Professional Training Trends (Part Two): A Q&A with Chris Armstrong, Armstrong Process Group

By The Open Group

This is part two in a two part series.

Professional development and training is a perpetually hot topic within the technology industry. After all, who doesn’t want to succeed at their job and perform better?

Ongoing education and training is particularly important for technology professionals who are already in the field. With new tech trends, programming languages and methodologies continuously popping up, most professionals can’t afford not to keep their skill sets up to date these days.

The Open Group member Chris Armstrong is well-versed in the obstacles that technology professionals face to do their jobs. President of Armstrong Process Group, Inc. (APG), Armstrong and his firm provide continuing education and certification programs for technology professionals and Enterprise Architects covering all aspects of the enterprise development lifecycle. We recently spoke with Armstrong about the needs of Architecture professionals and the skills and tools he thinks are necessary to do the job effectively today.

What are some of the tools that EAs can be using to do architecture right now?

There’s quite a bit out there. I’m kind of developing a perspective on how to lay them out across the landscape a bit better. I think there are two general classes of EA tools based on requirements, which is not necessarily the same as what is offered by commercial or open source solutions.

When you take a look at the EA Capability model and the value chain, the first two parts of it have to do with understanding and analyzing what’s going on in an enterprise. Those can be effectively implemented by what I call Enterprise Architecture content management tools, or EACM. Most of the modeling tools would fall within that categorization. Tools that we use? There’s Sparx Enterprise Architect. It’s a very effective modeling tool that covers all aspects of the architecture landscape top-to-bottom, left-to-right and it’s very affordable. Consequently, it’s one of the most popular tools in the world—I think there are upwards of 300,000 licenses active right now. There are lots of other modeling tools as well.

A lot of people find the price point for Sparx Enterprise Architect so appealing that when people go into an investment and it’s only $5K, $10K, or $15K, instead of $100K or $250K, find it’s a great way to get into coming to grips with what it means to really build models. It really helps you build those fundamental modeling skills, which are best learned via on-the-job experience in your real business domain, without having to mortgage the farm.

Then there’s the other part of it, and this is where I think there needs to be a shift in emphasis to some extent. A lot of times the architect community gets caught up in modeling. We’ve been modeling for decades—modeling is not a new thing. Despite that—and this is just an anecdotal observation—the level of formal, rigorous modeling, at least in our client base in the U.S. market, is still very low. There are lots of Fortune 1000 organizations that have not made investments in some of these solutions yet, or are fractured or not well-unified. As a profession, we have a big history of modeling and I’m a big fan of that, but it sometimes seems a bit self-serving to some extent, in that a lot of times the people we model for are ourselves. It’s all good from an engineering perspective—helps us frame stuff up, produce views of our content that are meaningful to other stakeholders. But there’s a real missed opportunity in making those assets available and useful to the rest of the organization. Because if you build a model, irrespective of how good and relevant and pertinent it is, if nobody knows about it and nobody can use it to make good decisions or can’t use it to accelerate their project, there’s some legitimacy to the question of “So how much value is this really adding?” I see a chasm between the production of Enterprise Architecture content and the ease of accessing and using that content throughout the enterprise. The consumer market for Enterprise Architecture is much larger than the provider community.

But that’s a big part of the problem, which is why I mentioned cross-training earlier–most enterprises don’t have the self-awareness that they’ve made some investment in Enterprise Architecture and then often ironically end up making redundant, duplicative investments in repositories to keep track of inventories of things that EA is already doing or could already be doing. Making EA content as easily accessible to the enterprise as going to Google and searching for it would be a monumental improvement. One of the big barriers to re-use is finding if something useful has already been created, and there’s a lot of opportunity to deliver better capability through tooling to all of the consumers throughout an enterprise.

If we move a bit further along the EA value chain to what we call “Decide and Respond,” that’s a really good place for a different class of tools. Even though there are modeling tool vendors that try to do it, we need a second class of tools for EA Lifecycle Management (EALM), which is really getting into the understanding of “architecture-in-motion”. Once architecture content has been described as the current and future state, the real $64,000 question is how do we get there? How do we build a roadmap? How do we distribute the requirements of that roadmap across multiple projects and tie that to the strategic business decisions and critical assets over time? Then there’s how do I operate all of this stuff once I build it? That’s another part of lifecycle management—not just how do I get to this future state target architecture, but how do I continue to operate and evolve it incrementally and iteratively over time?

There are some tools that are emerging in the lifecycle management space and one of them is another product we partner with—that’s a solution from HP called Enterprise Maps. From our perspective it meets all the key requirements of what we consider enterprise architecture lifecycle management.

What tools do you recommend EAs use to enhance their skillsets?

Getting back to modeling—that’s a really good place to start as it relates to elevating the rigor of architecture. People are used to drawing pictures with something like Visio to graphically represent ”here’s how the business is arranged” or “here’s how the applications landscape looks,” but there’s a big difference in transitioning how to think about building a model. Because drawing a picture and building a model are not the same thing. The irony, though, is that to many consumers it looks the same, because you often look into a model through a picture. But the skill and the experience that the practitioner needs is very different. It’s a completely different way of looking at the world when you start building models as opposed to solely drawing pictures.

I see still, coming into 2015, a huge opportunity to uplift that skill set because I find a lot of people say they know how to model but they haven’t really had that experience. You just can’t simply explain it to somebody, you have to do it. It’s not the be-all and end-all—it’s part of the architect’s toolkit, but being able to think architecturally and from a model-driven approach is a key skill set that people are going to need to keep pace with all the rapid changes going on in the marketplace right now.

I also see that there’s still an opportunity to get people better educated on some formal modeling notations. We’re big fans of the Unified Modeling Language, UML. I still think uptake of some of those specifications is not as prevalent as it could be. I do see that there are architects that have some familiarity with some of these modeling standards. For example, in our TOGAF® training we talk about standards in one particular slide, many architects have only heard of one or two of them. That just points to there being a lack of awareness about the rich family of languages that are out there and how they can be used. If a community of architects can only identify one or two modeling languages on a list of 10 or 15 that is an indirect representation of their background in doing modeling, in my opinion. That’s anecdotal, but there’s a huge opportunity to uplift architect’s modeling skills.

How do you define the difference between models and pictures?

Modeling requires a theory—namely you have to postulate a theory first and then you build a model to test that theory. Picture drawing doesn’t require a theory—it just requires you to dump on a piece of paper a bunch of stuff that’s in your head. Modeling encourages more methodical approaches to framing the problem.

One of the anti-patterns that I’ve seen in many organizations is they often get overly enthusiastic, particularly when they get a modeling tool. They feel like they can suddenly do all these things they’ve never done before, all that modeling stuff, and they end up “over modeling” and not modeling effectively because one of the key things for modeling is modeling just enough because there’s never enough time to build the perfect thing. In my opinion, it’s about building the minimally sufficient model that’s useful. And in order to do that, you need to take a step back. TOGAF does acknowledge this in the ADM—you need to understand who your stakeholders are, what their concerns are and then use those concerns to frame how you look at this content. This is where you start coming up with the theory for “Why are we building a model?” Just because we have tools to build models doesn’t mean we should build models with those tools. We need to understand why we’re building models, because we can build infinite numbers of models forever, where none of them might be useful, and what’s the point of that?

The example I give is, there’s a CFO of an organization that needs to report earnings to Wall Street for quarterly projections and needs details from the last quarter. And the accounting people say, “We’ve got you covered, we know exactly what you need.” Then the next day the CFO comes in and on his/her desk is eight feet of green bar paper. She/he goes out to the accountants and says, “What the heck is this?” And they say “This is a dump of the general ledger for the first quarter. Every financial transaction you need.” And he/she says, “Well it’s been a while since I’ve been a CPA, and I believe it’s all in there, but there’s just no way I’ve got time to weed through all that stuff.”

There are generally accepted accounting principles where if I want to understand the relationship between revenue and expense that’s called a P&L and if I’m interested in understanding the difference between assets and liabilities that’s a balance sheet. We can think of the general ledger as the model of the finances of an organization. We need to be able to use intelligence to give people views of that model that are pertinent and help them understand things. So, the CFO says “Can you take those debits and credits in that double entry accounting system and summarize them into a one-pager called a P&L?”

The P&L would be an example of a view into a model, like a picture or diagram. The diagram comes from a model, the general ledger. So if you want to change the P&L in an accounting system you don’t change the financial statement, you change the general ledger. When you make an adjustment in your general ledger, you re-run your P&L with different content because you changed the model underneath it.

You can kind of think of it as the difference between doing accounting on register paper like we did up until the early 21st Century and then saying “Why don’t we keep track of all the debits and credits based on a chart of accounts and then we can use reporting capabilities to synthesize any way of looking at the finances that we care to?” It’s allows a different way for thinking about the interconnectedness of things.

What are some of the most sought after classes at APG?

Of course TOGAF certification is one of the big ones. I’d say in addition to that we do quite a bit in systems engineering, application architecture, and requirements management. Sometimes those are done in the context of solution delivery but sometimes they’re done in the context of Enterprise Architecture. There’s still a lot of opportunity in supporting Enterprise Architecture in some of the fundamentals like requirements management and effective architectural modeling.

What kinds of things should EAs look for in training courses?

I guess the big thing is to try to look for are offerings that get you as close to practical application as possible. A lot of people start with TOGAF and that’s a great way to frame the problem space. I would set the expectation—and we always do when we deliver our TOGAF training—that this will not tell you “how” to do Enterprise Architecture, there’s just not enough time for that in four days. We talk about “what” Enterprise Architecture is and related emerging best practices. That needs to be followed up with “how do I actually do Enterprise Architecture modeling,” “how do I actually collect EA requirements,” “how do I actually do architecture trade-off analysis?” Then “How do I synthesize an architecture roadmap,” “how do I put together a migration plan,” and “how do I manage the lifecycle of applications in my portfolio over the long haul?” Looking for training that gets you closer to those experiences will be the most valuable ones.

But a lot of this depends on the level of maturity within the organization, because in some places, just getting everybody on the same page of what Enterprise Architecture means is a big victory. But I also think Enterprise Architects need to be very thoughtful about this cross-training. I know it’s something I’m trying to make an investment in myself, is becoming more attuned to what’s going on in other parts of the enterprise in which Enterprise Architecture has some context but perhaps is not a known player. Getting training experiences in other places and engaging those parts of your organizations to really find out what are the problems they’re trying to solve and how might Enterprise Architecture help them is essential.

One of the best ways to demonstrate that is part of the organizational learning related to EA adoption. That may even be the bigger question. As individual architects, there are always opportunities for greater skill development, but really, organizational learning is where the real investment needs to be made so you can answer the question, “Why do I care?” One of the best ways to respond to that is to have an internal success. After a pilot project say, “We did EA on a limited scale for a specific purpose and look what we got out of it and how could you not want to do more of it?”

But ultimate the question usually should be “How can we make Enterprise Architecture indispensible? How can we create an environment where people can perform their duties more rapidly, more efficiently, more effectively and more sustainably based on Enterprise Architecture?” This is part of the problem, especially in larger organizations. In 2015, it’s not really the first time people have been making investments in Enterprise Architecture, it’s the second or third or fourth time, so it’s a reboot. You want to make sure that EA can become indispensible but you want to be able to support those critical activities with EA support and then when the stakeholders become dependent on it, you can say “If you like that stuff, we need you to show up with some support for EA and get some funding and resources, so we can continue to operate and sustain this capability.”

What we’ve found is that it’s a double-edged sword, ironically. If an organization has success in propping up their Architecture capability and sustaining and demonstrating some value there, it can be a snowball effect where you can become victims of your own success and suddenly people are starting to get wind of “Oh, I don’t have to do that if the EA’s already done it,” or “I can align myself with a part of the business where the EA has already been done.” The architecture community can get very busy—more busy than they’re prepared for—because of the momentum that might exist to really exploit those EA investments. But at the end of the day, it’s all good stuff because the more you can show the enterprise that it’s worth the investment, that it delivers value, the more likely you’ll get increased funding to sustain the capability.

By The Open GroupChris Armstrong is president of Armstrong Process Group, Inc. and an internationally recognized thought leader and expert in iterative software development, enterprise architecture, object-oriented analysis and design, the Unified Modeling Language (UML), use case driven requirements and process improvement.

Over the past twenty years, Chris has worked to bring modern software engineering best practices to practical application at many private companies and government organizations worldwide. Chris has spoken at over 30 conferences, including The Open Group Enterprise Architecture Practitioners Conference, Software Development Expo, Rational User Conference, OMG workshops and UML World. He has been published in such outlets as Cutter IT Journal, Enterprise Development and Rational Developer Network.

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