Sunday, June 7, 2020

Applying EA as a Practical Tool to Solve Complex Problems

There are many architectural models, all claiming to be the solution to the problem, but none of them are able to truly address the complex issues involved in every space and there is no “perfect” solution as well.

Fundamentally running a business is an iterative problem-solving continuum. The business today becomes hyperconnected, interdependent, and paradoxical, thus, the business problems also turn to be overly complex.

Enterprise Architecture is a practical tool for orchestrating a logical problem-solving scenario that conforms to a sequence, a focus or a goal, a motivation to explore proposals, an inquisitiveness to ask great questions, and a willingness to imaginatively explore alternative solutions.

What pains are you going to remove from the Executive portfolio? There are tough spots and business challenges all over the place in the organization, with limited resources and small talent pool, enterprise architects should work with the executive audience or their direct reports digging out what the pain points are and pinpoint appropriate problems. Keep in mind though, some enterprise architects confuse solving the whole problem with solving a big problem. It's "easier" to be indiscriminate about what matters than it is to figure out what really does matter, but that just makes the problem “needlessly” bigger, and thus harder to solve.

The digital way for problem-solving goes between flexibility and hard processes. Instead of reacting to problems, learn the business context, try to proactively remove cultural, organizational, or systemic obstacles, and fix the pain point. EA could be a useful tool to guide organizations creating what is possible, cultivating the healthy habit to ask good questions, figure out “why” and “what” before jumping to the “how,” with the ultimate goal for effective problem-solving.

What impact will the problem-solving have on the enterprise? Scope, culture, expected duration, etc? In order to solve complex problems systematically, business executives today need to keep in touch with organizational partners, customers and varying stakeholders based on a continuous fashion to head off the bigger issues, get a holistic view of the organization and management team from an outside-in view, evaluate potential impact regarding scope, culture, or expected duration.

The main emphasis is on doing "better pre-work" -defining the situation. And then, the application of EA or other systematic methods applied in a structured, systematic process allows a more complete and holistic approach to be taken for solving either existing or emergent problems.

Map the problem to various components of EA that can address it: The digital era upon us is the blurred business borders, the exponential growth of information, inevitable changes with increasing pace, and disruptive technologies, etc. That means the more problems will emerge and businesses must overcome the challenges. If the situation is fluid and dynamic, the large and complex problems have a lot of inter-dependencies and uncertainty, it calls for EA and other systems tools.

In practice, mapping is about developing some simplifying models that can be used for thinking about a situation. An important thing to remember about diagramming /mapping in terms of nodes and connections is the underlying simplifying assumption about the problem. And there usually are many different models that can represent various perspectives of the complex problem, leverage EA and other system methods and tools to address it and generate a variety of options for dealing with the problem smoothly.

How much is it going to cost? Solving problems cost-effectively means using resources effectively while reducing costs and creating strategic business value for the company. More specifically, the goal of optimization is to eliminate unnecessary complications, lower cost, and fine-tune processes, without sacrificing quality. In fact, there is never "enough" effort to improve cost efficiency, optimize processes, and fine-tune business capacity to solve problems large or small.

 It’s particularly important to leverage the latest technologies or other tools such as EA for breaking down the large problems into smaller pieces, reducing redundancy, trimming cost or retooling business processes, and optimizing costs to the greatest extent possible. Many times, solving a complex problem is the multistage scenario and an upward spiral. Continuous improvement requires cultural changes, leadership innovation, process optimization, and the best practice development for identifying, assessing, preventing, and resolving problems systematically.

Convert the problem component mapping to programs and present an implementation road map: Problem-solving is a multi-stepped process that includes both problem resolution and solution implementation by converting the problem to projects or programs and building a realistic roadmap. The emphasis of structural and logical problem-solving is in doing better pre-work such as defining the situation and the success criteria. The management needs to clarify: What solution options are available that will fits for business strategy or meet the business need in the short run? What are the risks and issues associated with each solution, and are there any side effects? What are the objective criteria to select the best solution that represents the best value-cost in terms of achievement of the business outcomes or customer delight? How many systems/processes are involved" "How flexible are they? Etc.

Generally speaking, the roadmap with the stepwise processes from here to there should include the goal clarification, rough timeline and should provide the business benefit each interim state provides, what do we have? (processes, artifacts, staffing, etc.), what does the program portfolio look like today? What does it need to look like to achieve the business goals both strategically and tactically? There is a co-dependency that should be recognized in a mature, respectful manner that facilitates the strategic problem-solving and goals & objectives of the enterprise.

Works it forward and then backward to make sure there are no errors or gaps: Complex problem-solving requires introspective, retrospective, and techspective for gaining an in-depth understanding and coming up with often technology-enabled solutions. For example, during the retrospective problem-solving scenario, the business management teams reflect on what happened in the iteration, make sure there are no errors or gaps, and identify actions for improvement going forward.

Problem-solving capabilities may evolve and move from the fundamental level to differentiated levels between categories based on the technology evolution or business driver. There should always, at every turn, be a taste of better days, of continual improvement of retrospective action planning, and incremental goal achieving.

Seek sponsorship for this implementation road map which will solve the problems:
The enlarged blind spots, understanding gaps, and change pitfalls are inevitable in complex problem-solving. The problem complexity usually involves early in the life-cycle and careful examination of numbers and types of stakeholders across the organization; numbers of external dependencies, etc, without the contextual understanding of key components such as people, process, and technology.

Usually, in the enterprise scope, participants for the complex problem-solving initiatives are the executive sponsor -the person at the top who has to promote the initiative, and they are skilled at defining the issues, typically look at complex problems from a business impact perspective as well as from a solution perspective by leveraging EA tools, and start building support and momentum that you will need to solve it in a structured way. It is also entirely possible to have a significant level of details available for the asking & judging the validity of the solutions. Problem-solving sponsors and champions are the roles that have been earned and desired to be performed because they believe in the initiative and can motivate the other stakeholders to solve problems collaboratively and innovatively.

There are many architectural models, all claiming to be the solution to the problem, but none of them are able to truly address the complex issues involved in every space and there is no “perfect” solution as well. Each must be tailored or modified. Someone must determine which parts are important and which are not. For either solving existing or emerging problems, it’s critical to apply EA or other system tools or framework to understand complexity, recognize patterns, perceive invisible behind the scenes, be able to reframe circumstances, alter or change the frame of reference to create previously unconsidered business solutions and maximizing business performance.


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