Evidence behind organisation goals

Goals exist at every level of an organisation and it is important that behind each goal is sufficient evidence that the target of the goal is the right decision and that it is achievable. It is often hard to measure the effects of decisions on very long term enterprise level goals unless there is a dedicated team monitoring from beginning to end.

At an enterprise level a long term goal may be dependent upon the success of many subgoals therefore creating complex interdependent relationships. As the path to reaching the goal develops the effects of the decision stages should be assessed as well as relevance and value of the underlying evidence.

The evidence used to help the decisions behind long term enterprise goals may be in several forms. Data based evidence includes such things as statistical reports, business intelligence, trends, financial projections and forecasts. Content based evidence generally includes internal reports, externally published and purchased reports from leading organisations such as Gartner, Ovum, Mckinsey etc. competitive analysis and recommendations from internal or external experts.

It is likely that an organisation will spend considerable money, time and effort assembling and analysing the evidence before decisions are made. It is therefore important to track and monitor the value of the evidence against the benefits delivered as the organisation moves towards the goal. This i believe is a role for enterprise architecture.

Realising the goal is likely to have an impact and sometimes a major impact on the enterprise architecture. The architects tasked with defining the future architecture should monitor the evidence for changes over time and consider these changes for possible impacts on the future designs.

For example, an organisational goal to adopt a new ERP system or scale up operations or service lines will have an impact on the business, information and technology architectures. The evidence behind the decisions suggests certain courses of action as well as the purchase of new technologies. Over time the evidence sources may change their opinions, views or recommendations or new evidence may arise to question the original conclusions.

This is often termed horizon scanning and if overlooked then the result could be costly errors and damage to the original outcome of the goal.

Supporting the statement of architecture work

The Statement of Architecture Work (SoAW) defines the scope and approach that will be used to complete an architecture project. The Statement of Architecture Work is typically the document against which successful execution of the architecture project will be measured and may form the basis for a contractual agreement between the supplier and consumer of architecture services. In general, all the information in this document should be at a high level. [Source TOGAF Template]

I would like to see within each SoAW a section that states that the evidence behind any strategic decisions (on the basis that the strategy was prepared independently) have been validated and the facts understood. It may be that if the evidence is weak or conflicting with the current architecture baseline then a review of the strategy is required.

Evidence behind the deliverables

I am going to use TOGAF and the deliverables set out in the Architecture Development Method to highlight some examples of documents which should be evidence based. Within the Preliminary and Vision phases the Business Strategy is the principle design guide to the development of the core architectures.

I consider a baseline or current  architecture and the target architectures to be statements of fact and design and generally portrayed through conceptual models. How the architect arrived at theses models and on what basis is another issue and it is here that i see evidence based methods being most useful and appropriate. How does an architect decide which design is the right one to support a strategy? The architect’s decisions are based on the instructions within the business strategy and the goals and drivers within the blueprint. If the business strategy is weak then there is a likelihood that that the proposed architecture will not be able to fulfill the strategic requirements.

What makes a good business strategy document and where should evidence be used to back up findings and recommendations? Let’s consider the primary requirements of a typical business strategy document:

  • Strategic Focus
  • The Business AsIs
  • Market Analysis
  • Products
  • Marketing
  • Research and Development
  • Production and Delivery
  • Supply Chains
  • Business Systems and Processes
  • Stakeholder Relationships and Alliances
  • Organisational Development and Management
  • Environmental and Social Impacts
  • Risk Factors and Regulatory Compliance
  • Corporate Governance
  • Financials
  • Application of Investment Funds
  • Strategic Action Plan
  • Plan Improvement

Each of these topics represents key aspects of the business and as such the positions, findings and recommendations for change must be evidence based. I am going to assume that the business strategy has been written independently and is then presented to the Enterprise Architecture unit.  The first thing an architect must do is to review the evidence underpinning each of the topics and decide upon the validity and and impact of the decisions in relation to the size of change they propose.

Let’s consider an example where the strategy is recommending change. Market analysis has shown that sales for a particular product line have fallen over the last 12 months. A review of this based on interviews with retailers and questionnaires to customers has shown there to be a number of technical problems that customers are not happy with and thus they are returning products for repair against guarantees. This has led to costly updates and an extra burned on the service department. Further research has indicated problems with a supplier of key components and incompatibilities with technology within the product manufacturing and assembly division.

The strategy recommends a review of the current suppliers and a review of the manufacturing technology and has asked a team, which includes an Enterprise Architect, to begin a project to investigate a solution. The task for the Architect is to dig deeper in to the research and evidence to ensure that the root cause has been identified. Has the evidence located which technologies if any are failing. Has the original review discussed the problems with the service teams and considered what actions they have been taking? If the evidence has not identified specifics then there are still unanswered questions. It is too easy to take evidence at face value and begin activities without solid foundations.

The Architecture needs to consider the make up of the evidence, how detailled were the customer and retailer surveys, what questions did they ask and where they the right questions. Is the product line key to overall sales and what is the current relationship with the supplier. Is the product line merely reaching the end of its lifetime and perhaps it may be better to close the product line rather than commit further investment. This is where the Architect needs to consider a view from the business architecture and determine the proposed change in line with the wider enterprise architecture.