Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Justifying architecture and strategy

There are always challenges in valuing, and therefore justifying, good (or often any) design, strategies, plans. The problem lies in a number of areas e.g.:
  • Challenges with counterfactual analysis: in most situations (enterprises, buildings, cities, endeavours), one can't easily compare the result of the designs/strategies/plans that was actually taken - with other hypothetical designs/strategies/plans that could have been taken. People either need to intuitively value sound well reasoned designs, strategies, plans - or not i.e. the ROI is either obvious or it is not. So there is no point of comparison.
  • Self-interest: This can militate against sharing knowledge. Knowledge is power. This can be seen in many professions to a greater or lessor extent. If ones shares and/or make available the knowledge one has (or the basis of a decision), one may diminish ones value (as a holder of knowledge), and become open to criticism (e.g. regarding the veracity of the data or the soundness of the analysis).
  • Secrecy: Sometimes one does not wish to disclose a strategy/plan. Often the downside of secrecy is that people in ones own team or side, don't understand what should be done, why, when etc. (i.e. the benefit of secrecy is outweighed by its impact on efficacy).
  • Thinking is intrinsically difficult: These things (strategy/design/planning, and modelling) are often quite difficult to do well i.e. they require quite a lot of thought. To make matters worse the result can be seen, with hindsight, as trivial and not justifying the effort required.
  • Thinking takes time: It is always quicker just to act
  • Thinking costs money: As results may be seen as trivial e.g (F = M x A) and could not be worth justifying the effort.
  • Future is someone else's problem: That what is constructed is a poor fit, doesn't last, is expensive to operate, expensive to change or adapt is often not the problem of the initiator, the initial designer, or the builder (and perhaps the initial user).
These issues can be seen all areas of life e.g. social planning, cities, buildings, cars, and of course businesses and Information and Communication Technology (ICT). ICT is particularly bad as it has not yet matured into a profession (where people have the requisite learning, training and discipline and profess a code of ethics).

People wishing to ensure better strategies, designs and plans, need to look for others who:
  • Intrinsically value better strategies, designs and plans, and can consider the future.
  • Can overcome self-interest of knowledge holders and know what must be kept secret
  • Know thinking is difficult, takes time and money and are prepared for the effort.

Michael.

4 comments:

Richard said...

I do find the issue around justifying doing architecture to start with a little strange, as it seems obvious that the alternative (i.e. no architecture) leaves a business in a position where they have an ad hoc, inconsistent, ill thought through IT capability (which leads to a whole range of problems, risks etc). I would think that few people would consider this to be an appropriate approach for managing a corporations IT capability (due to corporate need for process, governance and structure), although many corporations do so (but i expect this is mainly due to naivety). So surely senior management would consider/agree that there should be at least some level of architecture, maybe then the real question is how to determine and justify an appropriate level of EA (on the scale from ad hoc through to heavy weight formal EA process).

Tom G said...

All the above are good points. A handful of 'two cents worth' extras:
- One of the hardest problems for valuation of EA is that our real value comes from what doesn't happen (such as the messes Richard describes). To 'prove' our value, we often have to do a full financial and other analysis of what would have happened if we hadn't intervened. Which is damn expensive, and a heck of a waste of time and effort, but that's the way business likes it...
- When the longest time-focus permitted by the market is next quarter's results, it's no surprise that senior business folks tend to have a poor grasp of real-world time-horizons of five, ten, twenty, a hundred years. (When I did postgraduate studies in strategic futures, the longest business-oriented time-horizon we dealt with was a quarter of a million years - the relevant timescale for decommissioning a nuclear reactor.) How we educate business-folks to think more realistically is not going to be a short-haul exercise: for now I tend to sneak it in under the radar - kind of 'stealth foresight', really.
- As EA practitioners we have much in common with the futures/foresight profession (see e.g. Association of Professional Futurists). Standard futures tools such as scenarios are even included in TOGAF (if in somewhat crude and mangled form) but we'll also find useful more advanced tools and techniques such as environmental scanning and Causal Layered Analysis. Might be worthwhile trying to build some (semi-)formal alliances there?

Guy said...

Richard - I guess the problem is that people are too focussed on solving their subset of issues in the short term. Architecture is looked on as long term and strategic, so people have trouble seeing how it benefits them in the here and now.
Obviously short sighted, and not how you or I would think. But the problem for management is how much effort / expense to put into long term planning, and the perception of delaying the implementation of "here and now" initiatives with the resultant loss in revenue etc.

So the challenge for EA is to propose achievable initiatives that can show an ROI, and thus compete with other (lets say tactical) initiatives on a level playing field. Many EAs probably think that this is not their problem, or perhaps EA is so obvious that if people need it spelled out then they are foolish. But then isn't that falling into the same narrow mindedness trap ?

MJE said...

Richard says:
The issue around justifying doing EA strange, as it seems obvious that the alternative has bad results. That few people would consider this to be an appropriate approach for managing a corporations. Surely senior management would consider/agree that there should be at least some level of architecture, maybe then the real question is how to determine and justify an appropriate level of EA [propigate the myth of "heavy weight" EA.
Guy says:
People are too focussed on solving their subset of issues in the short term and that trade offs are required regarding how much effort to put into long term planning i.e. the perception of delaying the implementation of "here and now" initiatives [how every poorly defined]. So the challenge for EA is to propose achievable initiatives that can show an ROI to compete with other initiatives. Many EAs probably think that this is not their problem, or perhaps EA is so obvious that if people need it spelled out then they are foolish. [both are true - but that is not the real issue]

The fact is that it is hard to teach old dogs new tricks (Cf. Max Plancks quote "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.") i.e. one can spell things out as much as one likes - but people need an incentive to change. Most senior management have got to where they are without using EA (i.e. they are winning the game under the current rules) - and changing the paradigm introduces risks to them in a game that they think they are already winning of have won.

I would refer to Lincoln's quote (on Axes and chopping down trees), and Zachman statement that you can't build a complex solution you can't describe. The fact is that this is not the EA's problem - they are having a grand old time doing what they have always done. It is the CEO's, CFO's, COO's (and perhaps the CIO's) problem i.e. these are the people tasked with looking after the good of whole enterprise.

Tom's point re "what doesn't happen" - is the issue of counterfactuals. I agree that many business people are short term focused, but I don't think it is easy (and may not be possible) to change the nature of these people.