Agile Business Facilitated by Information Architecture & SAFe

This article attempts to analyze and make sense of a harmonization between Information Architecture and SAFe, and will address how their cooperation will contribute to the development of an Agile Business.

SAFe is a very modern Agile Framework and has replaced TOGAF in many organizations.

However, if you recall, while SAFe is a Framework with a lot of tools, you have to adjust the use of it to your own business to be successful.

Most industries have an application heritance to take care of. In January 2021, the CEO of SEB (one of the big banks in Sweden) said, “I am worried about our IT heritance.” SEB has invested a lot of money and resources during the past several years, but the problem of inheritance still remains. BA & SAFe has the potential to solve these problems. SAFe is an open Framework, but top management must be involved in order to reduce the inheritance of old applications in parallel with the ongoing delivery of new customer values by the SCRUM teams. The Business Architects and especially the Information Architects have a key role in achieving this.

Information is a very special resource because you can use it over and over again and it is never used up. Still, many organizations keep capturing the same information many times. This creates a growing complexity of old applications that is very hard, risky, time consuming and costly to get rid of. But still, it is a must if you want to become agile.

This analysis will describe how this may be done.

Introduction

Business Agility refers to rapid, continuous innovations in order to gain competitive advantage. An agile business is supported by Agile Development Teams continuously delivering new customer values.

This article is focused on how to achieve a sustainable agility, where the Agile Business and the Development Teams are coordinated by Business Architects. The Application Portfolios should be based on a sustainable platform, where the complexity is reduced and all unnecessary integration between applications are omitted. A rough Business Architecture avoiding all Big Up Front Design (BUFD) is created by Business Architects in close cooperation with the Development Teams.

SAFe is the Framework supporting these ambitions. Big Room Meetings is a forum where Business and IT people meet regularly to plan the development of the Application Portfolios.

The Dependency Board is the main tool, where the efforts are measured to step by step reduce complexity and achieve a sustainable agility.

By putting more resources into Business Architecture at the beginning of the SAFe process, the business agility will be more sustainable.

Introducing SAFe

Dean Leffingwell, the Creator of SAFe in 2011, has spent his career helping software teams achieve their goals. SAFe is based on autonomous development SCRUM teams and the Big Room Meetings held regularly. These meetings are a forum for discussions and planning between business managers and the development teams. In this meeting, the Architecture teams are participating.

Henrik Kniberg successfully introduced SCRUM at Spotify with development teams in 3 continents. He is an unrivalled pedagogical writer and speaker. His books have more than 500,000 readers globally and used by hundreds of companies worldwide. In 2016, he was invited to LEGO to coach their Big Room Meetings together with their agile coach Eik Thyrstedt. It became a great success! Dean, the Creator of SAFe, calls the presentation “One of the most insightful applications and presentations that I´ve yet seen on SAFe.”

“The best is of course to coordinate your team structure and architecture to minimize dependencies” by Henrik Kniberg

Business Architecture & SAFe version 5.0

Early 2020 Dean Leffingwell, with forty years of experience in the software industry, presented the SAFe version 5.0 built around Seven Core Competencies of the Lean Enterprise. When supported with Business Architecture Competencies a true Business Agility may be achieved.

IRM have forty years of Business Architecture experience starting at Scandinavian Airlines in 1980. The first Business Architecture was developed to maintain their aircraft. It was called a City Plan; a “Rough, adaptive architecture” avoiding all Big Up Front Design (BUFD). The detail solutions will be developed by the autonomous SCRUM teams.

The harmonization between the BA & SAFe agile teams will contribute to the deliveries of successful applications and customer values. Duplicates of sprints and IT solutions may be eliminated.

Information Architecture

A business has often more than 10,000 data elements like customer address, product price or delivery time. Today, each data element may be handled in several applications sometimes with various names and definitions. This causes many complexities with a lot of the integrations with other applications, therefore restricting the realization of business agility.

The first step to bring some order is by grouping all data elements in around 25 groups. Some of these groups are Master Data, like Personnel (blue), Product (green) or Infrastructure (red). All other groups are Event Data (yellow), like customer order or shipment. Above, you can see an example of an Overall Business Information Model (OBIM) illustrating the Information Groups at a manufacturing industry.

These Information Groups are very sustainable and if we have each of them managed by a specific number of Development Teams, we will have a sustainable platform. To describe and analyze the dependencies between the Information Groups is very critical. The Dependency Board shown is an excellent tool to be used when trying to reduce or omit dependencies. The dependencies between Master Data are rather low. But the dependencies between Event Data are very critical and often very frequent.

Take the Customer Order for example. Customer Order depends on Customer and Product as Master Data. So, if you take Customer Invoicing, it depends on Customer order plus Customer and Product. If you sit together with businesspeople a half a day, you will create a first version of a Dependency Matrix. When you analyze this Matrix, you will see in which order you should develop your Applications. For example, if you start to develop a Customer Order application without having applications for Customer and Product ready, you will get a complicated Dependency Board.

Of course, you can’t always make development in the “ideal” order, so you have to compromise, knowing that it will be more expensive, risky and take a longer time. So, after a number of Big Room Meetings, you will see the result of having an Information Architecture in place when looking at your Dependency Board.

The long-term strategy is to have the Information Groups coordinated with your Team Structure, avoiding a lot of dependencies between your development teams.

Architecture Roles

SAFe defines three architect roles: Enterprise, Solution and System Architects. These roles require all the necessary architectural skills to make technical decisions. System Architects communicate the technical path through the Architectural Runway. The Systems Team realizes the architecture vision by building the supporting infrastructure. System Architects coordinate with Enterprise and Solution Architects to align their solutions with the larger vision.

Business Architecture may have three architect roles: The Information Architects, the Process Architects and the Business Model Canvas Architects. They describe the Business side of the Architecture, independent of IT Systems and the technology, to build the IT System. The focus is to achieve a sustainable description of the business to be used to develop IT Applications built on a sustainable platform.

The Coordination of the SAFe architect teams and the Business Architect teams are managed by a Chief Architect. The coordination forum is the Big Room Meeting with a lot of preparation in advance to be done before the meeting take place.

The Information Architects has a key role aligning the Development Team Structure with the Information Groups. Avoiding duplicate responsibility for the same data element, like customer address, is a critical success factor (CSF) to achieve a sustainable agile business.

A Business Architecture may include the Information Architecture (IA), the Business Process (Function/Capability/Value Stream) Architecture (BPA) and the Business Model Canvas (BMC).

These Business Artifacts are based on scientific research and development of:

  • Ted Codd; an English Mathematician and Researcher (the Information Architecture)
  • Michael Hammer; professor at the MIT (the Business Process Architecture)
  • Alexander Osterwalder; Ph.D. at University of Lausanne (Business Model Canvas).

Adjust SAFe to Your Own Business

SAFe is a modern Framework focusing on Agile and that’s great, but it’s not enough. Most organizations also have an ongoing business to take care of. For example, in the processing industry, like paper, steel and refinery, you have an ongoing daily operation always competing with the plant manager, who want to secure the future up-time of the plant. It is not a good idea to wait until the plant has a break down.  

“The Milky Way” is a very useful communication tool. It creates understanding and a shared picture of the enterprise. It is a support tool for decision makers and business experts in preparation for the Big Room Meetings. It is also useful in make the organization more agile when confronted with change, without losing focus on vision and goals. Read more in the IRM-book, The Milky Way by Cecilia Nordén.

Let’s go back to the Business Architecture – we cannot just  focus on the agile part and the Event Data. In December 2020, SAFe wrote, “We know from speaking to SAFe Enterprises, and our Partner Community, that a better approach is needed.”

The Master Data, like customer, product, or the chart of account, should be prioritized together with the Event Data and reduction of the Application heritance. The “product owner” may be upgraded by the CEO delegating responsibilities to the relevant CxO and supported by the Chief Architect and the Architecture teams.

The Big Room Meeting may have an enlarged agenda and priority concerning the Event Data (agility), the Master Data (the plant) and the reduction of the Application Heritance. You may have new Scrum Teams established with responsibility for Master Data and the Application Heritance. The Dependency Board will have top priority analyzed and managed by the Chief Architect and the Architecture Teams.

8 Summary

The SAFe Framework was developed 2011 by Dean Leffingwell. He has 40 years of experience in the software industry and  in Business Architecture through his work at developing it at Scandinavian Airlines in 1980. This experience was a factor in his ability to create a true sustainable agile business framework. SAFe has the software technology to support the Scrum Development teams in continuously meeting customer values. They have also established the Big Room Meetings, a forum to regularly coordinate the Application development with the business needs. This forum will be enlarged to take care of Master Data and Reduction of the Application Heritance to establish a Sustainable Agile Business.

The harmonization between Business Architecture and SAFe will contribute both to the continuous delivery of customer values and achievement of sustainable business agility. Simultaneously, the duplication of data in old applications restricting the business agility will be reduced.  

“Agility allows you to run extremely quickly. On the other hand,
Architecture allows you to see far enough so that you do not hit a brick wall at full speed.”

An analogy by Daniel Lambert.

The Information Architect is in action to pull down the brick wall and achieve an agile business.

This search into BA & SAFe is Inspired and supported byLars Broman, Malcolm Chisholm, Carol Dweck, Thomas Eklöf, Len Fehskens, Henrik Kniberg, Daniel Lambert, Börje Langefors, Linda Lilliesköld, Benny Lund, Dave McComb, Tomas Nilsson, Alexander Osterwalder, Jeanne W. Ross, Erik Stolterman, Bo Sundgren, Martin Sykes, Jane Theobald, Svein Oliver Vedaa, Peter Tallungs, Marcus Wideroth, Eva Wohlén, and John Zachman.

What’s Next?

This is the February 2021 version of the search out trying to describe the potential of a common approach using the SAFe Framework and Business Architecture to achieve a sustainable agile business. Your feedback containing questions, comments, missing arguments or disagreements is appreciated. Please mail them to eskil.swende@irm.se

After our Conference Business IRM UK in London, the next conference on EA/BA will take place on the 11-13 of October 2021. Call for speakers will be sent out in March 2021.

A workshop about Business Artifacts together with the professor of Informatics, Erik Stolterman at Indiana University Bloomington and other experts, is planned to take place in Stockholm in late August or early September 2021. Discussions will be based on Erik’s book, The Design Way – Intentional Change in an Unpredictable World. The goal is to take further steps towards a true Business Architect profession, like lawyers and doctors inspired by Len Fehskens. We want to continue his persistent efforts during many years to develop and propagate these ideas. The Stockholm workshop may have a follow up in Venice one or two weeks later. The “Biennale Architettura” will also take place in Venice in 2021! Please indicate your interest to participate and we will keep you updated.

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Eskil Swende

Eskil Swende

Eskil is main partner at IRMÊ, a Scandinavian consulting company focusing on Enterprise Architecture and the Innovation Process. He is also a partner at IRM UK, a strategic education company in London that provides seminars and arranges yearly conferences on EA, IA, MDM and BPM. Eskil is President of DAMA Chapter Scandinavia and has developed a global wisdom network of leading experts inside and outside DAMA, inviting them to give presentations and tutorials in Scandinavia. He can be reached at Eskil.Swende@irm.se.

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