Agile Architecture in the Digital Age – a Conversation with Frédéric Lé

By The Open Group

The agile transformation of the enterprise is becoming a pre-requisite of an effective digital transformation project. This requires organizations to adopt a product-centric, outside-in perspective, evolving product and service portfolios – as well as business and operational models – to deliver value faster than ever before. All this, while being closely aligned to the businesses needs and objectives.

We spoke with Frédéric Lé, Technology Strategist, Corporate Technology Office at DXC Technology, in advance of The Open Group Denver 2019 event to learn more about how digital leaders and their teams can steer transformation, something he has coined ‘DigitAgile’. Here’s what he had to say:

As an increasing number of large firms are deploying ‘Agile-at-scale’ frameworks (SAFe®, LeSS™, Spotify® Model. 4, etc.), are they neglecting EA?

Traditional ways of conducting EA-type activities (including Application Blueprints, Reference Architectures, Governance, etc.) have often been criticized for having little real world impact. New scaled Agile approaches, on the other hand, are starting to take hold in many organizations, sometimes sidelining the Enterprise Architecture (EA) team. Agile often has the ‘shiny new toy’ factor.

The issue here is that the business sees EA as part of the IT discipline instead of a holistic enterprise discipline. Therefore, Enterprise Architects’ influence is at risk of decreasing, meaning that EA teams may not get the resources they need to be successful. However, given the extent of business transformation that is currently occurring in most organizations, the need for EA is as great as ever, so architects must evolve to be more effective in Agile @Scale organizations.

How can architects stay relevant in an Agile world?

Let me give you a practical example to help me answer the question. I once worked for a large bank where I was coaching the architecture team and at the same time, there was a business-led initiative to develop a new retail banking platform. This initiative shifted towards an Agile @Scale model, meaning the architecture team had two choices; to either not get involved in the transformation program or to participate and demonstrate value.

Several architects joined agile teams and six months later, they played a leading role in the project – but it was quite eye-opening because they had to rethink the body of knowledge they had come to understand through their training and experience. What was helpful in this situation was a mentorship program between architects who had agile experience and those who were new to the practice, helping both sets of individuals to gain a different perspective and new skills.

As Agile teams gain more autonomy, how can an Agile Architecture prevent chaos from ensuing?

One of the major benefits to Agile Architecture is dependency management. The goal of an agile team is to deliver value very fast, but alignment between agile teams is also required. Needless to say, this can be difficult when you have hundreds of autonomous agile teams running in parallel. EA can help develop a taxonomy of agile teams which helps define the scope and purpose of each team. EA can also develop a vision of an intentional architecture and work iteratively with engineering teams to help converge intentional architecture and emergent design.

In your opinion, do new disciplines need to be incorporated into EA’s body of knowledge?

Design thinking will be important, and architects need to adapt their body of knowledge to help improve the customer experienceas part of wider digital transformation initiatives. When you look at the experience provided to customers, quite often the root cause of any issues stem from defects or bad quality back-office processes and systems. To avoid this, you need to adopt a holistic approach throughout the customer journey, which requires end-to-end visibility into the processes and systems in place across your organization. EA can provide this but also make system wide issues visible and identify improvement opportunities. This not only becomes innovational but also helps the wider business, especially the marketing function who is in charge of managing the brand experience.

Should the scope of Agile-at-scale be limited to the IT department?

Agile transformation initiatives usually start within IT. The next step is to better align agile teams’ structure with the organizational structure of the business. This evolution is a pre-requisite to staffing product owner positions with business people. The cross-functional nature of these agile teams helps make holistic decisions that blend all perspectives from marketing to operations, compliance and IT. Agile teams (or Squads) regrouped into Tribes are empowered to drive the development and operation of new capabilities or digital offerings. For example, a Tribe can lead an Instant Payment offering and be accountable for revenue growth and profitability. The ultimate step toward enterprise agility is to organize the business itself in an Agile @Scale manner.

Ultimately, EA has a choice: either remain on the IT side or become a true enterprise level discipline which can regain influence by developing a true holistic perspective that helps business executives succeed the ‘DigitAgile’ transformation. To follow this path, Enterprise Architects must upgrade both “hard” skills, for example marketing and operations and also “soft” skills, for example coaching and change management.

Frédéric Lé is Technology Strategist working for DXC’s Corporate Technology Office. He is leading the development of DXC’s new Agile Architecture Framework and has over 25 years experience with significant expertise in Technology Strategy, Enterprise Architecture, Lean, Agile and Digital. Frédéric graduated from Audencia business school and holds a post-graduate degree in computer sciences from Paris Dauphine University.

 

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