Is Enterprise Architecture appropriate for your organization?

Reading The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning by Henry Mintzberg is causing me to reflect on the viability of another management fashion:  Enterprise Architecture.

When a management guru or an IT “paradigm shift” promises wide-ranging, long-term, hard-to-measure benefits, some even-handed evaluation is in order.

I believe EA is a useful practice, but it will be hard to get return-on-investment in some situations.   If EA is applied inappropriately, it may get a bad reputation just like Strategic Planning did.  So here are some guidelines (inspired by Mintzberg’s book) for where to apply EA:

Is your organization big and long-lasting?  Invest in EA to manage complexity!

Is your organization small, simple or short-lived?  Use the principles of EA without the detail:  Does everyone agree upon the enterprise’s goals?  Are IT investments aligned with those goals, and coordinated to avoid duplication?

Does central control (of policies and administration) work well in your organization?  Enterprise Architecture is likely to succeed.  (But if central control is regularly subverted to “get stuff done”, EA may be subject to the same effect.)

Is your organization a federation of departments or subsidiaries?  Central coordination such as EA can be costly and unpopular, so do the more detailed EA within departments.  Apply standards across the federation only where departments need to work together.

Is your organization largely made up of autonomous professionals, such as professors, doctors or researchers?  EA will be limited to central administrative services.  Consult the professionals and the administrators about what architectural coordination would be useful and effective in your organization’s culture.

Look historically… does your business strategy change completely every six months?  Are mergers and buyouts frequent in your industry?  You probably won’t get much benefit from a detailed EA before it has to be significantly revised.   Consider doing a high-level business architecture to bring some order to the chaos.  An as-is IT inventory will prepare you for the next big move.

Stay tuned for more posts inspired by Mintzberg’s book over the next few weeks.