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Agile Architecture - The Unicorn Realized
Raghavendra Dani Senior Solutions Architect, Digital & Analytics | July 7, 2020
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The number of companies adopting the Agile methodology today is growing exponentially by the day. Did you know that architecture is usually amongst the last departments to undergo digitalization and consequently, digital transformation, during an enterprise-wide Agile transformation?

The Problem Statement

As most organizations are scaling their Agile adoption, they often seem to overlook a few critical “non-IT delivery” functions in their digitalization and digital transformation initiatives. Architecture, like risk, is one of the biggest causalities. So why did this phenomenon occur?

Factors that contributed to overlooking architecture and other business-enabling functions:

  1. Agile transformation begins mostly with IT delivery squads: Enterprises are adopting various Agile models in their endeavor to drive agile transformation. Some of the general observations on Agile models and scaling are mentioned below:

     

    Agile Architecture

     

    Furthermore:

    • Agile methodology or implementations are non-standard, even within an organization.
    • Agility is an important mindset and since it is a mindset, it’s different to each individual in squads and at various levels within an organization.
  2. Perception: The burden of legacy perception regarding traditional (comprehensive design-first) architecture is that it’s deemed archaic. This further feeds into the notion that it’s a deterrent towards efficient Agile transformation of the delivery organization. Some of the common perceptions plaguing the architecture community are listed below:
    Perceptions Plaguing the Architecture Community

    Furthermore, many stakeholders within many organizations also expressed:

    • Architecture is perceived as bureaucratic in nature.
    • Architects are rarely decisive, resulting in longer decision cycles and direction setting for business outcomes/business transformation initiatives.
    • There is no perfect Agile model design, which is usually the end goal from the architect’s perspective.
    • There is unclear ownership and accountability of architects in the agile world.

The combination of the above i.e. the rapidly evolving world of Agile and the perception regarding Agile models and architecture form a potent problem mix for the function in many organizations today.

These are just some of the many influencing factors and there will always be many more or fewer depending on how each enterprise likes to deal with the subject of “architecture”, its necessity, and most importantly, its “value”.

So, is Agile methodology and perception on enabling functions rapidly depleting the “need” for architecture in the world of tomorrow?

The Need

An important question to answer is if the architecture needs to be on the forefront or the background in key technological decisions. Let’s look at other key influencing factors and changes that organizations are experiencing in the digital economy.

  1. Digital transformation in a complex technology and application landscape:Digitalization is at the very heart of all organizations and is now a necessity more than a luxury in a digital economy. The technology landscape is evolving at a rapid pace and it’s increasingly difficult for organizations to keep a healthy portfolio, limit application landscape complexity and repetition of functionalities across a myriad of technologies.
  2. Global Platforms: Platformization (digital businesses and technology) has become an inherent need in the digital economy today than ever before. Global platforms and platform marketplaces are vehemently being adopted by most companies that operate at a global scale.
  3. Modular Thinking/Maximize Reuse: Given the nature of evolving business products and services, the underlying technology must be capable of scaling on-demand and of being reused as much as possible to avoid rebuild, which can be met by scaled Agile applications.
  4. Changing Business Models: Newer business models are emerging by the day. The disruptions caused by digital businesses such as Uber, Airbnb, and other such companies are creating a strong need for instantly scaled Agile infrastructure and on-demand technology models.

The big question that arises here is whether there is an actual need to address the above issues and cater to the changing landscape. Responding to such rapid digital progression cannot be made possible without the inclusion of evolutionary design, and a clear vision that goes beyond the immediate delivery needs of the hour. This also brings in the need for strong governance, given that the regulators are worried about the evolving pace of the nature of digitalization of businesses and the technological complexity that surrounds the same.

All the above stresses on the importance for global designs and a clear near-, mid-, and long-term IT strategy which is fundamental to the architecture function within an organization. There is a need for standardization, leveraging best practices, creating reusable artefacts and global shared components as much as possible, and ascertaining the demand for global architecture. The most important factor is deriving the right “value” from the architecture function.

Architecture is one of the last departments to undergo digitalization in enterprise Agile transformation.

Finding the Unicorn

While it’s not simple, by balancing architecture and Agile an “efficient architecture” (EA) can be achieved by addressing a few key pillars. Below are the core tenets that we leveraged to create a first-of-its-kind ‘Agile Architecture as a Service’ implementation for one of the largest European financial institutions.

Agile Architecture as a Service
  1. EA Organization – The right architecture organization is as important as the inclusion and deliverables for ensuring that the architecture department has adequate resourcing, skilling and ways of working. It should encompass how the architects come together to work, form their own squads with clear Agile ceremonies and their frequency.
  2. Target Operating Model (TOM)– Traditional TOMs adds an inherent lethargy and deters responsive, adaptive changes in the practice within an organization. ‘Architecture as a Service’, on the other hand, is need-based, and dependent on the various stakeholders at different levels within an organization. For instance, a CXO may be looking for high-level strategy, budgeting and partnering (product, services etc.) necessities, whilst delivery may require support on skilling, solution design, and implementation guidance. “Architecture as a Service” helps cater to all stakeholders with equal importance and is customized to specific needs. It is equally important to ensure compliance and governance to cater to the regulatory and compliance needs, and architecture as a code embedded within the services helps organizations realize design compliance automation. This helps to realize resilient and compliant designs to a large extent and thus enabling efficient governance.
  3. Effective Change – This is an organization-level change and not just that of an isolated department. Hence it is pivotal to have effective, and more importantly, simple implementation. This not only makes the change and future changes sustainable, but also creates a community to contribute and evolve the practice.
  4. Tooling and Communication – Communication is key to success, so is the platform (tooling) to collaborate several aspects of the organization, various stakeholders, and the various departments.

Conclusion

So, is architecture becoming fast obsolete in an Agile world? If anything, it is the other way around. The need for architecture to simplify the disruptions, scale implementations, and realize the future strategies for the organizations are now more important than ever before.

Realizing architecture in Agile methodology or ways of working is most certainly possible. Finding the right balance based on the organization’s needs, scale, size, and transformation journey can be achieved by structurally applying the above four tenets. As a case study, we believe we have helped one of the largest European financial institutions create an Agile architecture practice, with a rock-solid foundation, and empowered or equipped the practice to grow sustainably and constantly support the organizations’ transformational endeavors.