EA Tips: Anchor Models
Anchor models are context diagrams that capture the essence of the enterprise as a simple graphic. They should be equally meaningful to both business and IT personnel and should be so intuitive that they don’t require a multi-page text narrative to understand. While we see many models created by EA teams, most are lower level “IT” models of business systems or technology components. Even models that attempt to represent the entire enterprise tend to be IT-oriented. While these models can be very useful, they don’t serve the same purpose as an anchor model.
The term “anchor model” represents a concept, not a specific format. In our experience there is no such thing as the perfect template for an anchor model. The model must resonate with the broadest audience in as natural a way as possible. Therefore, the model should be in the language of the business it is depicting and is “good” only if it is meaningful to that organization. We have seen wildly different representations from different companies, yet each turned out to be exactly the right model. It’s one of those “you know it when you see it” phenomenon. When it is right, the model just makes sense.
Anchor models are basically top-level context diagrams describing the “enterprise”. They go by various names: company on a page, enterprise value network (EVN), concept of operations, operating models, root models, etc. These diagrams serve multiple purposes:
- As a consistent view of the company – a context for common understanding, language/terminology, etc. It allows everyone to get on the same page in the simplest, most direct way possible, representing a “big picture, enterprise view”.
- As a root for other derivative models (business, information architectures, business capability portfolios, etc.)
- As a credibility building tool for the IT executives in interactions with their business counterparts
- As a base model to super-impose various information systems, exposing overlaps, duplication, etc.
Creating a “good enough” initial anchor model is more art than science. It is a people-driven, collaborative exercise. A “starting point” model created by a sponsor usually helps kick off a productive session. We consistently observe several behaviors associated with the process, both good and bad, and have several tips to help you. Here are just a few:
- Anchor models can be controversial and are challenging to create. Don’t let that stop you from trying.
- Find passionate, business-knowledgeable people to start. Ideally, an anchor model should be something created by the business, not IT. An EA group is often the instigator to its creation and should act as catalysts to the process and not owners of the model.
- Not everyone is going to be happy. Someone will always object to something in the diagram, and the tendency is to just “make it a little better”. Our advice, work in a small group and time-box the activity. We suggest a few hours initially.
- Keep it simple, simple, simple, including only the significant parts of the organization. Resist the tendency to try to include everything a business does.
- Look at value networks, internal and external to the organization. Expose internal functional blocks, flows of information and services in/out/between them. Include the full range of external stakeholders and the interactions with them in the diagram (customers, suppliers, partners, regulators/government, etc.)
- Catalog your desired “functional hierarchy” to understand the main business functions performed. Avoid organizational constructs (departments, divisions, etc.). They are fluid and will undoubtedly change. Make your models as timeless as possible.
- Relationships are at the heart of anchor models. Understand the flows of information (not data models) and how functional elements relate.
- Timing is everything. We have seen good anchor models get no traction when presented to the wrong people at the wrong time.
There are many more tips that we can suggest. If you have a successful anchor model that resonates with your business, let us know. We’d like to hear your experiences and will share any other general pointers back to the community.
A strong anchor model, once complete, appears so obvious that many wonder why it was created. But that misses much of the point. It is the process of creating it that often yields the highest value.