Tag Archives: business architecture

Albert Einstein – Problem solving

581px-Albert_Einstein_Head_cleaned
March 14, 1879 – April 18, 1955

Einstein is quoted as having said that if he had one hour to save the world he would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution.

This quote does illustrate an important point: before jumping right into solving a problem, we should step back and invest time and effort to improve our understanding of it. Here are 10 strategies you can use to see problems from many different perspectives and master what is the most important step in problem solving: clearly defining the problem in the first place!

The Problem Is To Know What the Problem Is

The definition of the problem will be the focal point of all your problem-solving efforts. As such, it makes sense to devote as much attention and dedication to problem definition as possible. What usually happens is that as soon as we have a problem to work on we’re so eager to get to solutions that we neglect spending any time refining it.

What most of us don’t realize — and what supposedly Einstein might have been alluding to — is that the quality of the solutions we come up with will be in direct proportion to the quality of the description of the problem we’re trying to solve. Not only will your solutions be more abundant and of higher quality, but they’ll be achieved much, much more easily. Most importantly, you’ll have the confidence to be tackling a worthwhile problem.

Problem Definition Tools and Strategies

The good news is that getting different perspectives and angles in order to clearly define a problem is a skill that can be learned and developed. As such, there are many strategies you can use to perfect it. Here are the most effective ones I know.

1. Rephrase the Problem

When a Toyota executive asked employees to brainstorm “ways to increase their productivity”, all he got back were blank stares. When he rephrased his request as “ways to make their jobs easier”, he could barely keep up with the amount of suggestions.

Words carry strong implicit meaning and, as such, play a major role in how we perceive a problem. In the example above, “be productive” might seem like a sacrifice you’re doing for the company, while “make your job easier” may be more like something you’re doing for your own benefit, but from which the company also benefits. In the end, the problem is still the same, but the feelings — and the points of view — associated with each of them are vastly different.

Play freely with the problem statement, rewording it several times. For a methodical approach, take single words and substitute variations. ‘Increase sales’? Try replacing ‘increase’ with ‘attract’, ‘develop’, ‘extend’, ‘repeat’ and see how your perception of the problem changes. A rich vocabulary plays an important role here, so you may want to use a thesaurus or develop your vocabulary.

2. Expose and Challenge Assumptions

Every problem — no matter how apparently simple it may be — comes with a long list of assumptions attached. Many of these assumptions may be inaccurate and could make your problem statement inadequate or even misguided.

The first step to get rid of bad assumptions is to make them explicit. Write a list and expose as many assumptions as you can — especially those that may seem the most obvious and ‘untouchable’.

That, in itself, brings more clarity to the problem at hand. But go further and test each assumption for validity: think in ways that they might not be valid and what could happen if that was the case. What you will find may surprise you: that many of those bad assumptions are self-imposed — with just a bit of scrutiny you are able to safely drop them.

For example, suppose you’re about to enter the restaurant business. One of your assumptions might be ‘restaurants have a menu’. While such an assumption may seem true at first, try challenging it and maybe you’ll find some very interesting business models (such as one restaurant in which customers bring dish ideas for the chef to cook, for example).

3.1 Chunk Up

Each problem is a small piece of a greater problem. In the same way that you can explore a problem laterally — such as by playing with words or challenging assumptions — you can also explore it at different “altitudes”.

If you feel you’re overwhelmed with details or looking at a problem too narrowly, look at it from a more general perspective. In order to make your problem more general, ask questions such as: “What’s this a part of?”, “What’s this an example of?” or “What’s the intention behind this?”.

Another approach that helps a lot in getting a more general view of a problem is replacing words in the problem statement with hypernyms. Hypernyms are words that have a broader meaning than the given word. (For example, a hypernym of ‘car’ is ‘vehicle’). A great, free tool for finding hypernyms for a given word is WordNet (just search for a word and click on the ‘S:’ label before the word definitions).

3.2 Chunk Down

If each problem is part of a greater problem, it also means that each problem is composed of many smaller problems. It turns out that decomposing a problem in many smaller problems — each of them more specific than the original — can also provide greater insights about it.

“Chunking the problem down” (making it more specific) is especially useful if you find the problem overwhelming or daunting.

Some of the typical questions you can ask to make a problem more specific are: “What are parts of this?” or “What are examples of this?”.

Just as in “chunking up”, word substitution can also come to great use here. The class of words that are useful here are hyponyms: words that are stricter in meaning than the given one. (E.g. two hyponyms of ‘car’ are ‘minivan’ and ‘limousine’). WordNet can also help you finding hyponyms.

4. Find Multiple Perspectives

Before rushing to solve a problem, always make sure you look at it from different perspectives. Looking at it with different eyes is a great way to have instant insight on new, overlooked directions.

For example, if you own a business and are trying to ‘increase sales’, try to view this problem from the point of view of, say, a customer. For example, from the customer’s viewpoint, this may be a matter of adding features to your product that one would be willing to pay more for.

Rewrite your problem statement many times, each time using one of these different perspectives. How would your competition see this problem? Your employees? Your mom?

Also, imagine how people in various roles would frame the problem. How would a politician see it? A college professor? A nun? Try to find the differences and similarities on how the different roles would deal with your problem.

5. Use Effective Language Constructs

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula for properly crafting the perfect problem statement, but there are some language constructs that always help making it more effective:

  • Assume a myriad of solutions. An excellent way to start a problem statement is: “In what ways might I…”. This expression is much superior to “How can I…” as it hints that there’s a multitude of solutions, and not just one — or maybe none. As simple as this sounds, the feeling of expectancy helps your brain find solutions.
  • Make it positive. Negative sentences require a lot more cognitive power to process and may slow you down — or even derail your train of thought. Positive statements also help you find the real goal behind the problem and, as such, are much more motivating.
    For example: instead of finding ways to ‘quit smoking’, you may find that ‘increase your energy’, ‘live longer’ and others are much more worthwhile goals.
  • Frame your problem in the form of a question. Our brain loves questions. If the question is powerful and engaging, our brains will do everything within their reach to answer it. We just can’t help it: Our brains will start working on the problem immediately and keep working in the background, even when we’re not aware of it.
  • If you’re still stuck, consider using the following formula for phrasing your problem statement:
    “In what ways (action) (object) (qualifier) (end result)?”
    Example: In what ways might I package (action) my book (object) more attractively (qualifier) so people will buy more of it (end result)?

6. Make It Engaging

In addition to using effective language constructs, it’s important to come up with a problem statement that truly excites you so you’re in the best frame of mind for creatively tackling the problem. If the problem looks too dull for you, invest the time adding vigor to it while still keeping it genuine. Make it enticing. Your brain will thank (and reward) you later.

One thing is to ‘increase sales’ (boring), another one is ‘wow your customers’. One thing is ‘to create a personal development blog’, another completely different is to ‘empower readers to live fully’.

7. Reverse the Problem

One trick that usually helps when you’re stuck with a problem is turning it on its head.

If you want to win, find out what would make you lose. If you are struggling finding ways to ‘increase sales’, find ways to decrease them instead. Then, all you need to do is reverse your answers. ‘Make more sales calls’ may seem an evident way of increasing sales, but sometimes we only see these ‘obvious’ answers when we look at the problem from an opposite direction.

This seemingly convoluted method may not seem intuitive at first, but turning a problem on its head can uncover rather obvious solutions to the original problem.

8. Gather Facts

Investigate causes and circumstances of the problem. Probe details about it — such as its origins and causes. Especially if you have a problem that’s too vague, investigating facts is usually more productive than trying to solve it right away.

If, for example, the problem stated by your spouse is “You never listen to me”, the solution is not obvious. However, if the statement is “You don’t make enough eye contact when I’m talking to you,” then the solution is obvious and you can skip brainstorming altogether. (You’ll still need to work on the implementation, though!)

Ask yourself questions about the problem. What is not known about it? Can you draw a diagram of the problem? What are the problem boundaries? Be curious. Ask questions and gather facts. It is said that a well-defined problem is halfway to being solved: I would add that a perfectly-defined problem is not a problem anymore.

9. Problem-Solve Your Problem Statement

I know I risk getting into an infinite loop here, but as you may have noticed, getting the right perspective of a problem is, well, a problem in itself. As such, feel free to use any creative thinking technique you know to help. There are plenty to choose from:

You may want to give yourself an Idea Quota  – committing to have a predetermined number of ideas  – of problem statements. Or write a List of 100 problems to solve. SCAMPER your problem definition. These are just some of dozen techniques you can try.

As a conclusion (for today)…

Of course, how much effort you invest in defining the problem in contrast to how much effort you invest in solving your actual problem is a hard balance to achieve, though one which is attainable with practice.

Personally, I don’t think that 55 minutes of defining a problem versus 5 minutes acting on it, is usually a good proportion. The point is that we must be aware of how important problem defining is and correct our tendency to spend too little time on it.

In fact, when you start paying more attention to how you define your problems, you’ll probably find that it is usually much harder than solving them. But you’ll also find that the payoff is well worth the effort.

References:
• Einstein’s Portrait: Yousuf Karsh.
• Einstein’s Quote: Cracking Creativity.

Advertisements

Next generation of Enterprise Architecture

Early this morning, while glancing through the latest tweets on my iphone, I was attracted by last post from Richard Veryard on slideshare:

Preamble

Good slideshow though, but since I felt that it is going a bit in many different directions, I felt that I had to react on this one, directly on my blog to reflect my own thoughts regarding: How should we deal with enterprise architecture in big companies? Richard starts his slideshow by exposing 2 historical views of Enterprise Architecture: the “Simplify and Unify” view and the “Differentiate and Integrate” view. Structuring the begining of his presentation through this split, Richard starts quickly to mention ancient approaches such as “Information Engineering” structure versus the well-known “Zachman framework“. then, he also mentions the different trends / challenges the EA is facing to… But, finally, what is the main stand-point that comes out of this presentation? To be honest, I miss a bit Richard’s stand point at the end of the presentation. So here is mine (stand-point):

My point is…

I would say that, in general, I try to learn from history and experimented people such as John Zachman and Roger Session, but at the same time, I don’t want to follow them blind. I think times change and EA has to change as well (even quicker).
To me, such approach as Zachman’s framework, which is a 198x’s vestige (see my article: Top Four Enterprise Architecture Methodologies) or trying to simplify the IS way too much, when if fact we, as Enterprise Architect must admit/deal with this complexity (up to a certain point). We (EntArch) have to make this complexity manageable and introduce enough flexibility in it to better support the business objectives.  Not saying, as I mentionned earlier that we should forget the previous frameworks or structures, but more to know them, understand their points, why they raised when they did and look at today trends/issues to make our own opinions.

Then, let’s re-invent the wheel again will you tell me… No, sorry I am not this kind. I looked for a real EA methodology for a while before finding one that suit the best to my personnal beliefs. To me, the Praxeme methodology is the EA methodology that suits the best to my personal perception of what the EA should be/do.

There I think that Praxeme is fully supporting the EA challenges Richard is pinpointing. (see fig. 1)

My Conclusion

I would quote Richard when Richard writes:
“Not suppressing complexity but managing complexity”

This is exactly what I am trying to do when practising EA. EA should not be done for the “beauty of the move”, but for the whole-of-the-enterprise sake and benefit. To add to Richard’s presentation, I would say that in order to “manage the company IS complexity and support business objectives“, we need both the theory and the practice. There,  it’s time to mention Emmanuel Kant that is underneath the Praxeme’s approach:

Theory without practice is useless; Practice without theory is blind.

Let’s come back to the title: “Next generation of Enterprise Architecture”. To me the next generation of Enterprise Architecture and as a consequence: Enterprise Architects :D, where I expect from myself to be a key player ( 😉 french humor) is based on a true Business approach. We, as Enterprise Architects, have to get our key business decision makers to understand the value of spending money on EA to gain money on the maintenance (IT costs), reduce the project failure rate… stop re-doing project to achieve the same goals without succeeding each time.

Once your top management is convinced, then it is time to go to work. Start from the semantic level to keep the flexibility in the whole enterprise system. Break the silos, avoid hard-coded business rules that have lead us to where historic companies are entangled in today. Complex and frozen Information System that is not anymore able to support the always moving targets of our companies, neither the economical volatilities that we are currently facing or the increasing competition (to mention a few…). Our companies have no choice to evoluate or die. This is pure evolution theory.

  • If you are lucky and work for companies like Google or Apple, then you have not much to achieve in the first hand (convinced your management), mainly because the top management is already convinced and they have trusted the vision I described above. In addition, they didn’t have to manage the complexity coming from all the heritage of ages (usually called “Legacy”).
  • In case you’re not working for Google or Apple, then you are even more lucky! Look at all the interesting job you have in front of you! I use to quote Booker T. Washington when saying:

“You measure the size of the accomplishment by the obstacles you had to overcome to reach your goals.”

So, let’s go to work!

Top Four Enterprise Architecture Methodologies

Starting point

Few weeks ago, I was on business trip, dining alone at my hotel restaurant in Gothenburg (sad story isn’t it ;)) I was using my favorite device: iphone 4 to read interesting Enterprise Architecture articles & papers, when, suddenly, my attention was caught by a direct reply on one of my tweets from my respected architect colleague: Roger Sessions Roger asked me:

RSessions Nov 16

@enectoux Thanks for the RT! BTW, have you seen our article that describes the 4 Factors of IT Coherence? http://bit.ly/9nQ36W

Which at that time, I hadn’t  read yet. So, I decided to read it carefully, as it deserved to be and give some of my feedback / thoughts to Roger and you through my blog, since a tweet would not be enough.

Quick summary

So, to start with, not to mention that you should spend the valuable time to read Roger’s paper, which I don’t want to re-write here. Let me introduce it to you quickly. The title this paper is: “Comparison of the Top Four Enterprise Architecture Methodologies”  To be honest, this title is sufficient by itself to summarize the purpose of the document.

Through this paper, Roger gives us four very good overview of the top four  framework/process/methodology/practice: Zachman, TOGAF, FEA & Gartner, but in addition to this he also gives us some clues of what does each is good at (and not that good at, as well).

My points

This said, here are my points:

When taking each of these frameworks/process… separately, I always felt uncomfortable. While reading, I remembered when I was seating in TOGAF 9 training, having the feeling that there were things missing. I couldn’t explained it at that time, then I was missing experience in Enterprise architecture field and couldn’t step back enough.

As an example:

To my point of view, Zachman framework is more a reference to which you should compare with. What for? To benchmark in which Zachman cells you are currently missing documented knowledge in your EA work. Of course, this is not enough, once you did this first step; you need to set your priority accordingly to your strategic business objectives.

So if you take Zachman only and try to use it, first thing you will get hit by is that you are missing a process to do it… This is of course, where TOGAF is coming into the picture, bringing the process… So TOGAF is completing Zachman, good… but not enough – that would have been too easy –

Then comes FEA which brings a methods, yes, ok… but… still not enough. So there it comes, the big one: Gartner! Hurrah! We finally get it all, right? Of course not! But why? will you ask me! We have a reference model, a process to get the architecture up and running, and methodologies and then top of the world EA specialists… Well, there are different reasons why, let me gives you the main ones I foresee, with the help of Roger’s paper.

Why does each of the Top Four methodologies are not enough (taken separately)?

Roger Sessions: “TOGAF merely describes how to generate an enterprise architecture, not necessarily how to generate a good enterprise architecture.”

This said, there is nothing much to add about TOGAF.

To continue, a general comment on FEA, Zachman. These 2 are IT oriented frameworks / methodology (there is also a debate about TOGAF, but let’s no opening it here now). So, OK, we know that, but the issue I see is not that they are IT oriented, but the issue is that none of them are fitting with 201x enterprises’ challenges.

Zachman and FEA were designed to answer 1980’s problems and challenges. When it comes to TOGAF, as we’ve shown it above, it doesn’t answer to any other challenge than: create the architecture. Not saying that creating the architecture is not useful, but it is architect matter that is addressed, not the CEO’s challenges, such as: “enterprise profitable growth”.

So… you will tell me: “We need another framework / process / methods…” Well, here is a debate that deserves to have its own post (coming soon) We already have plenty of these (remember that here that Roger took only the top four used ones) and I don’t want to re-invent the wheel again, but obviously, based on what I just described taken separately each of these 4 attempts is not enough.  So, we need something to help us to manage the complexity of the “thing” (enterprise in our case), to fullfill the current challenges our enterpises are facing today and to get the Enterprise Architecture moving forward.

“Get the Enterprise moving forward (with the help of the EA)”

How should Enterprise Architects help their CEOs to get their enterprise moving forward? To start with:

Then, once it is done, let’s us come back to frameworks, process, methods, best practices… when it comes the time to choose, you will have difficulties to pick one of these since they are always missing one aspect. Then… what to do? In a first step, what is important is to know these methodologies, understand what they are capable to offer you. Then, the second step is to find your own way.

“Find your own way”

I know that for a structured mind as an architect is usually provided with, this statement will not sound “satisfying”. So let me bring you few additional points here:

  • The “best practice” is always your practice (because it’s yours!) Who else than you should know better than you what you need? Of course, you might need help to express it, we all need such help from time to time, but at the end, you must be the one knowing what you want to do, right?
  • When it comes to choice and getting thing done. This is where we should stop (for a while) to structure things. Remember Gartner quote: “Just enough Enterprise Architecture, just in time”. To me, this also means that we need to keep space for “not structured thinking” (cf. my post about non-linear thinking) in order to keep freedom for creativity and get innovative.

Because yes, innovation is one of the KEY for your enterprise to get through and progress. Let’s us stop here for today. Next time I will tell you more about “my way”…

What does Business and IT alignment mean

What does Business and IT alignment mean? #iCMG Architecture World – Linkedin Group discussion http://ow.ly/39LVW

Above, is a link to a very long Linkedin discussion about:

What does Business and IT alignment mean?

The objective of this discussion is
1) Define what does IT alignment with business means?
2) Define process needed to align business and IT?
3) Define deliverables for Business and IT alignment (documents, reports, etc)?
4) Define roles and skills needed to for deliverables?

As many others, I particpated to this discussion, but since I am on my blog, here is my (short) answers:

Emeric Nectoux • What does Business and IT alignment mean?

1) Define what does IT alignment with business means?

=> I believe that in most industry (beside the IT industry… even if we could quesiton it) it is business that is steering the enterprise and not IT. So, taking this as a start point, IT is there to support business. That said, what is Business / IT alignment? Quite simple ;o), it is to make sure that what IT brings as support to business serve the Business goals. (and not the opposite 😮 )

2) Define process needed to align business and IT?

=> Here I will stand behind Fabien Villard (the previous post in the discussion list). he gave most of the answers: Agility, ability to catch and answer to the business needs at the same pace that business is changing… Focus on small changing instead of changing the whole world at once…

3) Define deliverables for Business and IT alignment (documents, reports, etc)?

=> Dude, do you want me to do your job? ;o) Look at framework and EA methods, I’m sure you will find what will make you happy in terms of deliverables!

4) Define roles and skills needed to for deliverables?

=> Skills: open-mind, business and IT skills, power play, pragmatism, high capacity of abstraction and at the same time being able to dig quickly into details = have the macro / micro view capacity…
Roles: whatever you name yourself, till you know what you’re doing.

I will be pleased to know your view as well…

Why doing Enterprise Architecture?

You cannot effectively manage something if you cannot “see” and understand (know)!

Especially if it is big, complicated, or will grow and change at some point in time, or if  you need to communicate accurately with others about it.


The Cost of an error

There we are, in the heart of the topic! Money, save cost…

As you figure out with this simple chart, this is common sens, the earliest you are able to detect and error in your strategy, the most money you will save.

So, how will Enterprise Architecture will help you to save money?

Enterprise Architecture is the underlying design or structure of anything:

  • It exists whether or not  it is made explicit (know).
  • If it is not explicit, assumptions must be made.

If explicit, Architecture is…

  • “The set of descriptive representations about an object…” John Zachmann
  • A model or representation of an object created in order to…
    • “see” the object,
    • “communicate”with others about the object,
    • “do” something with or to the object: create, manage, evaluate or change it.

As a final thought for this post…

Enterprise Architecture is the underneath work that support any kind of Governance. Without such approach, Governance is blind or in the case relies on “convictions”… The issue with convictions is that, in some cases, they can blind us as well and keep ourself in a box. In this case, of course,  convictions  are quite dangerous especially if they are not challenged by facts that are partly brought by Enterprise Architecture.