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Technical architecture is not a process

Jed Simms
September 29, 2011

Technical architects appear to be taking over the world. Technical architecture diagrams are appearing all over the place as ‘strategy on a page’, as operating models and, worst of all, as process charts. They are not process charts.

Architecture decomposes the business into a series of elements: customers, channels, products, operations, processes, functional areas, etc. The boxes within each of these elements may or may not be a process area, for example, accounts receivable, accounts payable, general ledger, etc—but process areas are not processes.

An accounts payable process starts with a requisition and goes through the purchase order and receipt processes before ending up in the accounts payable process. Requisition to payment is the end-to-end process and if you start to change the accounts payable process without knowing how the end-to-end process works, you are as likely to make it worse as better.

What the architects are doing is breaking an organisation into like-functional elements. All the finance elements go together, as do all of the marketing elements and the channel elements. This is interesting and maybe can be useful, but it is not a process chart or able to be used to identify the nature and dynamics of an organisation.

If we were to liken it to a car manufacturer; they may break down their cars into glass, aluminium, steel, plastic, rubber, etc. Then within these elements they may break glass into windscreens, side windows, mirrors, back windows, etc. This may be useful for those accountable for managing glassware in cars but it doesn’t tell you how the car looks, drives, what market it is designed for, and so on.

An operational car is one thing, a functional decomposition into its elements is another. Similarly, an operational business is one thing, an architectural functional decomposition is another.

In a recent discussion with an enterprise architect, he explained what he did and what he produced; but could not explain how it advanced his organisation, how it helped make better decisions or implemented strategy faster.

Yes there is a role for architects but it is helping people understand the scope of their organisational or system elements. But it is not a process role, and does not help improve how an organisation operates.

For more on process, see TOP’s Understanding Processes guide.

Jed Simms
Jed Simms is the founder and co-creator of Totally Optimized Projects, an internationally recognised strategy-based, business-driven approach to delivering projects. He specialises in project governance and control and value and benefits management. He is also the founding partner of consultancy Capability Management.
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