Building Bridges in the Software Value Chain through Enterprise Architects

In these tough economic times, business leaders are being truly cautious to fund new IT projects as most of the projects they have been associated with were either over budget or did not meet the end users expectations.

One common reason a project is delayed or does not meet end users expectations is the misalignment between the development organization and the support organizations. There has been a lot of buzz around Business and IT alignment in the Enterprise Architecture and Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) articles, but not much discussion around misalignment between the development organization and the support organizations. This misalignment is one of the major reasons why projects get delayed or end users expectations are not met.

Michael Porter created the following model to demonstrate the value chain of any firm.

Software Value Chain

Software Value Chain

According to Porter, primary activities relate directly to how value is created for a product or service. Support activities make the primary activities possible through the management and coordination of the different activities.

The idea of this model is to demonstrate how any firm should have the primary activities and support activities aligned to attain maximum enterprise value. The key idea here is that support activities provide the backbone and the infrastructure upon which the primary activities can be executed for maximum efficiency.

I decided to apply Porter's Value Chain to software projects to highlight how misalignment between primary and support activities can derail the project. I categorized primary activities to true software development which actually produces deployable code, while support activities facilitate and enable the actual delivery of software product.

Software Value Chain

Software Value Chain

Every software project involves people, processes and technology. People from different backgrounds join the project as developers, project managers, testers, administrators, business analysts etc. Organizations hire specialists in each of the areas and establish a well defined software development cycle (SDLC) . Everybody is trained on the technologies being used to do their jobs efficiently.

In most organizations, the Project Manager acts as the bridge across the different groups but most project managers do not have the technical expertise to be the bridge, because the truth of the matter is each group speaks a different language, has different priorities and a project manager who is not fluent in either language and typically the loss in translation leads to delay in projects.

The other supporting activity that we have observed that causes delay but is not considered an obvious culprit is ineffective communication. Communication about the project should be done from multiple perspectives such as end users, developers, deployers and managers. The most common actors in the communication medium are project managers and executives who cannot communicate from all the above viewpoints.

The most effective connectors are Enterprise Architects. Enterprise Architects are senior resources who understand the various viewpoints and can speak the right language to the right group at the right time. They can truly act as the bridge between the development team, infrastructure team, business analysts, project managers, QA team, end users and senior management.

Since one enterprise architect cannot embody all the perspectives effectively, organizations can form an enterprise architecture group that has experts within but together cover all the perspectives to align the primary activities and secondary activities.

There are several frameworks and literature around setting up enterprise architecture groups and the activities they could be involved in, but the point of this article was to apply Michael Porter's model to highlight the gaps that an Enterprise Architecture Group can fill to make the software value chain successful in your organization.