Gartner Blog Network

Future State First, Current State Last

by Philip Allega  |  August 24, 2010  |  4 Comments

Leo de Sousa shared a blog that covered his experience of doing the current state first, supporting Adrian Grigoriu’s response to my posting last week entitled Applying EA to Your Life .  I do, in fact, support the contention that current state is an “input to gap analysis” and is “useful for benchmarking”, but I would like to respectfully contest the following notions, according to Adrian:

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

Indeed, I would suggest that no target can be created without a vision and, further, that the vision must be based upon the desired future state of the business that comes from a greenfield or tabula rosa exercise.

Why? Because any other vision or any other target state has an incorrect context and does not set the target market correctly, against which all gap closure efforts will be judged.

A little secret here: you never reach the target state.  Why? Because you will reset the target state as environmental attributes change (technology trends, macroeconomic trends, competitive trends, internal trends), meaning that the last vision is now out of date and a new marker must be laid down to work against.

I also appreciate the following comment:

No one will invite you to make comment or participate in strategic planning activities if your own house is not in order (or at least you have a plan in place)

Exactly.  But, documenting your current mess does not make a plan.  Getting your house in order is what EA is all about, but under what context?  Because of what?  For what purpose, what reason?

Do you want an uncluttered future?  Do you want less complexity?  Do you want to support new business capabilities? Why? When?

I contend that you cannot answer these questions WITHOUT understanding where you want to be.  Never-ending inventory exercises have proven fruitless. Determine where you want to be first in order to determine which parts of your “house” have to be put in order in able to reach the target state

A vision based upon current restrictions limits the truly desired future state.

I noted in my blog, “Applying EA to Your Life“, that:

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

It is counteintuitive for many, and as evidenced by a recent spate of tweets and blogs over this contention of “future state first” to, indeed, do the “future state first”.

An instructive story comes from the IT organization and CIO who believed, mistakenly, that the reduction of complexity, consolidation of all IT systems and removal of redundancies were the correct approach to save the IT organization money within their budget. Oh, sure, that worked. The IT organization saved money and, over time, complexity (in the eyes of IT) and redundancies (as the IT organization saw them) were removed.

The end result?  When the business decided to sell off a low-performing business they discovered that the duplication of all the associated infrastructure, applications and systems cost more than the value of the business itself.  The CIO was immediately FIRED.

Why?  Because no one bothered to understand the future state desires of the business.  No one confirmed that the assumptions made about the IT budget reflected the future state needs of the business.  Obviously, they hadn’t engaged EA properly.

I am NOT saying that there’s no value in having knowledge about the current state, I am saying that the current state is not the starting point in an EA effort.

My post originally came from the challenges of a particular friend.  In support of that friend, another wrote:

Things are the way they are today because of the decisions we have made in the past. But just because they are that way today, does not dictate the future of how things will be tomorrow.

I liked this quote because she recognized that where we are right now is not indicative of the resulting future.  She is not encumbered by the current state when considering the future.

Document your current state? Yes, but after you have defined a context under which you can judge the fitness of the current state and plan to close the gaps against the target state.

Category: enterprise-architecture  

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 Future State First, Current State Last

  1. Deb Weiss says:

    My views are very strong on this Phil – current state is business-as-usual for every person in the organisation EXCEPT the archietcts. Their role is to collect the current state inforamtion that is a reflection of the future state being defined.

    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.

    Every business manager should understand, document and update their processes, infroamtion and solutions. Every IT manager should understand, document and update their technology. How can they manage if they have no idea what they are managing? What arrogance that they think they can delegate this accountability and responability to the architects?

    My advice make them all accountable for the current state and get on with strategy and future state!

  2. Philip,
    Enterprise Architecture enables much more than vision implementation alone. It enables change, be it operational, tactical or strategical.
    EA is also about complexity management, or simplification of the organically grown Enterprise, about aligning technology to deliver the operation the business really needs, about increasing business agility, enhancing understanding in the Enterprise workings…

    For all that you need the current EA.
    And you need the current EA to fix the current problems not only to achieve a Vision.

    The target state is designed with the idea of fixing both the current state issues and achieving the vision.

    if you plan to improve your home you first take stock of what you have (current state). And then you build your \vision\ on what you currently have, what is possible, what you can afford, what the land permits…, unless of course, you wish to demolish what you already have and build no matter the issues.

    Thus, the vision itself must be based on the current state.

    I could also cite research that delayed gratification in children is a characteristic of later achievers, in support of a position of fixing the current state before achieving vision.

    It is common sense that the business is documented by stakeholders, the very people who own the work and know most about the business. And indeed, it would be unwise to do otherwise. But that work is mostly not suitable \as-is\ for integration in EA.

    It is the task of the EA architect to establish the framework in which all the stakeholders’ parts fit in, to specify how the EA parts look like to fit the whole, what are the missing parts, what are the design constraints, architecture principles, what are the components of EA that have to be re-used by all stakeholders, how to navigate the EA whole.
    The current EA (re-)work would be done by stakeholders so that they take into account all these and deliver to the same standards.

    Current EA is about every stakeholder documenting own work consistently to be able to link it to the rest of Enterprise parts in a coherent whole so that anyone else can navigate it.

    To paraphrase you, I would say that an EA architect would be indeed arrogant, not to accept the duty to model the current EA.

  3. Philip Allega says:

    Thanks, Adrian. I shared my comments on your blog post, rather than re-post here.

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