Enterprise Architecture and Agile

Dave Nicholette argued recently that Enterprise Architecture and Agile are not compatible partners:

The mission, scope, tools, mentality, culture, and personality types of enterprise architects and agilists are so radically different that (in my view) they call for separate administrative subdivisions in the enterprise. Not only is the nature of their work different, but the management styles, employment incentives, and career path options that work with one group don’t work with the other. The staid working conditions and deliberate pace of progress of enterprise architecture work would bore and frustrate an agilist. Conversely, the intensity and unpredictability of agile development would stress out the type of person who tends to prefer things standardized and repeatable.

I’m taking a little different tack on the meshing of Enterprise Architecture and Agile. Enterprise Architecture is a holistic attempt to define systems, processes, and tools across the entire organization though much of the focus ends up on the IT functions. Agile is a process within this and as it facilities better projects and faster ROI it lines up well with the goal of Enterprise Architecture. The central goal of Enterprise Architecture is to simplify IT.

Architecture within an Agile project is continuously evolved, but with the end goal that it should remain as flexible as possible while delivering at each iteration. You want the system to be as lean as possible, you shouldn’t be writing speculative code that might be used in the future.

Traditional ‘Ivory Tower’ style Enterprise Architecture does clash with Agile as it assumes a command and control culture with a heavy focus on governance. I see no reason Enterprise Architecture can’t be done in an Agile fashion. Even analyst firms like Gartner agree that defining a future architecture and then sticking it on a shelf never to be revisited is a recipe for failure. My belief is Enterprise Architecture efforts are only going to be successful through collaboration with developers, testers, business analysts, PMs/Scrum Masters, and business customers. And the critical cycle of ‘inspect and adapt’ on Agile projects is just as crucial to Enterprise Architecture.

My suspicion is with Agile and Lean ‘crossing the chasm’ lately we’re likely to see big changes in the approaches to Enterprise Architecture in many shops.