Lean Architecture Principle #8: Focus on the Value Stream

15 Jul, 2010
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This is the eight post in a series of blog posts discussing Lean Architecture principles. Each post discusses one principle. Applying these principles results in an architecture (process) that is better connected to the business, better able to deal with change and more cohesive. The eight principle we discuss is called "Focus on the value stream".
Consider a typical IT department organized by specialism: all developers in one group (consisting of several teams), testers in another group, analysts in a third group, and so on for architects, project management, etc., etc. Projects in such an organization are inevitably divided among all these groups. For each of these groups getting a grasp of the bigger picture of each project is difficult at least. One of first algorithms I was taught at my IT education was "Divide and Conquer". This may work for your average IT algorithmic problem, but my argument is that it should be executed with high care especially when applied to the organization of IT. When divided wrongly these subgroups lose their focus on the value stream of the business. Performing enterprise architecture in such an environment easily turns into the proverbial ‘ivory tower architecture’.
The principle Architecture Initiated by Business Goals described how the business vision and strategy should drive the enterprise architecture. The opposite view is that enterprise architecture always needs to keep in mind the business drivers, vision and strategy and the actual business processes in place. These actual business processes form the value stream in your business. Thinking lean, all activities in your business -including architecture- should add value in the value stream. So why not start with your activities today: what have you done to add value to the value stream of your business, and what of your activities can be considered wasteful ?
What are examples of architectural work adding value to the value stream ? Consider the value stream of a typical online book store: filling the catalogue, attracting visitors, searching and selecting books, payment and checkout, and finally delivery. Examples of architectural work directly connected to this value stream:

  • Investigating the best way to integrate with partners that provide catalogue information on the books, both static information (book details) as dynamic information (books available, delivery period). How to effectively combine all this information from all these partners.
  • Analysis of the best search method: is sematic search possible, and what technology can be used to implement this ? Conducting a proof of conduct to introduce new search technologies
  • How to integrated with payment services in such a way that customers can pay quickly and easily to prevent customers aborting their order.

Obviously, the Connection part of the 3 C’s of architecture is directly addressed by this principle. Applying this principle will ensure that architects are focussing on what adds values for the business. "Buy in" by the business for your plans is easier achieved, because they recognize their own vision and goals in the architecture vision and goals. Applying this principles also helps to achieve Changeability because you will know what the most likely areas for change are and therefore you’ll know where flexibility makes sense in the architecture.
This was the eigth in a series of blog posts on Lean Architecture principles, the next one will follow in about a week.

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