERP system I just implemented and trained people in, what do we do about the projects transforming the Enterprise as we speak… how do you do roadmapping, if you don’t care the current system is SAP? I am sure there are more questions like this.

    This approach incites to continuous revolution, rather than evolution with the high price to pay for such sudden and mountainous changes. Anyway, once you go through a first target architecture development, you’ll have a current EA, right? Or should we just ignore the works done and start from scratch again at the next cycle?

    Compare the exercise of current architecture design with “naval gazing” is worth quoting though.

    I am sympathetic to your friend’s pledge. It might happen to all of us. Had he assessed the risks earlier and acted on them accordingly – like saving… – the situation might have been avoided. But who does that? You wrote though that the turn around plan is “ambitious” and ” the alternative scenarios we discussed were none too pleasant given where he’s starting from”.
    So you do compare with the starting point.

  2. […] just saw a post by Adrian Grigoriu responding to Gartner’s Philip Allega’s post Applying EA to Your Life .  Within the post about how EA might be able to help plan our lives, Philip then brings up an […]

  3. Leo de Sousa says:


    Thanks for the post. I was struck by your outright discounting of working on a Current/As-Is State. I posted a response on my blog:

    Looking forward to continuing the dialogue.

  4. […] Philip Allega is a research vice president responsible for teaching, coaching and critiquing Gartner's clients to help them realize the value of enterprise architecture as a strategic discipline. Read Full Bio Coverage Areas: ← Applying EA to Your Life […]

  5. Philip Allega says:

    Thanks, Leo. It’s a tough one to get across. I’ve shared more about this perspective in my blog today, “Future State First, Current State Last” (see

  6. Philip Allega says:

    Thanks, Adrian. I appreciate your comments, and your concerns. I’ve responded in greater detail in today’s blog,”Future State First, Current State Last” (see

  7. Philip Allega says:

    Thanks, Leo. I apologize for not getting back quickly, but I was out of the office for some time.

    We are discussing the order of activities, here. I see that you did the current first. We won’t ever know how much that impeded your vision of the future, as the findings from the study I posted suggest all humans inherently do when doing the current state first. If you are not aware of many of the issues and challenges with your current state before you begin an EA exercise, you’re probably not the best person to engage in the EA program. If you are, you don’t need to spend needless hours documenting issues that may not be relevant to the future state gap. Deb Weiss noted:

    The minute any EA team starts the accept that they are responsible for documenting the current state then they are on a slippery slide down to oblivion

    She also noted that:

    Their role is to collect the current state information that is a reflection of the future state being defined.

    If you do the future first, you have a guide that tells you what parts of the current state are of interest in understanding so that you may propose projects to close the gap. If you spent time working upon documenting your EPP system and the challenges that will help your reach your goals are dealing with your CRM system, then you’ve wasted time.

    I do agree with your quote:

    When introducing EA approaches to an organization, especially if you are doing this as an internal initiative, you MUST demonstrate a clear understanding of the issues and challenges to your senior sponsors.

    Indeed, doing your due diligence by understanding the future state and focusing upon only those portions of each EA viewpoint that’s relevant to undertand so that your can propose gap closure projects focuses your time and energy and demonstrates that you understand the challenges.

    I will concede that you may have had credibility issues that required a deeper foundational knowledge of your current state before you began. However, my experience, and that of my colleagues at Gartner, is that we have observed too many never-ending, directionless, current state inventory and analysis paralysis efforts. Why? Because they had no future state to guide them concerning what was important in the current state to document.

    Perhaps you were intuitively lucky to only work on those things in your current state relevant to the future.
    Perhaps you did not introduce any bias into what’s achievable in the future, based upon your concerns with the current.

    If so, you were very lucky indeed. For your next udate, consider the impact if you changed your approach to:

    1. Environmental Scan
    2. Strategic Planning Assumptions
    3, Vision
    4. Guiding Principles
    5. To Be State
    6. As Is State
    7. Roadmap
    8. Resources

    I think you’ll find this exercise to be liberating and focused upon only those parts of the current state relevant to your gap analysis that serves as input to your roadmap and resource allocation discussions.

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