written by Daniel Lambert

Lean and agile developments and architecture may seem to be two conflicting approaches to deliver software initiatives as first glance. In reality, they can be very complimentary. Agility allows very quick reaction times and expedient delivery of initiatives in a continuous flow, which is a necessity in quickly changing corporate environments. Using an analogy, agility allows you to run extremely quickly. Architecture, on the other hand, allows you to see far enough so that you do not hit a brick wall at full speed, while your running with agility. This article will examine closely how one of the most used and thought-out agile approach, called Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®), can integrate with business and enterprise architecture to the benefit of large organizations.

Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®)

In brief, SAFe® is a knowledge-based framework for delivering solutions that deliver business value, scales agile practices, and incorporates lean principles and practices into an organization, as shown in Diagram 1 above. This framework provides requirements teams and business analysts with a way to decompose strategic value streams and deliver focused value using 150-employee ‘train’ development teams to reduce software development cycle time. SAFe® provides comprehensive guidance to develop better systems and software in large organizations more rapidly. The framework is getting very popular and is generating great results as shown in numerous business cases. It is not surprising that today 60% of US Fortune 100 companies have SAFe® trained practitioners, according to this blog.

The Need for Agile Architecture

“It is very hard to find a clear definition of the role of Architecture in Agile. The SAFe® framework has done the most to identify the role of Architecture within an Agile environment. As with all things Agile the focus is to create consistent value and architecture is no different. In SAFe® they define two distinct elements of Architecture: Emergent Design and Intentional Architecture.” as pointed out in this article entitled “Does Agile Need Architecture to Be Successful?

The first type of architecture, ‘Emergent Design’ provides the necessary incremental implementation of projects and the technical basis for development to ensure that designers and architects are responsive to changing customer/ stakeholder needs using various collaborative and interactive exercises through which the design element can emerge, improve or simply evolve.

‘Intentional Architecture’ is the second element of architecture often mentioned by SAFe®. This is a much more structured approach. Intentional Architecture is much more in line to traditional architecture.

In SAFe®, combining Emergent Design, Intentional Architecture to agile practices (Scrum and Kanban mostly) is referred to the Architectural Runway, from which the technical foundation is extracted to create business value.

The enterprise architects’ role in SAFe® is to provide architectural governance, technical direction, collaboration iteratively, and a complete solution deployment strategy across SAFe® value streams at the portfolio level, creating enabler epics, which are large chunks of work made of several user stories, to enable desired business and technical changes.

The application architects then start to lay the architectural runway for the SAFe® value streams by creating architecture blueprints with a systems view, based on the direction provided by the enterprise architect. Part of this involves creating a future state for the architecture, then developing a transition plan ideally with increments to improve the organization from its current state to that future state.

Early Business Architecture Engagement Preferable

To design their technical blueprints, both enterprise architects and solution architects need to understand the business needs. That is where business architecture (one of the 4 domains of expertise of enterprise architecture) can play a major role. Business architecture provide the understanding of the business through various mappings and analysis to bridge business strategies to grounded IT strategies and tactics. Without this business setting, architects are designing components based on limited knowledge, which usually leads to incomplete solutions that fail to meet the business needs.

Business Architects should start engaging early ideally before the beginning of the Scrum and Kanban continuous delivery pipeline by focusing basically in these two tasks. First, business architects should make sure to link every value stages of the SAFe® Value Streams to its enabling capabilities, information concepts and its various departments and business units to clarify how the business really works. Second, business architects need to translate the business strategic themes into more detailed epics. By putting more resources into business architecture at the beginning of the SAFe® process, odds that the program delivers systems and software more useful to its business users increase significantly.

The modeling executed by business architects also facilitates the epic owner’s efforts. When an epic is approved to move from the backlog for review and further business analysis, the epic owner has the responsibility of creating a lightweight business case. This involves examining the size, the impact, and the exact benefits of the epic for the organization. By using the business architects’ detailed model, epic owners have a far better understanding of the business scope of their epics and of the benefits the epic will deliver to the organization. This should speed up the business analysis required to expedite the epic to its next phase. This consulting role of the business architect within the SAFe® value stream and program levels is not limited in assisting epic owners and business analysts, it can also continue with solution managers and product managers among others.

Conclusion

SAFe® is still maturing and business architecture is more and more becoming an important part of this maturity collaborative process. With the other 3 domains of enterprise architecture, business architecture should be an integral part of implementing a successful agile framework, like SAFe® for example, to bridge the work and communication more smoothly and effectively between the agile development team and the business stakeholders. By involving business architects to perform impact analysis and other forms of modeling at the portfolio level, organizations can identify more detailed ad optimal approaches in solving business problems. Business architects need to be more involved and collaborate with other SAFe® portfolio level roles, like portfolio managers and enterprise architects, to provide a more precise business context and develop epics that can then be prioritized and developed to deliver projects that are closer aligned to the strategies that matter to business stakeholders. In brief, the addition of business architecture will increase the delivery performance of the entire agile team.