by Mehrdad Foroozesh, Ph. D., Sprint Paranet
A few months ago, I decided to research and identify the key elements that help IT strategies, and more specifically, Enterprise Technical Architecture (ETA) initiatives, succeed. My goal was to identify the critical success factors, as well as common mistakes, that lead to project budget overruns, delays, and major failures. In conducting the research, I decided to consider a holistic view of issues related to developing an Enterprise Technical Architecture. I set out to review the experiential literature and books written by several renowned management consultants on change. I also researched Sprint Paranet’s own NOMAN® (Network Operation Management) knowledge base of over 8000 projects, as well as the published experiences and methodologies of several renowned enterprise technical architects, including that of John Zachman and Larry DeBoever.
The following highlights are a distillation of what I have discovered to be the critical elements for success:
Build a sense of urgency
Identifying and discussing crises as well as major opportunities in order to build a strong sense of urgency is a critical step in convincing people that business-as-usual is no longer acceptable. Both line-of-business managers and IT staff must understand the importance of dealing with crises and seizing new opportunities.
Build a strong executive sponsorship
Any ETA initiative must have full support of the CIO and business executives poised to become stakeholders in the effort. This is equivalent to building a strong guiding coalition. The guiding coalition must have enough power and authority to make change happen.
Build a strong team dynamic
When undertaking any major IT initiative, we strongly recommend that the team participants be sent off to a three-to-five-day teambuilding exercise that reinforces teamwork in more than a simple classroom setting. Do not be afraid to put the entire IT organization through a similar exercise in reasonably sized groups. Our first-hand experience shows that this up front investment in time can shave many weeks off projects. It also improves employee retention.
Ensure a strong IT and business skill set representation
In developing an Enterprise Technical Architecture, it is critical to assemble a balanced team—one that represents deep knowledge of the enterprise as well as deep technical skills. Team participants must be those who possess strong skills and valuable knowledge critical to the success of the initiative. Since business processes cross many organizational boundaries, the team must also include process-oriented individuals who have a good understanding of the big picture.
Develop a good understanding of business drivers, and form a vision
The vision communicates where the organization is heading and how it is going to get there. Without a vision, an ETA effort can easily dissolve into a list of incompatible projects that can take the organization in the wrong direction, or nowhere at all. In developing a vision for the ETA initiative, the architecture team should focus on the enterprise business drivers. This information could come from business managers, executive reports, and quarterly or annual reports.
Communicate the vision and the process
The message that you do not want to convey to your IT organization is that your architecture team is an elite group busy figuring out everyone else’s future. The architecture team should quickly publish the minutes of every meeting and whenever possible hold open door meetings. Secrets serve no purpose whatsoever, not even when the team is considering outsourcing. Discussing the impact of the vision on people’s positions, career paths, and their future with the company is also an important part of the communication process.
Empower others to act on the vision
The guiding coalition must stimulate progress by encouraging risk taking and nontraditional ideas. In doing so, IT and business executives must first prepare their staff for the added responsibilities; otherwise, they may be setting them up for failure.
Plan for and create short-term wins
Although Enterprise Technical Architecture is about continuous realignment with business goals, each phase of the process must be treated as a project with an end in sight. Taking small steps and creating short-term wins is an important part of a winning strategy. Our experience at client sites confirms that incremental successes (three to six months in duration) are a powerful tool in keeping people motivated and dedicated to the cause.
While creating short-term wins, remember that ultimately you must show value to the organization. It is commonly believed that architecture initiatives should begin to show value in no longer than 12 months.
Establish a framework and a methodology
Any Enterprise Technical Architecture initiative must be managed as a process that utilizes a framework and a methodology to collectively organize the objectives of the process steps and how to get there. The purpose of a framework is to identify all the areas of concern. A methodology, on the other hand, helps you develop a consistent approach in addressing all the issues related to those areas identified by the framework. At a minimum you must adapt a project management methodology.
It is important to recognize that Enterprise Technical Architecture is about change. Continuous realignment with business drives that change. Change, however, is not an easy issue to deal with. With change come barriers, organizational as well as technical. IT and business executives must be prepared to deal with both.
Failing to recognize and respect organizational barriers is the worst mistake that any IT manager could make. It is often a primary cause of project failures, as well as budget and time overruns. I have seen many elegant technical strategies find a permanent resting place on an old dusty bookshelf because the engineers who devised them failed to build the consensus that was required to deploy their fine intentions.
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When change bites people, they bite back. In developing an effective Enterprise Technical Architecture, the first step is to be prepared to address barriers to change, and then to take positive steps towards establishing trust and opening the lines of communication between IT and business units. Business managers and IT staff should actively participate in the process, and a strong consensus must be reached as to the importance of the entire effort and its outcome.
About the Author
Mehrdad Foroozesh, Ph.D., has been with Sprint Paranet since November 1994. A 1989 graduate of Louisiana State University, he holds a Ph.D. in Computational Mechanics. Foroozesh has over 12 years of IT management and consulting experience. In addition to a professional engineering license, he holds a number of certifications from IBM and Sun Microsystems.
- IT Architecture - Where, What, Why?
- The Making Of A Successful Enterprise Technical Architecture
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