Several years ago while I was explaining the value of EA to an executive, I was asked a thought-provoking question that is still an interesting subject of debate amongst architects. I was asked whether an EA practice should start with the current state and then analyze future state or focus on the future state and then analyze the impact on the current state. He was of the opinion that since his organization already had a target operating model (TOM) and was considering EA as a means for driving the transformation, it would make more sense to focus on elaborating the future-state. This is a key concern for many other organizations that seek to create immediate value out of their EA initiatives. Yes, it is true both of these or combinations of both approaches are valid but what you choose should help you achieve objectives and produce required outcomes. The bottom-line here is that there is never going to be a one-size-fit-all approach as we deal with different circumstances all the time. So what considerations should you give before selecting one of these approaches? In my opinion, some of the factors that should be considered when selecting your approach include the following:
- Primary goals or purpose for setting up EA practice
- Clarity of the organization strategy and vision
- Key organizational challenges to be addressed
- Nature of initiatives that benefit from EA
- Organization culture, maturity and readiness
- Availability of sufficient current-state information
Current State First
The ability to quickly and effectively structure and document the elusive current state is a key selling point for EA. Organizations face difficulties understanding impact of change to business operations and so it is always advisable to focus initial effort on documenting and communicating the current state. Whenever changes are proposed, emphasis is placed on performing impact analysis in order to enhance decision-support. Having such a capability is definitely something that every organization craves for and as such most EA adopters welcome the idea primarily because change is inevitable and costly to organizations. However, achieving this level of maturity is only possible if careful consideration is given to documenting important current state areas prone to frequent changes. Likewise, the presence of current state on its own isn’t good enough if proper impact analysis tools are lacking. So if you position your EA practice this way, then starting with current state may be the best approach to consider.
Future State First
Successful implementation of change must be driven by objectivity which could be lacking if you only rely on the current state. Your organization needs to have a proper vision before initiating value-driven change. If you do not have this vision in place, then documenting the current state first followed by analysis of existing challenges could give you an upper hand in understanding the type of change required in future. However, if future vision or strategy is known and your organization urgently needs to change, then there is good reason to start with future state. The rationale here is that too much focus on current state may limits your ability to see future possibilities because we as humans prefer older ways of doing things. This situation relates well to reengineering and engineering debate; unlike reengineering which focuses on improving the current state, engineering advocates defining the future state without revisiting the current state. Although developing the future state first without relying on current state may yield faster results, it could also constrain the level of detail required for the current state; it could be difficult to assess and manage the impact of change on the current state if it is unknown.
Combination – Current and Future State
If your organization adopts EA to drive business transformation, you are likely to use both approaches depending on circumstance – start with future state if the current state documentation exists or working on the current state will dilute the future vision. Usually, the following sequence of steps should be followed to achieve the expected outcome: document the current state, perform environmental scan to identify challenges and opportunities, revise the organization strategic plan and vision, document the required future state, conduct gap analysis between current and future state, identify initiatives to close the gap, produce a roadmap that sequences these initiatives, assess resources required to implement these initiatives, initiate programs or projects to implement these initiatives, and finally manage the impact of the newly introduced changes. Though this approach may be cumbersome in terms of effort and cost, it is systematic and provides better visibility and assurance for achieving required results. To avert delays usually associated with such a lengthy approach, a better strategy would be to adopt an incremental implementation of business transformation; start by decomposing business into manageable domains, document current state of the domain, understand challenges and opportunities, document future state and finally close the gaps. So what are your views and experiences regarding the approach to follow?