The Art of Change: Fractal and Emergent

Our “The Art of Change: Fractal and Emergent” Executive Report covers
  1. a model of change, showing how the vectors of change are different at different points in the lifecycle, so that agility means different things, depending on where in the lifecycle the product-market is
  2. a discussion of how the meaning of business and the meaning of design are shifting
  3. Jeff Bezos notion of fractal strategy, leveraging it to illustrate how fractal strategy enables intrinsic agility
  4. positioning IT as a leading player on a strategic stage where relationships and business intelligence are key drivers of innovation and agility
  5. the tandem role of strategy and architecture in an agile business and the implications for architects
  6. a fractal notion of leadership, in a business that relies on fractal strategy and tandem architecture to combine intentional goal-seeking with emergent responsiveness

Business strategy and its tandem architecture creates coherence of purpose and concert among the many socio-technical systems, the many smaller pools of action and influence, within an organization, so that bigger, more ambitious, impactful things get done. While embracing emergence or extemporaneous dynamic responsiveness, we also note that strategic differentiation takes intentional focus to align inspired, creative, inventive thought and action so that many contributions of mind, will and hands build the systems that create and sustain competitive distinction in the market.

We borrowed Jeff Bezos’ image of strategy happening fractally at Amazon, and put words to what is done, varyingly, in organizations. The important thing about creating this image of fractal strategy and tandem architecture though, is that it gives us a way to have the conversation about the relationship between strategy and architecture. Why? Because there is inconsistent understanding of the role of strategy, let alone architecture!

In some organizations, strategy is ignored or derided — they claim there is “no strategy,” and that is treated as a point of cultural pride. A point of cultural pride. Hmm, that sounds like identity, which is a key part of strategy.  So strategy in the organization is fractal, with an independent “cowboy” (shoot first and aim after) culture set as the unifier at the corporate level, and other elements of strategy pushed out to the business elements. But as soon as that company wants to achieve something more coherent across its businesses, it finds itself needing to work strategically and architecturally to create a shared intent and the relationship platform for enabling that coherence. So, whether “dynamic, organic, fractal strategy” enters their parlance, allowing them to explicitly talk about intentional and emergent strategy or not, they have to get more intentional if they want to do those bigger things that require concert to make them more the way they would like them to be (Herbert Simon’s wonderful way of defining and motivating design).  

The impetus for writing this report, was an increasing rumbling around the future of IT and EA. Well, of course we know IT and EA has a healthy prognosis. Still, many choose to see IT as a cost-center — one that encumbers with a mish-mash of entangled, brittle systems, and expensive tastes in technology frills that can’t be afforded in lean times, at that. So it is worth articulating the counter-position, don’t you think? Anyway, that’s a key message — articulating the role of IT and architects (product, system and enterprise) in sensing, catalyzing and responding to change.  So the report makes points like:       

“Many of the business capabilities that IT supports and enables have to do with building and maintaining relationships and their information spaces to run the business and create strategic advantage. … 

Relationships, both formal (with codified transactions) and informal (with dynamic, even ad hoc, interactions), are enabled through high connectivity. In Connections, James Burke, commenting on the Gutenberg printing press, observed “the easier it is to communicate, the faster change happens.” Alternately put, new ideas come about through conversations, and conversations through relationships, and increasingly these are digitally enabled and/or enhanced.”  …

“When we recognize that this is a world where organizations increasingly compete on and for relationships, perception, and fidelity, and on information leverage, the strategic role of IT jumps into sharp relief. Place this in a context of change, and IT finds itself with a leading role on the strategic stage. Whether it is playing the role of the proverbial bad guy responsible for runaway costs and change encumbrance or a partner in a landscape-defining dance of change depends very much on how well IT is integrated into strategic decision making — at various levels in a fractal approach to strategy setting.”

and

“Complexity is a key driver of architecture. That is to say, as complexity increases, so does the need for architecture. It is not that we want complexity to go away, for value comes hand in hand with complexity. Instead, we want to harness complexity and, as it were, to tame it so that it serves rather than obfuscates and subverts the value we are creating.”

and

“The role of architects in an agile enterprise, therefore, includes taming the transmogrifying mess created by responsiveness, dynamic learning, and accommodation, even while leading with intentionality to innovatively envisage, build, evolve, and sustain systems and their explicit, enabling and constraining architecture decision sets.”

– Ruth Malan and Dana Bredemeyer, The Art of Change: Fractal and Emergent, Cutter Consortium Enterprise Architecture Executive Report, Vol. 13, No. 5, 2010.

We hope that the Report persuades managers and architects that there is an important relationship between architecture and strategy, and that relationship doesn’t have its foundation entirely in the business side, nor entirely in the technical side — but rather in a partnership where strategy and architecture work together collaboratively. That is, they inform and are informed by each other, enhance and are enhanced by, lead and are led by each other. And I hope that the paper unfolds the salient topics in an accessible manner — accessible across the languages of business and technology — to motivate and enable that dynamic tandem relationship.

The Art of Change: Fractal and Emergent is the first in a two-part series, and focuses on the what and the why. Part Two, The Art of Change: To Lead is To See, To Frame, To Draw focuses on the how. We hope that you find the Fractal and Emergent paper, with its focus on agility through fractal strategy and tandem architecture, inspiring and useful. If so, you can play a role in Part Two, helping us improve it by becoming a reviewer or simply by providing encouragement.

You can download a complimentary copy of The Art of Change: Fractal and Emergent at http://www.cutter.com/offers/artofchange.html.

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