Managing Enterprise Governance: When the Enterprise Outgrows the Span of Control

Discover how EA and governance give managers the necessary tools for streamlining user services and creating platforms that deliver faster and cheaper services.

After toiling for years, enterprise architecture (EA) is now beginning to bear its promised fruits of providing managers with the tools necessary for streamlining services to users, and creating the long-promised platforms to deliver faster and cheaper services. The current push within the federal government to build out the lines of business and service-oriented architecture (SOA) demonstrates this progress.

As we draw closer to realizing these transformational changes in services, we must also begin the process of creating the new delivery platforms they require. Some cautionary words are in order. To develop the platforms through which these services will be delivered, we must rethink the traditional top-down, command and control management structures that govern service delivery today. The organizations responsible for managing the development and delivery of services will likely be loosely federated entities. These entities will be composed of both internal- and external-agency stakeholders, and lack a shared management structure. They require complex governance structures to support their operations.

Defining Your Governance Structures
To work successfully with these multi-tiered organizations, you must define your governance structures. Here are some questions to help you create this definition:

  • Which stakeholders set policy for the enterprise?
  • What are the relationships among all internal and external stakeholders? What is the process flow among them?
  • Who "owns" the product or service at each stage of the process?
  • What are the funding sources? Who controls them? How are the funds allocated among the stakeholders?
  • How are interoperability standards set and managed within the enterprise?
  • How is quality control managed?
  • What processes are use to settle disputes among stakeholders?

Because these new organizations lack a command and control hierarchy, you should anticipate that it will be challenging to get the stakeholders to collaborate and answer these questions. You must create common ground amongst the stakeholders so that they can work together to achieve the level of collaboration required for delivering services. Creativity, as the manager, is also required.

The Link Between EA and Governance
EA as a discipline can generate lots of mischief. It succeeds when new enterprise solutions and service delivery opportunities are identified. But EA does not play a part in making governance structures operational. That is your problem to resolve. Perhaps more enterprise architects should consider governance when recommending solutions?

Any worthy enterprise solution brings together a variety of stakeholders, over whom there is a limited span of control. Many of these stakeholders reside in outside agencies, including state and local government. These stakeholders have generally narrow focuses around a shared service of interest, or the specific service offering provided by the enterprise. And their interest in the enterprise is quite prosaic: How does this initiative impact their ability to provide service? In creating enterprise solutions, the span of the enterprise often outgrows management's span of control for delivering services. Your ability to manage the stakeholder's delivery of results is compromised accordingly.

Consequently, governance is a domain over which no one management discipline exercises exclusive control. It has broader policy implications about how services are linked to a mission and how funds are allocated. Issues of this magnitude require input from a broad spectrum of offices in the management chain. It is not always clear who has the decision-making authority. If your governance structure has multiple owners, then it's either owned by everyone or no one.

To manage these new enterprises effectively, you need to focus on one critical principle: Model enterprise management after the enterprise platform's ability to maintain processes through its span of control. If your governance structure is tightly federated, then you can accommodate more command and control structures. Conversely, if your organizational structure is loosely federated, you can establish and manage agile and strategic governance structures. As a general rule, an enterprise with a broader span will have a more federated management structure and a weaker span of control.

Here are several general questions to measure the degree of control managers have over process:

  • What level of direct "command and control" does the manager have over the major stakeholders in the enterprise? How does the manager use this to direct operations?
  • What level of funding supports this initiative? Is this initiative supported by new funding, or is it considered an unfunded mandate that must be squeezed from existing sources?
  • What is the manager's financial contribution to the total budget of the initiative?
  • How central is the manager's product or service in providing the enterprise service?
  • How many line staff can commit to managing compliance?
  • What type of regulatory enforcement authority does the manager have at the manger's disposal, such as Sarbanes-Oxley Act?

A manager that provides positive responses to these questions has stronger span of control. If you're charged with turning EA blueprints into real enterprise solutions, answering these questions is one of your most important tasks.

One of the greatest challenges in using EA to transform government is matching the governance processes to the span of control. Pragmatism must come into play. You will have greater flexibility in exercising the required span of control if the enterprise is federated. There is nothing worse than establishing strict compliance standards that you can't enforce because of limited staff or funding. Those who must comply will quickly understand that there are limited consequences for non-compliance, and your ability to manage processes will be compromised.

Loosely Federated Governance Structures
Loosely federated governance structures are becoming a common feature in enterprise delivery platforms. It is important to learn about management approaches and industry developments that might help you address the issue of governance. Here are two rules for working with a loosely federated governance structure:

  • Manage the organization lightly and strategically with performance standards, not requirements. This assumes that all a manager really cares about at the end of the day is a product meeting requirements within cost, schedule, and performance standards. How a product meets standards should not be a concern.
  • Use the communities of practice (COP) approach to support the stakeholders involved in the enterprise. It helps them define service needs and requirements. The COP approach helps identify the stakeholders to whom these services are integral. Most importantly, it creates the critical stakeholder buy-in for participation in the initiative.

These recommendations break the traditional command and control strategies for management. You can use several good examples to put them into practice.

A performance-based Service Level Agreement (SLA)—a contract among the stakeholders regarding resource commitments and expected outcomes—is very helpful. The SLA approach assumes that it is the line manager's responsibility to deliver services. This approach also tasks the line manager with determining how to deploy resources so that results fall within time and cost specifications. As long as results meet these specifications, it won't matter to the enterprise manager how the line manager achieved these results. If the products resolve the issues spelled out in the SLA, it won't matter to the enterprise manager what infrastructure or software is used.

The SLA approach is advantageous because it provides maximum flexibility to the line manager, who knows best how to produce the outcomes expected from the resource base. A flexibly written performance-based SLA gives the manager maximum freedom to achieve results. The enterprise manager is not tied to unrealistic compliance standards he can not enforce. And the line manager can achieve results in the manner most reflective of his local operating environment. The SLA approach creates a "win-win" scenario.

The development of the COP approach is also encouraging. Over the past several years, managers have begun organizing the stakeholders around the enterprise-level issues that impact their programs. For example, the geospatial COP assisted the Federal Enterprise Architecture Program Management Office in developing the geospatial profile and identifying priority areas for developing candidate uses of the geospatial profile. These activities help the stakeholder community work collaboratively in the development of solutions that they have identified.

The recently announced SOA Link consortium of 15 SOA vendors is an example of how the COP approach is used within the vendor community. These vendors have committed to ensuring interoperability among their products. It is too early to tell how successful SOA Link will be, but it is a sign of stakeholders banding together to strengthen their voices and create the service platforms required by today's enterprise solutions.

Enterprise service solutions that deliver the promise of EA call for increasingly flexible and imaginative governance platforms. You will see serious transformations in the way the enterprise conducts business, not only in the services delivered, but in the mechanisms through which they are delivered. Communication, flexibility, and collaboration should be key words in your vocabulary as an enterprise architect.