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Navigating change: The strategic impact of minimum viable architecture in enterprise development

Av Basam Odisho

In the dynamic world of product development, agility and adaptability are always of paramount import. This has always been true and is evident throughout history looking back to the industrial revolution and beyond. The organizations that adapt best to the times and opportunities are the most successful.

Traditionally, when talking about architecture, especially in an enterprise context, no matter the size of an organization or the domain it operates within, things tend to be approached rigidly. Every detail within the architecture needs to be accounted for, documented, signed, and sealed up front before anything can be done. Though thorough and cohesive, this approach has often proven exceedingly slow and thus unsuitable for today’s rapidly evolving technological landscape. Hence, enters Minimum Viable Architecture (MVA). A concept that aligns architectural decisions with business goals while maintaining flexibility for future growth.


What is Minimum Viable Architecture? #

To understand the concept of Minimum Viable Architecture (MVA), we need to take a quick look at what we have learned from the fast-paced world of software development and its agile development methods. To be sure, there are quite a few different methods to cater to organizations of any taste. But the successful ones all promote a continuous iteration of development and testing throughout the lifecycle of any endeavor. As well as promoting a healthy dose of emphasis on responding to external changes over fixating on roadmaps that might not be quite right anymore.

One of the primary elements of the agile methodologies is something called Minimum Viable Product (MVP). This refers to the creation of a product with minimum functionality required to deliver a usable product to its early adopters. If we scale this idea and approach and apply it to a whole enterprise, we can call this a Minimum Viable Architecture.

Minimum Viable Architecture as a strategy #

To successfully implement an MVA, we first need to understand the nature of the business it operates. We tend to focus solely on the business goals, but as important are the people involved. What are their values, their goals, their priorities and challenges as business providers or consumers? Mapping this out will identify the players and problems that need to be overcome. Help to distinguish between what is a must have requirement and what is good to have. Also, an important and often forgotten aspect, what is architecturally significant and what is not.

Doing this can be difficult and daunting, but through perseverance, context and patterns will emerge from the haze of the unknow. Reference models can be found. Standards, principles, and priorities can be attained to which to build a roadmap. A roadmap that defines the minimal realizable architecture that adds genuine business value to the organization in the fastest possible time. An architecture that is essential, practical, and aligned with immediate needs. In short, a Minimum Viable Architecture.

One and One makes Three #

Now that we understand the MVA approach to architecture, we can clearly see that it does not prescribe a way of modeling, documenting, or governing architecture. This means that you can apply MVA principles to most, if not all, architecture frameworks.

Consider The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF), one of the worlds most used enterprise architecture frameworks, which includes a robust method of creating architecture called Architecture Development Method (ADM). While TOGAF tries to consider and cater to every eventuality, MVA emphasizes delivering the minimum viable architecture per context. It focuses on enabling just enough guidance on risks, standards, and best practices to achieve the desired outcome.

When incorporating MVA with TOGAF, architects can simplify the prescribed guidelines to identify the essential architectural elements needed for a minimum viable architecture and still adhere to time tested methods of documentations and governing. Thus, ensuring a smooth transition to subsequent contexts while delivering value incrementally, and avoiding unnecessary complexity without compromising proper oversite.

Some final words #

Understanding the business and its people is critical to getting the most out of a Minimum Viable Architecture strategy. It demystifies and grounds the architecture in factual requirements, manages business expectations and creates a semblance of control in an often-chaotic environments. It helps us to strike the crucial balance between addressing the most critical wants, and staying flexible enough to address the fringe wants as they arise. It also helps keep core technologies intact while incrementally evolving capabilities, keeping the architecture practical and consistently delivering value.

Moreover, adopting an MVA approach not only ensures the ability to swiftly respond to evolving business needs as they arise. It promotes cost-efficiency by discouraging over-design and enabling early identification and mitigation of risks, as requirements are broken down into their base components, hopefully averting potentially costly issues in the future.

Lastly, its feedback driven approach encourages constant refinement, aligning the architecture with stakeholder expectations for optimal performance and satisfaction.

To learn more #

To learn more about TOGAF, or agile ways of working and get the tools of the trade to best leading and architecting your business into the future, please check-out Biner’s excellent resources and courses.

This article is written by one of our senior consultants, Basam Odisho. To learn more about Basam, please visit https://www.biner.se/en/about-us/co-workers to learn more.