• Ken Leung

Business Architecture is a means to an end

Business architecture, as an approach and discipline, has been used in organisations for at least a couple of decades. As an approach, it can be incredibly powerful when applied appropriately. By appropriately I mean, first understand the problem that needs to be solved and then use the relevant tool(s) associated with the approach to solve that problem. As a discipline, it encourages holistic and structured systems thinking that can be adopted to shape systematic change and renewal. Business architecture is often associated with many models or tools. For the uninitiated, business architecture may seem like a ‘dark art’, with strange terms like Value Streams, Process Frameworks, Capability Models and so on. However, if we apply the right tool for the job, it can be very pragmatic and adept at helping organisations to answer questions such as : What capabilities do we need to improve, by how much and in what way ? Where can we, and should, drive automation ? How can we reduce our operating costs ? How can we assure and protect the operational integrity of the business whilst transforming it ?

With such a rich toolkit, it can be confusing for the novice to get to grips with and it can be tempting to try and apply them all at once. Even for the experienced practitioner, it can be difficult to select and apply the right combination of models to solve the problem at hand. The important thing, I believe, is to recognise that the approach and its tools are a means to an end. Often, I see business architects spending a lot of time trying to get the models ‘perfect’. The focus becomes more about creating the models, than trying to solve business problems. The business architecture models become the endgame not the means to get there.

More often than not, business stakeholders, especially senior and executive management are interested in the insight and conclusions that can be drawn from the use of the models rather than the models themselves. So if you’ve got one that can do that, even if it’s a bit rough then just use it. You can always refine it through application.

At Outvie, we recommend that organisations thinking about creating a new business architecture function or models should :

Identify a problem that needs to be addressed

Rather than create a shiny new tool and then try and ‘push’ its application onto the business, it’s better to create a ‘pull’ by addressing a specific problem that has the attention of the business, especially if that problem has the attention of the executive team.

Define the minimal viable product

When trying to solve a business problem, particularly one that has the attention of the executive team, it is very tempting to go all out to create the most sophisticated and comprehensive business architecture with lots of detail, often unqualified by business subject matter experts. Rather than do this, it is often better to focus on the minimal set of models necessary to address the problem at hand. For example, if the business is looking to transform the way it currently operates, and the executive team are at the early stages of discussion, it may be better to focus efforts on a capability model. This will support strategic conversations on the capabilities that need the most focus. Whereas, if the business needs to address costs, without any fundamental change to the operating model, then perhaps a value stream model and a process framework would be more appropriate to enable the analysis of processes to determine where improvements could be made. Once the minimum viable product has been successfully applied, this will help to create the ‘pull’ or demand to extend the business architecture, as required.

Visualise appropriately

Having spent time crafting the various models, it is also tempting to showcase the models in their full splendour. This can often overwhelm stakeholders who find these conceptual models quite alien. It is far better to target the visualisation of the models to answer the specific problem at hand, even if this is not ‘architecturally accurate’. Sometimes creating a bespoke visualisation, informed by the actual models, works best.

Summary

Business architecture is a means to an end. It can be a powerful approach to help organisations diagnose the changes it needs, design the solutions to address those needs, plan the delivery of that change and support its implementation. It is not an end in itself. At Outvie, we’ve been using business architecture approaches for decades and we’ve learnt a lot along the way. If your organisation is contemplating or executing large scale change and would like to understand how business architecture could be leveraged, we’re more than happy to help.

Ken Leung is a Co-founder Outvie Consulting and an expert in business design and transformation.

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