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What Enterprise Architecture Can Learn from Feng Shui

by Bunny Tharpe       • May 5, 2016

Enterprise Architecture can learn a lot from Feng Shui. The nature of technology in the 21st Century has demanded that organizations re-evaluate their operations constantly. Enterprise Architecture (EA) especially, has become the embodiment of these demands for fluidity.

On a macro level, we’ve seen Enterprise Architecture transiton with IT in general as the once support focused discipline evolved, and realigned itself at the heart of business, taking on such responsibilities as innovation.

But even on a micro level, EA continues to exist in this state of fluidity, and constant evolution . This is largely due to Enterprise Architecture’s key role in strategic planning. The aforementioned, ever-changing technology sector means that now, planning and strategy have to be re-evaluated more regularly than ever before.

A constantly changing, realigning and malleable EA practice capable of agility in the face of disruptions is essential for EA to successfully meet the needs of the organization at large.

So what is Agile EA and what can it learn from Feng Shui?

“One of the leading best practices in staying Agile is a preparedness in the face of disruption. Ideas core to the Feng Shui philosophy are a great reference point in how to achieve this.”

The domain of Feng Shui is to increase the quality of living through efficiency. It’s about managing your surroundings for maximum comfort & value, and managing your architecture – the brick and mortar kind – to make the most out of it.

Simply put, Feng Shui is essentially the art of placement. The root of the philosophy is that our environment and the way it’s set up has a huge influence on our day to day lives, and it’s this root that we can apply directly to our architecture – the Enterprise kind.

Being ‘Agile’ is a mantra pertaining to EA focused on maintaining a relevant and up to date architecture that can respond to disruptions effectively as they arise. This benefits businesses in a number of ways. For a start, the scope for agility is a core component in reducing, or maintaining low time to markets.

Additionally, in some cases, disruption may derail plans completely and demand an immediate reshuffle in strategy. A business with a rigid approach to IT and Enterprise Architecture specifically will find this process far more difficult than the agile business that prepared for potential hiccups and surprises. Essentially, agility in Enterprise Architecture means being prepared for the unexpected.

Agility in enterprise architecture is achieved via the application of the proper tools and a collection of best practices. Such best practices include:

  • Just in Time EA: Creating user stories as and when they are needed and not before, issuing releases when there is appropriate value in releasing, not before and not after. Additionally, each iteration has a commitment that is met on time by the EA team.
  • Just Enough EA: An EA approach focused on doing “just enough” as not to be bogged down with “analysis paralysis”. This approach also benefits engagement, as EA experts sharing too much with stakeholders can often reinforce the belief that EA as a discipline exists in an “Ivory Tower”

With this understanding of Agile Enterprise Architecture, it’s not too hard to see where it relates to Feng Shui.

As discussed, one of the leading best practices in staying Agile is a preparedness in the face of disruption. Ideas core to the Feng Shui philosophy are a great reference point in how to achieve this. Ideas such as:

  • Simplicity – recognizing that only what you need brings value
  • The art of placement – recognizing that the location, layout and presentation of data and artefacts make a difference in how well the architecture is understood.
  • Fluidity – recognizing that changing environments mean no architecture is “perfect,” and so EA must be periodically reevaluated

Feng Shui EA perhaps relates most to the ‘just enough’ Agile philosophy. Although it can be tempting to hoard data out of caution, keeping the architecture lean by not adding data and/or artifacts you cannot justify the use of will make the architecture far more accessible to both experts, and the relevant stakeholders the experts share the repository with.

Those responsible should oversee periodic reviews of the architecture and data. One great metric to abide by is ‘data age’. If the data hasn’t been updated for a defined number of days, weeks or longer, it should be marked for review to determine if it is still relevant.

Benefits of Feng Shui EA

Organizations applying the ideas of Feng Shui to their EA will benefit from a more prepared, more agile capable architecture. With this, organizations will also benefit from all of the upsides of staying Agile including faster time to markets, better responsiveness to change and disruption, and lower costs as the increased quality in data management makes for more reliable and informed decisions.

However, a Feng Shui approach to EA will also see improvements in both collaboration, and engagement in Enterprise Architecture. This is because a more lean architecture, is more easily communicated than one bursting with – in some cases, irrelevant – data. Collaboration is improved because fellow architects can share what they need to more efficiently, and engagement benefits as stakeholders outside of the discipline aren’t burdened with an overly complex account of repositories and data.

For an Enterprise Architecture initiative of lower maturity, the increase in engagement is arguably the most important asset. The ivory tower issue that’s long burdened Enterprise Architecture can often make it difficult for stakeholders and decision makers to see the full potential and benefits of EA to an organization. This is often the root cause for stalled progression on the Enterprise Architecture maturity index.

Promoting a more engaging Enterprise Architecture that stakeholders can not only see,  but be a part of and collaborate with as well, makes it far easier to highlight potential business outcomes.

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