Friday, February 20, 2009

Approaches need to be instantiated to be useful

Approaches need to be adapted to the environment in which they are to operate. The initial adaptation may be to an enterprise and the approach may be further adapted to specific units, uses or projects within an enterprise. Knowing how an approach should be adapted usually requires and understanding the principles underlying the approach and experience in applying the approach in a range of different circumstances.
Some approaches have a 1st step that is to undertake instantiation, so one could consider these generic approaches to produce results universally. The reality is that frequently the instantiation doesn’t really take place, often because the practitioners lack a sufficiently robust understanding of the principles and issues. This often results in attempts to follow a generic set of steps by rote.

Why care about approaches
Most knowledge oriented organisations want to achieve: quality results, continuous improvement and excellence of execution. Well defined approaches are critical to achieving these things. An approach ensures services are delivered in a consistent and repeatable way, and assists in classifying and collating knowledge (including in some cases artefacts).
Approaches are also used as a mechanism for reflect best practice (steps that are known to be required, techniques that work etc.). An approach may often involve best practices from several areas e.g. an approach to strategy & architecture may involve useful elements of a number of EA “frameworks”, elements of programme & project management disciplines, etc.

What do we mean by approaches
An approaches includes a process (a sequence of operations i.e. a set of steps), a set of tools and techniques, sets of constructs and artefacts (e.g. deliverables ), a number of roles. Approaches should:
  • be based on principles, patterns and exemplars so that they can be easily adapted (e.g. for organisations or projects).
  • be supported by appropriate tooling (systems, solutions, tools), semantics (language, notation, syntax and format) and associated techniques are key to the effective use of approaches that aim to deal with complexity.
  • provide an overview for experienced practitioners. It should not be expected that anyone other than an experienced practitioner, or someone mentored by an experienced practitioner can successfully apply the approaches as attempts to obviate the need for the judgement are doomed to failure ).
Approaches can always be improved and we need to constantly assess approaches for gaps, areas of improvement etc.

What do we mean by experienced practioners
Experienced practioners are a critical to the successful implementation of approach. They stay abreast of industry and academic developments. They seen success and failures, both appling the approaches themselves and having supported others in applying them. Ideally they are open minded and realise that in immature disciplines in particular the various apparently divergent approaches being advocated by different groups may all have insights to offer. They are able to QA the results of an approach. And s a result of all of the above they are able to instantiate an approach.

What do we mean by an instantiated approach

Approaches need to be adapted to reflect many things including:
  • culture and language – both the social and organisational cultures (including of course regulatory and legislative environments), and the terms and terminology being used
  • size and nature of the organisation – clearly an approach suited to 1 person or a small team may differs from an approach suited to a large team, enterprise or sector
  • focus and orientation – approaches are often oriented at achieving set of goals and measures. The priorities (of the people seeking to apply the approach) and therefore how the approach should be applied varies. We could think of gross measures e.g. are we more focused on cost (to own, operate etc.), time (e.g. speed), risk avoidance (e.g. robustness, safety), etc. Clearly the approach to constructing road transport solutions differs in different circumstances e.g. formula one cars, urban transport, rural transport, fuel economy rallies etc.
  • tooling and technology – many approach are defined independent of the tooling and technology. This usually mean: the approach in generic terms (that may be hard to understand or ensure consistent application of the term), and that the approach may not take advantage of the features and benefits of classes of technology.
When an approaches has been instantiated we should have a succinct unambiguous set description of what needs to be done, by whom, how, where and when, using what etc.

Notes on terms
Approach - I prefer the term approach to the term method (or methodology).
Constructs - Systems, database, models, technologies etc.
Deliverables - A Miessian view of deliverables distinguishes work products (which are not delivered per se) from deliverables that are the final products delivered.
Exemplars - Examples are believed represent best practice
Approach overview - check lists, templates, exemplars, tips on techniques memory joggers etc.
Approaches with expertise - an approach is not a silver bullet

1 comment:

  1. Michael thanks for this post. I am still struggling with the fact if I want to go for Togaf 9. I need to start somewhere in this area. I agree with the viewpoints you express here, though I think that some people in the organisation do not want to learn (something usefull) but like to do what they always did.