by Daniel Lambert

How architecture helps agile projects hit business targets

Sep 03, 2020
Agile DevelopmentDigital TransformationEnterprise Architecture

Business and enterprise architecture can be very complementary to the success of agile programs and projects, increasing the odds of reaching your targeted business outcomes.

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Too many projects initiated by traditional businesses fail to deliver meaningful business outcomes in a reasonable time frame. A 2018 Gartner survey found that “90% of corporate leaders view digital as a top priority,” yet “83% of leaders struggle to make significant progress on digital transformation.”

Rapid and continuous innovative changes and more informed customers are pressing firms to have more fluid business strategies. Time to execution is now shorter and requires that businesses become more agile and learn to rely less on the siloed organizational structure to implement their strategy. Capital needs to be reallocated toward customer-driven initiatives and projects.

Boston Consulting Group points to three common root causes for the failure of large business transformation initiatives:

Lack of transparency. Leaders of business transformation initiatives or programs don’t have a broad view of the firm’s strategies and are unable to prioritize among all their programs those that really matter. They end up having too many projects for the resources allocated to them.

Too-long delivery cycles. Traditional transformation management methods drive programs into long delivery cycles. Inflexible, multi-year detailed milestones determined in the early stage of programs are not adequate for agile companies. Targeted business outcomes of digital transformation initiatives will shift repeatedly during the delivery of an agile customer-driven enterprise.

Mis(ing) management. Top management must resist the urge to delegate their key responsibilities to project managers, who should be responsible for planning, alignment, and problem resolution but usually lack a deep understanding of the evolving strategies of the organization.

Involving EA in agile projects

Managing large-scale initiatives or projects with agility requires two essential components. First, a structured and rigorous approach is needed to take digital transformation initiatives from the idea stage to benefit realization. Program execution should never start before strategies have been clearly divulged by management. Second, frequent recalibration of the plan is required to adapt to contextual changes that may occur during delivery.

To deliver these two components, enterprise architects (EAs) need to be involved in all stages of a project, from strategic planning and finance to delivery check-ups and measuring success.

Strategic and tactical
Most companies will create elaborate long-term strategies at the upper management level, but too often they fail to lay out their corresponding goals, which are more precise and require a higher level of commitment. Furthermore, many companies may not revise their strategies at a high enough frequency. EAs can assist management in disseminating and translating these strategies at a higher frequency into tactics at lower levels and horizontally everywhere in their organization. EAs can also assist management in establishing corresponding realistic goals and objectives for all enumerated strategies and tactics and can be instrumental in adjusting objectives and business outcomes of agile projects.

Finance and priority determination
Using customer-driven value streams and measured business capabilities is an objective and convenient way of defining the priority levels of projects. Value streams and capabilities are far more stable over time than org charts, processes, products, or applications. Used properly, starting with customer journeys, they can ensure that the frequently revised determination of human and financial resources allocated to agile projects stay in sync with the evolving strategies and goals of a customer-driven organization.

Project planning delivery
Using elements from their enterprise architecture model, EAs can accelerate the definition of requirements, epics, and user stories that are necessary to the delivery and execution of programs, projects, and sprints. Furthermore, in large agile programs, there will frequently be redundant projects and sub-projects. EAs have the necessary expertise to detect them.

Project delivery check-ups
During agile project delivery, EAs should get involved to ensure that regular check-ups from key members of the agile delivery team are made: product managers need to signal what should be done next; system architects need to indicate how the project can be done optimally; release train engineers in SAFe® need to indicate the best way to deliver the project; and business owners need to commit to the desired business outcome and corresponding objective the agile project needs to be aligned to.

Measurement of success
Your recently developed software application may be performing perfectly according to specs and be available 99.99% of the time; you may have delivered your agile program and projects on time and within budget. Yet, you may have failed at reaching your business outcomes, and the corresponding business capabilities to your project may still performing at levels that are too low. In such cases, EAs can be instrumental in finding out what went wrong and finding appropriate ways to make sure that it happens less often.

Architecture and SAFe®

Many organizations are full speed ahead with their digital transformation, often using SAFe®, and are finding out that incorporating EAs in their team increases the probability of reaching the business outcomes of agile projects.

To support the elaboration of value stream through the SAFe® Continuous Delivery Pipeline, agile architecture will evolve over time while supporting customers’ needs, trying to avoid overhead and delays associated with traditional project management methods. Agile architecture will ensure that the delivery system always runs, lowering setup times as much as possible, and it will help bring emergent design into the delivered project.

Well-adjusted enterprise architecture practices can prove to be very complementary to the success of agile projects and improve the likelihood of achieving targeted business outcomes of customer-driven organizations.