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The Open Group finalizes Open Agile Architecture standard

The Open Group published a new standard to provide guidance and best practices for enterprise architects transitioning to Agile methodologies for digital transformation.

The Open Group took on the longstanding debate raging over the compatibility and relationship between enterprise architecture and Agile methodologies with the publication of its Open Agile Architecture standard.

The new Open Agile Architecture (O-AA) standard provides guidance and best practices for enterprise architects seeking to transition to Agile in a digital context, with a special focus on the needs of organizations that are undergoing digital transformation.

The Open Group, a global consortium that includes users, vendors, integrators, academics and consultants spanning multiple industries, has developed a portfolio of architecture standards, including The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF) and ArchiMate modeling language for architecture.

Steve Nunn, president and CEO of The Open Group, said the newly finalized O-AA standard would become another "vital tool in the toolbox of an enterprise architect" and address a marketplace need to use the benefits of enterprise architecture in the more rapid and nimble way of Agile methodologies.

"It is absolutely possible to do enterprise architecture in an Agile fashion, and that's exactly what the standard is about," Nunn said during The Open Group's O-AA launch event on Tuesday.  

Agile vs. enterprise architecture

The Agile approach is rooted in software development, with a focus on quick release cycles, continuous delivery and a collaborative team culture. As Agile has spread to other parts of organizations, questions have swirled around how the Agile approach squares with the broad vision and extensive planning that the discipline of enterprise architecture often involves.

Andrew Josey, vice president of standards and certification at The Open Group, said efforts to deploy Agile at scale are too often done at the expense of architecture. He said the new O-AA standard would provide an approach to architect at scale with agility, where digital and Agile transformation go hand in hand.

It is absolutely possible to do enterprise architecture in an Agile fashion.
Steve NunnPresident and CEO, The Open Group

"To focus on the technology required for digital transformation is not enough," Josey said. "Organizational agility is key -- that is, the cultural dynamics of a company are just as important as the technology."

Josey said digital transformation requires autonomous and cross-functional teams that can respond to and act upon rapid feedback loops, with strong problem-solving abilities, while maintaining a "fine balance between freedom, responsibility and accountability." He said the new O-AA standard takes a "human-centered" approach and focuses on relationship building, based on customer-driven, outside-in thinking that relies on tuning underlying assumptions.

Agile architecture training

The Open Group envisions two levels of training on Open Agile Architecture with possible certifications for O-AA team members and O-AA practitioners. Josey said knowledge-based training would target architects and team members involved in digital transformations. Practical training would focus on architects leading enterprise transformations toward an Agile-at-scale operating model.

A sample syllabus for O-AA team member training that Josey showed on Tuesday during an online presentation included topics such as the role of architecture when deploying Agile at scale, insights into business agility, how intentional architecture and continuous architecture complement each other, characteristics of an Agile organization, when and how to use the open Agile architecture building blocks, the axioms for Agile architecture and the mental model change that Agile architecture requires.

The new O-AA standard is available for download through The Open Group's online library. Members can download a 227-page PDF document, ePUB or Kindle file. An HTML edition of the O-AA standard is available for non-commercial use free of charge to anyone who registers for an evaluation copy.

New standard is complementary to TOGAF

Chris Forde, general manager of the Asia Pacific Region and vice president of enterprise architecture at The Open Group, said O-AA would serve as a complement, rather than a replacement, for the more mature TOGAF standard. But he noted that O-AA does come with a "very specific viewpoint" about what Agile architecture is.

For instance, Forde pointed out that TOGAF mentions the need to take into account culture and organization in the context of the enterprise and the enterprise architecture practice. But the means of implementation generally vary because of the difficulty for a particular framework to articulate the situations that exist at every enterprise, he said

"The Open Agile Architecture framework deals quite explicitly with how to take into account those particular types of issues and the current best-practice thinking about how to approach those problems and to consider how you might, as an architect, help your entire organization or your ecosystem," Forde said during the Webex event. 

During an interview on Wednesday, Forde said The Open Group could have "shoehorned" the Agile architecture material into the TOGAF body of knowledge rather than releasing a new O-AA standard, since they both deal with an architected approach to solving business problems. But, he said a different vocabulary had developed around Agile in contrast to the typical way the TOGAF standard is written.

"Not only is the vocabulary different, there is a community of people who view frameworks as a bad thing," Forde said. "So, even putting Agile architecture into a 'framework' of standard context causes some people to rebel. There's some tightly held views on what constitutes the flexibility of an Agile software development space."

The Open Group originally called the new O-AA standard "The Open Group Agile Architecture Framework Standard" and trademarked the acronym O-AAF when it published a draft snapshot in July 2019. The standard that The Open Group published yesterday removes the word "framework" and shortens the acronym to O-AA.

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