We see a lot of discussion, in the frameworks, books, speeches, and the blogosphere that discusses the value of EA as it applies to the planning and governance of money spent to change a company (usually IT dollars, but many enlightened souls will speak of a broader PMO that includes business initiatives).

As you read these sources, or listen to the speakers speak, it is clear that there is a pernicious underlying assumption, one that I would like to question.

We know that EA applies to managing change in processes and internally focused systems… but is EA also useful in helping a company to make decisions about the mix of products that they present for sale to their customers?  There is very little discussion of this possibility, or how EA could fit with other processes for product development.  One would assume, from the silence, that EA is not applicable to assisting with the necessary planning for products and services.  I would only caution: not so fast.

Can EA be valuable for deciding what products or services a company should offer?

First off, Enterprise Architecture includes Business Architecture.  Enterprise Architects must consider all of the elements of business architecture, and if they do their job right, they work to “engineer” changes to a company to align the priorities and behaviors of company resources with the vision, strategies, and success measures of the enterprise. 

When deciding what products and services should be offered, companies must consider all the same business inputs and evaluations.  A Business Architect collects this data, and structures it.  I’ve seen countless evaluations, and methods, for doing this work, often in a manner that structures the data for a particular report, but fails to capture it consistently for reuse.  This is amazing, when you think about it, because business architectural information is the MOST IMPORTANT data that a company can consider when it plans for the future!  Yet this data is frequently collected once and THROWN AWAY. 

Secondly the mix of products and services offered by a company reflects the strategy of that company.  The only reason that a company develops a product or service, and then markets it, sells it, provides it, and supports it, is because that product or service fits with someone’s idea of business strategy.  In effect, product development is simply one elements of strategic execution.

If EA really does include business architecture, and Business Architecture can include the formation of strategy, and product development is an output of business strategy, then Enterprise Architecture can influence product development.

Yet, our frameworks and educational materials are nearly silent on this aspect of business.

I’m curious about your thoughts.

By Nick Malik

Former CIO and present Strategic Architect, Nick Malik is a Seattle based business and technology advisor with over 30 years of professional experience in management, systems, and technology. He is the co-author of the influential paper "Perspectives on Enterprise Architecture" with Dr. Brian Cameron that effectively defined modern Enterprise Architecture practices, and he is frequent speaker at public gatherings on Enterprise Architecture and related topics. He coauthored a book on Visual Storytelling with Martin Sykes and Mark West titled "Stories That Move Mountains".

5 thoughts on “Enterprise Strategic Architecture in Product Development”
  1. YES!     I love top down modells, that cover (nearly) 100% of a topic.  If we talk about EA and project portfolios, we simply miss 50% and products really matter. To bridge this gap I use different aspects from  http://www.npd-solutions.com/bok.html  and digg deeper into the details later on.

  2. I really quite agree.

    EA for each organization is custom built to fit; the scope of coverage and impact of EA is dependent largely on the amount of information and knowledge available to the practitioners in that organization.

    A lot of the materials on this covers some areas and leave others out so it really is up to the Architect to have a clear picture of what exactly is his job.

    This is assuming EA is seen as a role which spans beyond the specifics of the IT team to deliver direct measurable value to the business as a whole.

  3. EA does include business architecture (BA) modelling but BA does not include strategy or marketing  formulation. That is the task of the business strategy and marketing groups. As such EA  (and BA) does not propose new products and services for product development.

    EA may describe the product development architecture though.

    See more here


  4. As an EA who works with product development teams, I absolutely agree that EA has a role on that side of the business.  Can they help define new products?  Well, that's a bit more difficult, depending on the breadth of your customer base.  If you think about the typical internal business process analysis effort, it's a lot more difficult to apply when your products need to play in a multitude of business processes that you have no control, or even awareness of.  For me, the right approach would be a combination of product management, marketing, user centered design, and architecture (and probably others I've missed) is the group you want coming together and collaboratively defining the right product.  

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