Sunday, May 15, 2011

Steering projects; Where is the improved in "new and improved"?

Enterprise architecture is all about improving, continuously. Our target architecture is our aim, and every step towards it may alter the aim. The new aim is a better aim. That is what it is all about: Improving as we walk to a better architecture. The steps in this walk are our projects. We need to identify, define, implement and steer our projects. We totally depend that a project understand is part of the whole. Every task in the project will go in greater detail. These details will bring us a better understanding; either some part of the goal of the project is a bad path, or it is a good one. Maybe the traversal of the projects tasks really find a golden egg, or a pit of snakes.

Projects live a life of their own. The team is dedicated to their goal, and they will continue to walk within the mandate and quite a bit of self-focus. Very uncommon, or never, has a project said to the steering committee "our task is unnecessary, please stop this project". It is not that the project not is trying to reach its goal, or being loyal, the team is honest in doing what they believe is correct. The purpose of the steering committee is, well, to steer. The steering committee in this context is any entity who is responsible for steering the project. I remember a project manager once said that informing the steering committee was like growing mushrooms "keep them in the dark and feed them horse shit". And maybe this illustrates the challenge; the projects must not obey the project-mandate or architectural blueprints alone.

In this context the mandate must be extended with the target architecture and a description of what the project must participate with. This includes components which are there already - they may be extended - , and new components that later projects will benefit from. The later is a tougher one. It is then vital that projects understand the purpose (why and for what) of this component in the target architecture, and have a steady set of principles. The message must be repeated and repeated, the enterprise architects must be absolutely sure that the architects in the project understand why. Remember that experience the project gain, may eventually alter the target architecture, there must be close cooperation between architects at many different levels.

So this brings me back to the headline: "where is the improved in "new and improved"? When we staff projects, most often we choose people who know the functional domain and someone who know the new technology. And what do you get? To often the existing domain in a new technology. Does this bring us closer to the the target architecture? Can the steering committee see what is coming? Too often they haven´t.

In addition I think the overall process must be agile so that the project mandate and budgeting may be adjusted along the way. Also we have the good opportunity of having project demos as the sprints go by. This makes it easier for the steering committee and the enterprise architects. I think Gartner has coined this overall process EAD "Enterprise-class Agile Development". Using project as changers on the path to an improved enterprise architecture.

All you get is new, but not improved, if you don't make sure that the project does understand the purpose of the target architecture.
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Steering projects; Where is the improved in "new and improved"? by Tormod Varhaugvik is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.