Confusing Performance and Outcome Hinders the Application of Enterprise Architecture

High performance does not always get the intended outcome

Most postings on online forums such as LinkedIn focus on defining Enterprise Architecture (EA).  Even a broad consensus among those that practice it consume is at its best, a difficult proposition.  Those promoting their own points of view in an attempt to clarify EA inevitably result in creating further contention, confusion and prevent those that may benefit from such insights offered by EA; a true lose-lose outcome to the practitioner and consumer.

This phenomena is not unique to EA, we see this manifest itself in the natural politics of the organization.  What’s good for the greater Enterprise may be at odds with individual groups and leaders within the Enterprise and those with the ability or clout are able to steer more resources to their own objectives. An outcome is the result of the business decisions made by or organization’s management.  Senior management – the “Chiefs” of the organization – provides the organization’s priorities and insights to achieve the strategic intent but line of business management are responsible for executing the organizational investments that improve performance of the enterprise’s capabilities that results in the outcome.

Therefore, an outcome reflects the shared vision of management and performance is a measure of the organization’s outputs.  From personal experiences, a source of confusion stems from the outcome of the line of business versus the greater organization.  As an example, an organization wants to increase its online sales by 40% (outcome) and it will do so by increasing traffic to its website by 50%.  Its strategy is to launch new social media campaigns that are expected to fully account for the increased.  The lines of business involved include marketing, sales, IT operations and IT security.  The marketing team may over-achieve their performance and increase traffic by 100% but if IT security is unaware of this activity they may interpret the increased traffic as an attack and prevent the access of the organization’s message and sales.  IT operations may be unable to cope with the increase in traffic and transactions leaving many visitors disappointed as they are unable to complete their activities.  For sales that are made, the organization needs to have the inventory to meet this demand within the expected time of the customer.  Therefore, the performance of all of these groups needs to achieve a minimal level in order for the organization’s outcome – increase online sales by 40% – is realized.

As the example above illustrates, an organization needs to understand what outcome is achievable and what constraints need to be overcome.  It would not be rational for the organization to invest 50% of future online sales to achieve the desired outcome or to have such an expectation without a market/industry study to determine if the market would support this increase, how competitors would respond and so on.  The ability to realize the desired outcome is dependent on the organization’s understanding of both the industry and its own ecosystem.   An industry position that would be beneficial to the organization may have much greater obstacles to overcome than the benefits of the position; think about the challenges for a low-cost bare bones widget maker transforming into an innovative, leading-edge provider of widgets.  Likewise, what is easier for the organization to move towards may not be successful in the marketplace.

When creating an organizational position in industry, senior management will require the expertise of those who have strong knowledge of the industry and also insight into the constraints of the organization.  Correspondingly, intimate knowledge of an organizational function does not qualify the person to know what position the organization should take in the industry.  The application of Enterprise Architecture needs to be made to the context of the organization and the challenge it faces: do we have a consensus on the outcome and only then can we determine the performance that we need to achieve.

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