Saturday, March 7, 2015

What I learnt in a year running an Architecture Review Board (ARB)

Among my first tasks after joining the Enterprise Architecture team for my employer - a multinational Ag Biz company - was to redefine the Architecture Review Board (ARB), a need that was triggered by a review of our Enterprise Architecture program.

The head of architecture explained the company’s “history” of architecture governance and the shifting focus of the architecture function. As in many large multinational enterprises, the company’s IS team continues to evolve to mirror changing business drivers. The pendulum had swung from extremely governed to the laissez faire model, and I was tasked with operationalizing a fit-for-purpose ARB.

So, what did I learn?

As should be expected of any global organization, the architecture landscape is complex. Running the ARB process gave me a ringside view into changes being introduced into the landscape.

To appreciate the value chain, understand organization change
  • The architecture tradeoffs used to review proposals and the ARB recommendations are a good dipstick into the stakeholders’ appetite for change.
  • The ARB is integrated into the portfolio and program management processes. Hence, ARB members can try and understand Who (stakeholder/sponsor) is paying for the change, and Why (the value expected from the investment)
Appreciate the subtleties of “business” engagement

Passionate debates on engaging with business frequently surface in online Enterprise Architecture forums. Some of it is because the term ‘business engagement’ is nebulous, and may be used to describe several things
  • People – Business user of a business system or process
  • Functions - Business function like Finance, HR, Supply Chain etc, or Business unit - like the British or Turkish subsidiary of a multinational or the “Houston manufacturing plant”
  • Leaders and leadership teams – Ranging from top tier CxO reporting to the CEO/Board to leaders of functional or business units and others in between
During ARB reviews, I sometimes find it easier to just work with the sponsor - people with money or people who know people with money - than to debate how to engage “business”. The assumption is simple: sponsors follow the money.

Aspire for a “seat at the table” but be pragmatic

Engaging business to “define strategies” is another topic of continual debates in Enterprise Architecture forums. In reality, a seat at the table may be more about effective realization of strategy than about ideating on business scenarios in an ivory tower. For example, a few scenarios:
  • M&A: Mergers & Acquisitions are generally strategic business decisions involving a handful of people - the board, CEO, CXO, a business head or two and handpicked lawyers and accountant with sundry advisors.
  • Decision to expand or divest business: Also strategic business decisions involving only a handful of people.
  • Decisions to enter new line of business. E.g a software services company deciding to operate data centers or expand into “cloud operations” or an AgBiz company introducing a complementary solution for farmers
In these scenarios, EA’s and other senior managers may be engaged to enable execution *after* such strategic decisions are taken.

In this article, I try and highlight a few of my empirical observations and learnings. A more detailed discussion of Architecture Review Board and my case study can be found in this month's Cutter IT Journal article (Enabling Successful EA Governance -link).

Cross post from my Linkedin Pulse

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