COMMUNITY: Architect

As Published In
Oracle Magazine
November/December 2010


Agile Enterprise Architecture

By Bob Rhubart


Can enterprise architecture and agile development get along?

Enterprise architecture and agile development methodologies share common ground in that they are both decision-making frameworks. But where enterprise architecture focuses on a future vision for the entire enterprise, agile development’s focus is on project delivery. Enterprise architecture is about where the enterprise has to be tomorrow. Agile development is about where the project has to be today. Is there a basis for a lasting friendship here, or are these two headed for a cage match?

A significant aspect of this rocky relationship is the difference between top-down architecture and bottom-up architecture, according to IT consulting firm Approach Alliance’s Ronald van Luttikhuizen, an Oracle ACE director specializing in SOA and middleware.

“Top-down architecture, which is typically enterprise architecture, works toward a long-range vision, perhaps 5 or 10 years out,” van Luttikhuizen explains. “Bottom-up architecture addresses questions coming out of projects right now—questions that should be answered quickly.” And that’s the essence of agile development.

Aligning top-down and bottom-up architectures can improve the ability to quickly make project-level decisions that support the long-range vision. “But if either the top-down or bottom-up architecture is missing, you’re not going to end up in the situation you want,” warns van Luttikhuizen. “You need both types of architecture to succeed as an organization.”

Getting those top-down and bottom-up ducks in a row requires nothing more complicated than getting buy-in from architects, developers, and other stakeholders at all levels of the enterprise. How hard can that be?

“Architects feel like they have the big picture, they have the business continuity and the strategy tied in,” says Jason Stallings, a senior director with Oracle’s Enterprise Architecture Group. “But the developer is saying, ‘I know how to build it, but I don’t necessarily need all of this analysis.’”

Add to the difference in top-down and bottom-up approaches the sometimes-fuzzy understanding of the enterprise architect’s role.

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“The value proposition of an architect is not clearly understood in a lot of organizations,” says Ron Batra, a director of product development at AT&T and an Oracle ACE director. He suggests that enterprise architects get involved at the project level in order to demonstrate that value.

“Enter a project or an engagement as an architect, and work at the level needed initially to make some key decisions,” says Batra. “It’s critical to sell the value proposition up front so that the architects can lay the groundwork.”

The objective is to end the perception of architects as obstacles to project completion, and to instill the understanding that taking time to address enterprise architectural considerations will increase a project’s overall value to the organization.

“When you have convinced the others of the value of architecture,” says van Luttikhuizen, “they’re willing to wait a few weeks for a solution.”

Architects, in turn, can learn something from the agile development methodology.

“Agile forces architects into conversations instead of taking another six or nine months trying to finish the next version of the enterprise architecture,” says independent architect and Oracle ACE Director Mike van Alst. Those conversations with development teams can head off the myopia that can threaten enterprise architecture.

“I’ve been involved in projects in which architects took six months to write very large, heavyweight architectural documents,” says van Luttikhuizen. “Then, in the first weeks of designing and developing the actual system, you see that there are new problems because architects are not almighty. They don’t know everything up front. So the architectural document ends up in a drawer and nobody looks at it again.”

In the end, if enterprise architecture and agile development can be viewed by all concerned as different perspectives on the same objective, the gap between them may shrink. And while a hand-in-hand walk into the sunset may not be in the cards, there is the possibility of a peaceful, productive coexistence.


Bob Rhubart ( is manager of the architect community on Oracle Technology Network, the host of the Oracle Technology Network Arch2Beat podcast series, and the author of the ArchBeat blog.



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