TOGAF – What is it? Should you get certified?

I promised an Accenture colleague I would write this blog after I attended a TOGAF 9 training earlier in the year. So here goes…

What is TOGAF?

TOGAF is an acronym for The Open Group Architecture Framework. It’s a widely used enterprise architecture framework and associated vendor-agnostic architecture development methodology (another meaning for the #ADM TLA!). Arguably it’s the most prominent and reliable one in existence, although many others exist today  most have common elements with TOGAF e.g. Federal Enterprise Architecture Framework (FEAF), ISO/IEC 14252 and The Zachmann Framework etc.

The Framework

adm

TOGAF is an open source architecture framework, with associated guidelines, techniques and methodology.

It tells you “what” you need to do to design an architecture capability.

The Certification

TOGAF is a universally recognised architecture certification. A successful candidate needs to pass two exams (see below)

Why get certified?

At my client – Shell, all architects need to be TOGAF certified. This is because their architecture function follows TOGAF, it’s principles, guidelines and Architecture Development Methodology rigorously. Although my current role is not as an Architect (long story), learning and passing TOGAF certification has been very useful to understand all terminology, roles, process and deliverables. It also enables me to “a seat at the table” during architecture discussions.

What is the process?

The approach I took to get certified was to attend the five day virtual training course, which was run by Global Knowledge for Accenture (mylearning course code: Z99425-0002). Being truly virtual, this in itself was an interesting experience. There were fifteen attendees located around the globe – Europe, Asia, US – and one external instructor based in Canada. For most people this meant the course was at an awkward time of day: 5am start for me, midnight start for the instructor, but those in India lucked out with 9:30am!

We received a voucher during the course allowing us to schedule the TOGAF 9.1 Level 1 and Level 2 certification exams. We were expected to schedule and sit the exams through our nearest Prometric Test Center within 90 days of completing the course.

What were the exams like?

Both exams were taken at a third party testing facility in the same sitting. For me, this was only a 15 minute drive to a dilapidated office building on a small industrial estate. They took it very seriously though – I was ordered to hand over any possessions, searched and then marched to a testing booth with a PC, a wipe-clean notepad and with CCTV monitoring me whilst I sat the exam.

There are two parts to the certification process:

Level1

  • 60 minute closed book exam
  • 40 multiple choice questions
  • Tests your knowledge of the core concepts of TOGAF.
  • The scoring is binary: only one answer is correct, but some are partially correct to try and catch you out. 
  • The pass mark is 55%

For someone like me who hasn’t sat an exam since leaving University back in 2001 – this was a bit of a shock to the system. I’ve always preferred, and performed better in exams that test your understanding of content rather than straight knowledge quizzes. I get bored quickly learning “parrot fashion”. However, I found that with the knowledge I’d gained from the training course and some light revision the night before the exam, this was enough to pass with confidence and well within the time limit. The key success factor for me was the training course. It really was a worthwhile use of my time given the way I like to learn.

Level2

  • 90 minute open book exam
  • 8 complex scenario based questions
  • Tests your understanding of the core concepts of TOGAF.
  • The scoring is graded: only one answer is completely accurate and gets you a perfect score, but others are partially correct to try and catch you out and therefore score lower (or nothing if you select the red-herring).
  • The pass mark is 60%

I haven’t been involved in many pure EA projects before, I’m more experienced in Technology Architecture (lower level of detail) type work. So as expected, answering the scenario based questions proved much easier for me and again I finished within the alloted time. I would state the key success factor here was my background and experience, rather than the training course.

Have I found it useful?

In other words, did I learn anything? Yes, is the simple answer. As mentioned previously, it complements the Accenture’s internal architecture frameworks and methodologies nicely. As you would expect most of the content is common sense, I didn’t come across anything I would consider complicated or that was contrary to my base knowledge. I have learned that from The Open Group’s perspective knowing their exact terminology is as essential as understanding their key concepts, models and methods. It’ll need a bit of short-term cramming to pass the two exams.

Maybe I’ll look into ITIL next?!

Additional Links

Donal’s approach to complex problem solving

There are all sorts of frameworks and whitepapers on this subject. But quite simply, I try to break down complex problems into more easily solvable chunks…

To do this, I use my own take on the Decision Analysis and Resolution (DAR) approach from CMMi.

DAR is a structured, formalized and somewhat long-winded process that helps organize and document complex, high-impact decisions where multiple resolutions are possible and the optimal one isn’t obvious from the outset. It facilitates the objective comparison of alternative solutions using sponsor/stakeholder agreed selection criteria and weighting.

In my role as a Technology Architect, I often use a cut-down DAR to help solve the following types of problems:

  1. Selecting a technology platform, product or application (e.g. Siebel vs SAP CRM vs SalesForce.com)
  2. Resolving complex technical architecture decisions (e.g. Legacy vs Packaged/COTS vs Custom Build)

It’s useful to refer to a previously approved set of requirements or standards when choosing which selection criteria to specify. I’ve often used a client’s Enterprise Architecture Standards, or project specific Functional and Non-Functional Requirements to good effect. Here are some examples of the common core selection criteria I’ve seen:

  • Business Strategy Fit – alignment to business drivers, goals and objectives
  • Functionality Fit – adherence to functional requirements and regulatory compliance etc.
  • Technology Architecture Fit – adherence to technical requirements, reference models, road-maps, strategy, principles and standards
  • Resource/Skills Fit
  • Cost Factors – software, hardware, CAPEX, OPEX, resourcing, licences etc.
  • Implementation Time-frames
  • Barriers to Delivery – impact to/of in-flight programs and initiatives

It may be obvious, but the complexity of your DAR model should be proportional to the complexity and importance of the decision you are making or the problem you are solving. That said, I often use the same, simple scoring and weighting mechanism whatever the complexity (see below). Although I know a few people that prefer Harvey Balls for this – incidentally, did you know there was a MS Word font for this, and even a MS Excel conditional formatting setting?!

For each of the weighted selection criteria, a group of stakeholders and Subject Matter Advisers(SMAs) should discuss and agree on the relative score/multiplier for each option under consideration. This process should be as collaborative as possible, but it often helps if you draft a initial straw-man model prior to the meeting in order for them to review it. Although a clear winner may not emerge straight away, it will at least narrow down the decision to a couple of pivotal areas, focusing the debate and avoiding paralysis by analysis.

For me, the key benefits of this type of approach are:

  • It organises and structures my thinking into a simpler, more manageable process;
  • It enables a more collaborative and consensual approach – this is essential in some client cultures!
  • It objectifies the selection criteria and weighting – it’s not just my opinion;
  • The solution comparison becomes obvious, even to a lay person;
  • The document produced creates an unchallenge-able paper-trail. These types of decisions will come under scrutiny at some point in the future.

What frameworks do you use? My simple process isn’t infallible, nor is it all-encompassing, but it has proven very useful for me in the past.

Getting to “Inbox-Zero” and staying there…

What is “Inbox-Zero”?

It’s about how to reclaim control over your email, reduce stress and increase your attention span.

“Inbox-Zero” isn’t necessarily how many messages are in your inbox, it’s how much of your own brain capacity is taken up by what might or might not be in that inbox. Especially when you don’t want it to be.

Merlin Mann originated this concept, he wrote a book about “making the time to be scared of more interesting things”. Here’s a bunch of articles that describes how he does it: http://inboxzero.com/articles/

Personally, I’ve been able to keep to “inbox-zero” for many years. Here’s how I do it:

  1. I turned off the Outlook desktop alert and taskbar email-notifications and instead I perform periodic email “dashes” a few times a day.
  2. I flag emails for “follow-up” that require further action from me.
  3. Then I use my personalized Quicksteps buttons to file email away quickly and “mark it as read” with one click.
  4. I’ve set up and maintained an Outlook rule to move internal newsletters and circulars to a “read-it-later” folder.
  5. I’ve set up and maintained an Outlook rule to move emails where I’m cc’d to a “low-importance” folder. Once read, I use my Quicksteps again.
  6. I use the Outlook ignore button to remove myself from irrelevant email conversations (thanks to @billglover for the tip).
  7. I use the Outlook cleanup tool to remove lengthy email chains but keep the most recent email response.
  8. I categorise and colour email and calendar entries by project / initiative.
  9. reduced my infobesity by un-subscribing from external sales, spam and marketing emails to my work email address.
  10. (from @conradnajohnson) For old projects create a rule that archives everything from a group of people into a project folder and run it. This can take time when done for the first time. Run it when you go to get a coffee.
  11. (from @conradnajohnson) For other mail just archive everything from a date. If you don’t know what it is, you probably wont need it. Learn how to search better: http://office.microsoft.com/en-gb/outlook-help/learn-to-narr…
  12. (from @conradnajohnson) Make sure your archives are listed in indexing (click into a search, note the new options in ribbon/menu, search tools > search options > indexing options > modify). When you get a new PC the indexing of mailfiles takes time. Always good to check it is building and that you have your archives listed
  13. Make sure everything has a folder and file emails appropriately once you’ve processed then – even if that folder is as generic as “all support message threads”.
  14. Limit your active working mailbox to set period of time or project. Then archive items when the last period or last project is complete.
  15. Configure the “Do not disturb” function on your device to silence ringtones, notifications and alerts during your working/waking hours e.g. http://support.apple.com/kb/HT5463

I agree with Merlin, you’ve got to keeping tweaking your approach to this. Don’t stand still. Keep an eye out for other people’s tips and tricks and add them if they work for you.

“You’ll never stay ahead of this stuff if you don’t recal­i­brate starting today. Give each message as much attention as it needs and not one iota more. Remember the con­tex­tu­ality of triage: if you keep trying to care for dead and doomed patients, you’ll end up losing a lot of the ones who could have actually used your help.”

Please feel free to add your tips in the comments!

Large-scale Systems Integration & Programme Management

A couple of weeks ago, I volunteered to help out Accenture’s  Technology recruitment team by giving an “Guru Lecture” at the University of Manchester on the subject of IT Management for Business. Little did I realise, but this was to be no ordinary lecture. It was on behalf of a not-for-profit company called e-skills, and rather than just talking to one class of undergraduates, the lecture would be webcast simultaneously to all (14) other universities who were following this degree program. A scary prospect for someone like me who isn’t comfortable in speaking to large audiences. I’ve always known this, so have have always tried to challenge myself whenever suitable stretch opportunities arise.

The lecture title and content was up to me as long as it didn’t overlap with any previous or upcoming lectures. I didn’t have much time to prepare anything new, so I refreshed the slides I used for the Warwick lecture earlier in the year.

On my train journey  from London to Manchester, I looked back at some of the learning points from the first time I spoke to students and also the guidance from the e-skills team:

  1. Keep it simple.  It is easy to forget that 18 year olds have a much less developed ‘world view’ than us. Don’t assume any particular level of knowledge – technical, business or otherwise.  If a particular concept is crucial to your talk then give a straightforward explanation first.  Analogies that the students can relate to work well but don’t use acronyms.
  2. Use a top down approach revealing complexity as you progress through the talk. Pin what you’re saying onto real world issues/products/services/experiences that they will relate to.
  3. Focus on five clear key points that you’d like to get across. Tell them what they are at the beginning and again at the end.
  4. Use real life stories, metaphors and humour to illustrate the points wherever possible.  The students will remember the stories and hopefully this will provide the hook for remembering the business/technology message. If the stories involve emotion – ‘frightening’ challenges that were overcome – the euphoria of success – etc. then they will be even more memorable.
  5. Most importantly, you are being billed as an inspirational guru so we need you to be inspirational! Please communicate your enthusiasm for the work you do and the customers you serve in order to inspire the students to commit to work hard and pursue excellence.
  6. Your presentation will be web cast live to students in other universities. There will be multiple cameras focused on you at all times, so you will be asked to stand reasonably still throughout the presentation in order to maintain video and audio quality.  It’s unlikely that this is your normal presenting style so you may want to spend a few minutes beforehand practising your presentation standing still!  Facial expression and hand movements however will be visible to all and extremely important.

Sound advice for anyone giving a webcast style lecture I think.

Once I arrived in the lecture theatre, there was quite a bit of logistical and technical preparation to get through before we kicked off. Getting 14 other universities to connect in was quite a feat!

The presentation itself seemed to go reasonably well, I got over my nerves and into a steady flow after a while. The physical audience was very attentive and engaged, which was apparent with the high standard and quantity of questions at the end.

I was morbidly infobese…

… until I went on an info-diet and curbed my infobesity. I’ve only learned the term infobesity recently, as you would expect it was coined to mean a variety of things, but it typically describes an  over-consumption of information.

A few months ago, probably coinciding with becoming a Dad for the first time, I realised I was bloating on highly addictive info-calories. Situations like this were all too familiar, and only served to compound the problem:

April 06, 2003

I had much less time in the day to keep up with the information fire-hose, which for me could be roughly categorised as email, social media and RSS feeds. I presumed that unless I took some action, this situation would degenerate into chaos.

The pervasiveness of information and interactive systems, combined with the presumed societal acceptance of constant interruptions from information flows, makes it very easy to binge on information. This combination of high availability and high reward value makes information addictive.

The effects are obvious, you just have to travel on the commuter trains in and out of London to notice that over half of the travellers are glued to some form of ereader, tablet, smartphone, free newspaper or even an old fashioned paperback. Not even a greeting or a smile is exchanged.

Unlike Johnny 5, we’re not cut out to be “chrome-breasted info eaters”. There is some research being carried out to test whether there are physical and/or cognitive condition in humans that can result from the over-consumption of information.  I suspect these effects will eventually have an impact on the overall health and well-being of individuals, and in turn, on communities and corporations.

There has to be an easier way to manage “more input, more input!”. Information overload has been around since the introduction of the printing press; this is not a new problem. It has just evolved by the technology that enables it, so I need to use the same such technology to manage it.

To paraphrase Clay Shirky, mine is a case of filter failure not information overload. I needed to make the best use of my time and add filters to those information sources with the best nutritional value.

The rise of the Internet has reduced the economic risks of publishing by allowing more and more information to be published at almost no cost. This means it’s increasingly important for us to create better filters. Having access to information is great, but we need to filter and focus based on what we want to accomplish and what we need.  Although not ground-breaking by any means, here are some of the steps that I have taken so far to curb my information sources and tweak my information filters to become more manageable:

  1. I kept an infobesity diary in a spreadsheet (naturally), much like you would when dieting
  2. I eliminated sources of data with low info nutrition by:
    1. Relentlessly unsubscribing and/or blocking unwanted email (this is time consuming, but very effective)
    2. Cleaning up and consolidating RSS subscriptions
    3. Culling those that I “follow” in Social Media to a manageable amount (worth reading Jim Stogdill’s view on this activity here)
  3. I reduced impulsive / leisure browsing by time-boxing this activity to certain times of the day e.g. during train journeys and when up in the middle of the night trying to soothe my daughter to sleep
  4. I rationalised my information streams and tailored my filters, by:
    1. Striving to maintain zero inboxes for all email accounts (this has had by far the biggest impact on reducing my stress levels)
    2. Improving my follow-up / to-do list process
    3. Subscribing to remaining RSS & SM feeds in Flipboard

The results so far have been liberating, in that I have more free time and less information noise to distract me. Although I’m not finished yet, like when following any diet I will have to remain vigilant. There’s no point in bingeing at the first opportunity I get (i.e. my next holiday).

Please feel free to add any of your favourite hints and tips in the comments, I’m all ears!

This was my first blog

This was my first blog (although I posted it on an internal work blog site some time ago)…

 I am only writing this because I’m currently sat in a significant traffic jam in the middle lane of the M3 with nothing else constructive to do with my time. Luckily I don’t need the loo, yet, and hopefully nobody has died further up the road.
<At this point I’ve already resorted to turning off the ignition and listening to my iPhone, in order to conserve my Alfa’s surprisingly untemperamental battery. I may be tempting fate here, but since Bosch have provided the electrics for Alfa Romeos, they’ve had a much better reputation for reliability.>
I’ve attempted to list the other reasons, apart from apathy, for not bothering to write a blog before now. They key ones are:
·         I’m lazy and prefer consuming content rather than creating and contributing it;
·         There has been nothing obvious or interesting enough for me to want to share it, and to be honest, I haven’t actually spent any time thinking about what I’d write about up until now;
·         When I’m not on a mental SI project, my evenings are sacred. In general I will try to play rugby, football, run, swim or cycle straight after work, and then cook and eat dinner with my wife (as my Plus3 profile proves)
So what’s changed?
·         I have no internet connection from where I’m sat, so I can’t connect to the internet and read stuff;
·         I have surprisingly clear email inboxes, which is one of the only positive habits I’ve picked up over the years. So have no work or social emailing to catch up on;
·         My work to-do list is incredibly short at the moment – I’ve even filled in my Career Development Plan. This is because I’m ramping down and transitioning my project related responsibilities whilst I wait for my wife to give birth to our first child (she’s officially due in 2 days time). After that I plan to take up to three weeks paternity leave / holiday – a luxury I know a lot of my Accenture colleagues don’t have. It’s interesting how policies different so acutely from country to country. This could be a future blog post…
Anyway, the actual content/point of this blog begins here.
I came to the realization some time ago that I’m a habitual creator of lists. I think it was around the time when I first had to actually plan my own work/time effectively which coincided with preparing and revising for my first set of real grown-up exams, GCSEs.
<I’m sure the people in the car in front are weeing into a dog-bowl and tipping it out the window, pity I didn’t get a photo!>
Since then, I’ve kept lists using different types of nomenclature and using various tools and techniques. MS OneNote, MS Outlook Tasks, MS Excel, XMind and RememberTheMilk have been passing fads, but I’ve always reverted back to pen and paper. I find it funny that other signing my name at the bottom of greeting cards that my wife has written, the only time I use a pen and paper these days is to maintain my to-do list. I don’t even sign for Credit Card purchases much these days due to Chip & Pin. Come to think of it, I’d struggle massively if I suddenly had to revise and sit any serious exams these days, it’d take weeks of training to get back up to the speedy scribbling rates required.
For a while the computer based tools were interesting, but not very useful for increasing the productivity or effectiveness of my list keeping. The effort to capture info offline and then enter it was annoying. When I first got a smartphone (maybe that’s another blog subject: my potted mobile phone history) then I began to re-use electronic lists. However, entering information on a smartphone in a meeting didn’t really catch on. Even now, with the advent of tablets, I still haven’t noticed many people taking them along to meetings to record minutes, notes and actions.
My latest inspiration for a new type of list today came via a post on Yammer: A To Don’t List. Essentially, this is where you list what you have decided not to do.
My first attempt is below – apologies if it looks a bit like a verse from Baz Luhrmann’s Sunsreen!
·         Don’t hit the snooze button;
·         Don’t stop learning;
·         Don’t neglect family;
·         Don’t neglect exercise;
·         Don’t settle for mediocrity;
·         Don’t CC people unnecessarily;
·         Don’t make excuses, make a decision;
·         Don’t assume the solution before diagnosing choices;
·         Don’t avoid the big issues;
·         Don’t forget to be human;
·         Don’t email the team or client before/after hours.
<A chap in a car in the outside lane just offered me a bottle of water, but I declined what a nice gesture given the circumstances but I declined. I don’t fancy leaving my car marooned in the middle lane so don’t plan on re-hydrating until it gets serious. Although I’ve noticed he has a bumper packet of Penguins in his boot, so if he offers me one I won’t say no.>
I’m going to test drive it for a week or so and make updates as I see fit. Please feel free to comment with your own lists or any suggestions for additional “to-don’ts”.
<The traffic seems to be moving up ahead, but one final note: I’ve discovered that there’s a high proportion of good songs in my collection beginning with “I”. >​

=Donal