Saturday, 29 September 2007

How to get the most out of Enterprise Architecture interviews

Objective: To gain the best understanding of an organization and to gain the most actionable information from interviews conducted throughout the TOGAF Enterprise Architecture methodology.

Tool: Interview Technique

Topic: Business Architecture (TOGAF phase B)

To use the TOGAF Enterprise Architecture methodology successfully, you will need a thorough understanding of the organization, business unit, department – whichever is the scope of your project. In order to obtain this knowledge you, as Enterprise Architect, need to read all the available material and discuss the business with key stakeholders.

Although your selection and analysis of material is relatively easy (e.g., strategic plan, annual report, marketing and operational documentation, etc.) because they have a structure that is inherently organised and accessible, the same is not true for the discussions you will have with the stakeholders.

This blog explains the technique I have used successfully, to organize, structure, document and analyse interviews with leaders of a company.

The fact is that an Enterprise Architect will constantly be conducting interviews, but there are specifically two points in the TOGAF methodology where it becomes the primary tool of the job. They are during the:

  1. Business Architecture, when the aim is to understand the existing business model and the goals of the company.
  2. Information Systems Architecture, when the aim is to understand the existing application portfolio and the value-chain functions (business processes) being performed by each application.

The answer is, as always, to prepare and to be prepared. Here are some suggestions regarding business architecture interviews that I’ve used and have found to be successful . . .

Before I talk about the actual interviewing process, it’s worth reminding you (since you may have missed my other blogs) that I prefer to document my Enterprise Architectures using spreadsheets, because the ability to easily add columns and create cross-references between dimensions becomes extremely useful later (especially after TOGAF phase D). So, the following blog will keep referring to the Enterprise Architecture workbook, which comprises a large number of worksheets, some of which are catalogues (lists of things) while others are cross-references (mapping two catalogues against each other with additional information at the intersections).

Business Architecture Interviews

  1. Identify the business activities of the organization’s value-chain

  2. You will never be given the time you need to understand the organization to the level of detail you’d like. There is, therefore, a danger that, when talking with principals of the organization, you won’t always know what to ask about. The phrase “you don’t know what you don’t know” clearly applies to our work.
    It is imperative, therefore, that you rapidly gain sufficient understanding of the business to structure your interviews. You can do this by reading the materials that tend to be readily available in most companies (as listed above). Get these materials from or via your project sponsor.

    Use this material to draw up your own view of the value-chain of the company. How it makes and delivers products and services? What are its raw materials and where do they come from? What value does it actually generate for its customers? How does it make money? How does it measure success?

    You can validate, correct and expand on this initial view during the first few interviews. It makes sense, therefore, that your first few interviews are with people who have a general understanding of the business, rather than a detailed knowledge of one particular aspect. I find that leaders in business functions which Michael Porter classes as secondary value-chain activities often have this general understanding of the business (e.g., senior leadership team, technology department, finance managers, HR) and are therefore a good place for you to start.

  3. Prepare a catalogue of value-chain functions

  4. You now have sufficient information to justify recording it and giving it some structure. This is where you start to document your work, adding worksheets to the Enterprise Architecture workbook.
    In the case of the value-chain analysis you’ve already completed, you are starting to document the most important dimension – specifically value-chain functions (business activities). As you continue the business architecture, you can drill down on each value-chain function: first listing all the business processes associated with each value-chain function; then listing all the use-cases associated with each business process. But keep it simple to start with.

    Simply add a new worksheet to your Enterprise Architecture workbook, to catalogue the value-chain functions.
    Name this worksheet Catalog Business Processes.
    You should expect to have a catalogue of between 10 and 20 business activities for a typical small-to-medium sized enterprise or a division of a larger organization.
    Start with these three columns:

    1. Column A = Identity: Every business activity must have a unique number (e.g., BS-nnn).
    2. Column B = Name: Every business activity must have a unique name conforming to the convention “Action” “Object” (e.g., “Manage Relationships”, “Manage Sales & Orders”).
    3. Column C = Description: Every business activity must be clearly described so that you and others can start to have meaningful discussion.

  5. Prepare a catalogue of interview scripts per business activity

  6. For every value-chain function there will information you need to collect and understand. So, you can prepare a set of questions specifically aimed at extracting that information from interviewees. Some questions are fairly generic:

    • What are the primary deliverables (products) and where do they go next?
    • What are the primary inputs (materials) and where do they come from?
    • What are the stages that create the deliverables from the inputs? What are they called? Who owns each of them?
    • Which systems (whether IT, manual or another means) are used at each stage?

    This set of questions, if organized in a logical order, forms the interview script that you (or your proxy) will use in subsequent meetings.
    Bear in mind that you should plan for one hour per meeting. Budget for one question per three (3) minutes. Excluding the ten (10) minutes you need at the start to introduce yourself and the topic, plus the five (5) minutes you need at the end to sum up and thank the participant, then you should anticipate time for around fifteen (15) questions.

    So, add a new worksheet to your Enterprise Architecture workbook, to catalogue these interview scripts.
    Name this worksheet Catalog Interview Scripts.
    You should expect to have one interview script for each of the business activities you’ve listed in the worksheet titled Catalog Business Processes.
    Start with these three columns:

    1. Column A = Identity: Every interview script must have a unique number (e.g., IS-nnn).
    2. Column B = Name: Should match the name of the Business Activity used in the Catalog Business Processes.
    3. Column C = Description: The script itself comprising a set of numbered questions, grouped into logical discussion topics.

  7. Prepare a catalogue of target business units

  8. You’ve carefully prepared your set of interview scripts, but only one or two scripts will be relevant to the interviewees to meet. So, now you need to start the process of targeting your interview candidates.
    The first step is to list all of the business units that relate to the value-chain activities you’ve just catalogued. Organizational charts and the people you’ve already met (e.g., your sponsor, finance and HR) should be able to help you with this.

    So, add a new worksheet to your Enterprise Architecture workbook, to catalogue these organizational units.
    Name this worksheet Catalog Business Entities.
    You may want to incorporate organizational structure into the worksheet. However, since the purpose is (later) to link target interview candidates to these business entities, you don’t over engineer it.
    Start with these three columns:

    1. Column A = Identity: Every business entity must have a unique number (e.g., BU-nnn).
    2. Column B = Name: Should match the description commonly used in the organization.
    3. Column C = Description: A statement about what the team, group, department or business unit does, plus its location and main contact name (such as its leader or administrator).

  9. Identify your target audience

  10. By this point in the process, you have probably conducted several interviews, using scripts at varying levels of maturity. In fact, you will probably improve the scripts continuously throughout the entire Enterprise Architecture process.
    You are now prepared to conduct interviews with those principals of the organization who understand specific business activities in significant detail.

    Using the services of your project sponsor, or the authority behind the project mandate, reach out to senior leaders of the departments or business units you’ve just catalogued, asking for time on their calendar. Suggest a date (and perhaps a time) during the coming week or two, so that they cannot simply put your request to one side. When people respond, show gratitude and be accommodating to their time pressures.
    For individuals that do not respond, follow up with a note like “John Doe has agreed to meet me at 10:00 on the 11th September. It would be great to discuss your position and vision too, if you could make some time for me that day ...”. People tend to feel comfortable about not responding until they feel they are being excluded (or are excluding themselves) from things that their colleagues are engaged in. Never underestimate or discount psychology.

    So, add a new worksheet to your Enterprise Architecture workbook, to cross-reference the individuals to your prepared interview scripts.
    Name this worksheet Map Interviewee-to-Script.
    Each individual will take one row and it is useful to group the individuals by the organizational units you have catalogued previously. You may use a column for this purpose or the group expand/contract facility.
    Your columns should include:

    1. Column A = Business Entity: As listed in your catalogue of business units.
    2. Column B = Name: The interviewee’s name.
    3. Column C = Description: The interviewee’s job title.
    4. Column D = Appointment: The date and time of the meeting.

    What you end up with is a list of individuals, which can be sorted by name or appointment date/time.

  11. Map the target audience to the appropriate interview scripts

  12. By now you have meeting appointments with the principals of the business units that relate to your vision of the organization’s value-chain. The next step is to determine which interview script should be used at which meeting.
    You can often do this using the participant’s job title, obtained from the org-chart, the e-Mail system or the participant’s response.
    Another useful technique is to include the list of the value-chain activities you’ve catalogued in the e-Mail request, asking the target interviewee to identify the ones most relevant to his or her role.

    You build up your interview plan using your prepared worksheet titled Map Interviewee-to-Script with the following extension:

    1. Column E-onwards = Scripts: The name of a script (and business activity). One column for each, linked to the Catalog Interview Scripts.

    What you end up with is your list of individuals mapped to one or more of your prepared interview scripts.
    Knowing that you only have time for around fifteen (15) questions in a one-hour meeting, you can then cherry pick those you want to ask and those which might be covered at a later date, or via follow-up e-Mail exchange.

  13. Interview Etiquette

  14. It goes without saying that the normal rules of interviews apply to Enterprise Architecture, including:

    • Be on time (so, don’t book two meetings back-to-back without time to transfer).
    • Thank the participant for making the time available (at the start and again at the end).
    • Explain the process and its mandate, but do it quickly and don’t get drawn into discussion about it (simply offer to send material later).
    • Mention that you’ll take notes and will send them to the interviewee later for review (this creates the opportunity to ask those follow-up questions). Note that you send the notes for review and validation (as factually correct) but not for approval, since you do not want anyone creating barriers to the use of this material.
    • Introduce each topic before diving in with questions (e.g., “I’d like to understand more about ...”, “I’d like to switch topics to ...”).
    • Write down the reply carefully. If this creates a short silence, then tell the interviewee what you are writing, as a means of validation.

  15. Capture the discussion material

  16. Every discussion you have, as an Enterprise Architect, should be documented using the same format. To simplify this process, I prepare a template worksheet in the Enterprise Architecture workbook that I simply clone (copy) after each interview.
    The template format is straightforward, comprising the following rows:

    1. Interviewee: With the actual name in column B.
    2. Position: With the interviewee’s actual job title in column B.
    3. Business unit: With the actual business unit / department / group / team name in column B.
    4. Date: With the actual date of the meeting in column B.
    5. Purpose: With the primary topic of the meeting in column B.
    6. Role: A short description of what the interviewee does, captured from the introductions at start of the meeting.
    7. Business Activities: There is a row in the template for each of the value-chain functions you previously listed in your worksheet titled Catalog Business Processes. Remember that your interview scripts also map to these same value-chain functions, so there is one row for each of the interview scripts.
      Even when you clone this template, to use it to document a specific meeting, do not delete the rows that seem irrelevant. Simply leave them as empty placeholders. Enter your notes into column B of the rows that relate to the interview script.

    You end up with a (possibly large) number of worksheets in your spreadsheet (the Enterprise Architecture workbook) each of which is documenting a specific meeting, with a specific individual, on one or more specific value-chain activities.

  17. Validate and extend the notes

  18. Once you have typed your notes into a templated worksheet (and put the interviewees name in the tab) you should copy it into an e-Mail with a short thank you note.
    Request that the recipient review the notes you’ve taken and ask that he/she correct any mistakes you’ve made.
    The notes are unlikely to be more than 500 words, so this does not represent an onerous task for the recipient.
    Always, however, ask a specific question or request an example of something that was mentioned (e.g., “Could you send me rules by which you qualify a lead as a sales opportunity please?”). This can sustain your engagement with the interviewee.

  19. Analyse the discussion material

  20. Once you have completed a number of interviews, you will have workbooks documenting each meeting, all in a consistent format.
    You can then review and analyse the information by individual or by connected group.

    I find the most useful means of analysis to be by the value-chain function (or business activity). If you recall, these are now specific rows in each one of your interview worksheets. So, I wrote a very simple macro that builds a set of worksheets, one per value-chain function, and populates them with just the rows relevant to that business activity. These worksheets become a useful means to understand one value-chain function in detail but are also useful input for a project team who may be tasked with providing a solution for that value-chain function (i.e., everything you need to know about Managing Orders and Sales, including who to ask about what ...).

Now that you know how to plan and conduct interviews, click here for some ideas on how to plan and develop a full understanding of the baseline architecture . . .

Blogger: View TechnoMorph's profile on LinkedIn


Alan S Michaels said...

Nigel, you prior posts have been great. They were informative and positive.

[Sorry, but] in this post, you state: "Identify the business activities of the organization’s value-chain. You will never be given the time you need to understand the organization to the level of detail you’d like"

Alternative view: a company has more than one value chain. It should have exactly one value chain for each business unit. To start with one value chain for the company - or starting without one value chain for each business unit - should be contrary to the goal of all Enterprise Architects who want to design correctly.

Step 1 is identifying the list of businesses the company is in; and for each, to have a basic understanding of the industry.

Now that on-demand information vendors (like provide web services that can provide this information in less than a minute for most Global 1000 companies, Enterprise Architects no longer have the once-valid excuse of not understanding their company.

BTW - the other 95 % of your article is fine, even excellent.

Alan S. Michaels

TechnoMorph said...

Shaping comments in a way that advertises your own company is an interesting blogging style but, as you suggest, I feel sure that most Enterprise Architects call upon authoritative sources, like Dun and Bradstreet (D&B), as a means of getting facts and an outline view of the organization and its performance against typical measures.

There is still the need to analyse the company from the perspective of its goals, value-chain and business processes, since it represents the best means for the EA to establish and prove traceability.

Where you state “... It should have exactly one value chain for each business unit ...” you presume a particular style of organization. An EA may (or may not) recommend a simpler “one value-chain per business unit” model. Some styles of organization support a number of value chains in a business unit and, in such cases, the EA may recommend functional or process reuse in areas of synergy across the value-chains.

Sam Semwal said...

Brilliant article, Nigel.

You are right, Alan just wishes others to know about his company.