April 11, 2008

Analysis Paralysis and Enterprise Architecture

Enterprise architecture is a planning (and governance) function. Planning is a valuable endeavor when it is used to drive meaningful change (outputs and outcomes). One of the worst things that can happen to a well thought out plan is for it to sit unused, collecting dust, until it is simply obsolete. What a waste of time and money. And what of the lost opportunities for the organization to grow and mature and serve it stakeholders better, faster, and cheaper.

Often, one of the reasons a plan never goes anywhere is that an organization is stuck in “analysis paralysis,” an unfortunate mode where leaders are not able to conclude the analysis phase, make a final decision, and move on—implement/execute. Instead, leadership is paralyzed by fear and indecision.

The Wall Street Journal, 10 April 2008, reports that “No Italian Job Takes Longer Than This Bridge: Proposed 142 Years Ago, Plan for Link to Sicily Is Now Campaign Issue.”

Shortly after the birth of modern Italy in 1865, the government began preparing to build a two mile span linking the island of Sicily to the mainland. The bridge…was to be the physical symbol of the country’s unity. It has been in the planning ever since, and over the years. Experts have studied the bridge’s impact on everything from the Mediterranean trade to bird migration. But ground has yet to be broken, making the bridge an emblem of the chronic indecisiveness that links Italy to the past.”

Is the bridge the only example of analysis paralysis in Italy?

“With a price of nearly…$7.9 billion, the bridge is an example of profligate public spending. Many say Italy is littered with half-finished projects.”

Many argue that with its endless planning, the nonexistent Sicily bridge is little more than a costly ruse. ‘It’s a bottomless pit for funding.’…In more than 20 years of operation, the company created to build the bridge…has spent just $235 million…To be sure, nothing has been done with the money.”

So the Italian bridge that was supposed to unify a country, be a architectural marvel and an engineering feat (“because of the swift currents, earthquake-prone shores, and great distance) has been an endless series of plans, drawn up and thrown into the drawer.

Unfortunately, plans like this bridge—that never get finalized and go nowhere—are a defeat for organizational progress. They are a waste of resources and drain on people’s creativity, talent, and morale.

As an enterprise architect, it is an imperative to complete the plans that we start and to work with leadership to implement them. Of course, over time, we need to course correct and that is a natural part of the process. But if we never “get off the dime” and embark on the journey, then as an organization we may as well be doing something else—something worthwhile!



navywings said...


I have a quote posted above my desk: "In a culture of concurrence, you'll never have innovation and in a culture of empowerment, you'll never have concurrence." I think this is a primary driver of analysis-paralysis.

I think senior leaders push the mantra of EA without really knowing what it's going to gain them in the long term. I mean, REALLY know and believe what it will gain them.

In our implementation, the "establish governance" phase is being done during the EA development and implementation phase vice the second thing that should have been done. Now it's quite difficult to gain traction with other organizations. Leaders NEED to grant the authority for governance groups to form AND to carry decisional authority to carry out the bulk of the work of EA. Failing to do that leaves architects and implementers the necessary authority to move forward. Instead, they're relegated to many power point briefs stating what they'd like to do rather than implementing a good 80% solution and ironing out the kinks later.

Groups that take too long in the planning and analysis stage without adding real value to EA risk being disbanded.

Andy Blumenthal said...

Navywings -

I agree with you about the need for the governance groups to enforce the EA and for implementing the 80% solution and evolving this, rather than waiting for a garden of eden type perfection.