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:
- The team will invariably expend a great deal of effort on a deliverable of limited business value.
- An analysis of the current state tells you nothing about what your future environment should look like to best support the business strategy.
- 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
- 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 http://ilabs.washington.edu/meltzoff/pubsposters/AtanceMeltzoffSRCD2003.pdf).
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.
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