Marc LankhorstPeter Matthijssen

Lean & Enterprise Architecture: Opposites Attract

Over the last two decades, Lean management has proved to be very powerful in improving an organization’s business process performance. During the same time frame, Enterprise Architecture came up as a discipline for controlling the complexity of organizations, their processes, information and IT. At first glance, both approaches appear very different in nature. Where Lean emphasizes local action, rapid learning cycles and bottom-up improvement by those who do the actual work (in the bottom-left quadrant of the figure), enterprise architecture focuses on enterprise-wide coherence, longer-term business transformations, and translating strategy into operations (top-right).

Lean perspective on change and improvement

Lean perspective on change and improvement

EA is often associated with traditional IT processes which are the opposite of Lean, with long lead times and wasteful bureaucracy. Conversely, Lean projects are often viewed as mere local optimizations that fail to see the big picture and miss the substantial gains that can be had by rethinking your business and IT at a more fundamental level.

These differences in both scope and approach may suggest that Lean and EA have nothing to do with each other. However, Lean and EA share a goal: improving organizational performance. Where Lean is focused on ‘doing the work a little bit better every day’, EA has a larger time-span. EA supports us in understanding and acting on larger movements in processes, technology and context. But eventually of course we want to have both. As large as the differences between Lean and EA might seem, we think both disciplines can be combined very fruitfully.

What we see is that many EA practices get lost when seeing and analyzing the big picture. Successful EA requires a strong connection to daily work, projects and people. This is what Lean is all about. On the other hand we see Lean projects fail when IT plays a crucial role (which is hardly everywhere, isn’t it?). In our opinion a strong relationship between EA and Lean, with a common language and good discussions, could be very powerful.

In this blog series, we will show how Lean’s focus on eliminating waste and creating value can be applied to enterprise architecture processes and products. We will also explore how enterprise architecture can be used to design and implement Lean business processes in a coherent manner. From our own experiences as developer of the ArchiMate standard and Lean Sig Sixma black belt, respectively, we will discuss the ways in which both disciplines may complement and enhance each other.

Next in this blog series: Seven Deadly Wastes in Enterprise Architectures.

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