13 years, 9 months ago

Five Ways to Cure the Federal EA Hangover

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Long seen as an EA thought leader, the U.S. Federal Government has paradoxically struggled to deliver on EA’s promise of measurable, repeatable, transformative value for its stakeholders. While the government’s oversight and governance bodies have provided strategic guidance, agencies have found it difficult or impossible to show actual value for their efforts.

One major reason has been a lack of funding, even while EA has been seen as a critical value lever and compliance requirements have become more demanding. Unable to scale their teams, tools, and governance practices, many agencies took a reactive, “bottoms-up” approach that left critical strategic and business initiatives for the future. This often led to a self-perpetuating disconnect in which agencies became less able to deliver value from EA even as the strategic initiatives EA was meant to serve became more critical. Policy makers tried to help by splitting the Federal enterprise into more manageable ‘slices,’ reassessing the concept of ‘value’ and highlighting the importance of transparency, accountability, collaboration, and open government to help deliver more tangible value from EA efforts.

Despite these positive steps, we’re seeing evidence of an ‘EA hangover,’ – a lingering state of discomfort driven by the repercussions of past failures and looming future obligations. Many new CIOs and EA program managers go slow for fear of repeating past mistakes, or simply lack the clout to win funding due to past failures. Over time, this collective mindset, and corresponding inability to deliver real value, perpetuates the belief that EA is just a “low value, check the box” exercise.

Treating the Hangover

Despite the widening gap between demands and resources and mounting “morning after“ inertia, there is hope! We’ve identified five remedies for the EA hangover that will help recharge stalled programs.

1) Define an EA capability roadmap

Many EA initiatives fail to proactively identify important beneficiaries or their needs, and thus burn budget and time in a trial-and-error process looking for value to deliver. Eventually, the projects either run out of time and money, or are cancelled outright. Start instead with a strategic plan and a capability-based roadmap that outlines how specific value will be delivered over time. This requires networking with key stakeholders to determine the tangible benefits each expects and when they expect them. This helps clarify the goals and focuses efforts on targeted, high-value areas, while building the support needed for future success.

2) Right-size Your EA Roadmap

Many failed Federal EA programs go too wide and too high, too early, aiming at lofty goals such as “eliminating all risk and unaligned spending.” That’s a worthwhile long-term objective, but most stakeholders need faster returns. Consider a dual-track roadmap that balances lower-value, but quick-win goals with longer-range projects that deliver high-value, sophisticated capabilities. If communicated clearly to the agency, this builds support in the short term while keeping longer-term, strategic objectives in mind.

3) Tie EA Projects to Strategic Agency Goals

We’ve seen too many EA program/project leads wait for guidance before defining project goals, rather than risk having to change course later. Convinced that EA requires longer development cycles than can be accommodated by short-term EA contracts, leaders shy away from tackling high-value projects.
Try instead tying EA projects to high-visibility, long-term initiatives that will outlast policy and contract cycles. If work items are unfinished at the end of one contract, make sure they are aligned to the performance criteria of the next contract. This helps assure continued funding, and more consistent value delivery.

4) Deliver Measurable Value Early and Often

Don’t confuse uncoordinated scavenger hunts for data with progress, because key stakeholders will only be more disappointed when the project fails. Instead, define tangible benefits realized through the delivery of specific capabilities, and regularly assess how well those capabilities align with the expected benefits. Using performance metrics (e.g. PRM Measurement Indicators) that identify benefits in quantitative terms can help keep EA practitioners focused on delivering aligned value through regular feedback on their progress.

5) Communicate Success Through “Value Guideposts”

Like any new process, EA projects can run into early, discouraging road bumps. To ensure continued support, create a structured communications plan that uses “value guideposts” to show stakeholders, early and often, the value you’re delivering. Each guidepost should demonstrate a well-defined capability that’s immediately achievable and that is explained in easily-understood terms. This will help keep the EA team out of “firefighting mode” and focused on a stable path of value delivery.

In conclusion, just as with real-world hangovers, there’s no instant fix for the ‘EA hangover.’ But these five steps can help you dig out of the funk. Whether the opportunity is datacenter consolidation, standards management, or other high visibility initiative, using these techniques will help you succeed – and to get your EA program the recognition it deserves.

An expanded version of this post is published in September issue of www.architectureandgovernance.com.

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