Building Business Architecture That Endures

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Author(s)

Enterprise Business Architect, Wells Fargo & Company
Andrew Guitarte is a Digital Business Architect Leader and Management Consultant with 29+ years of work experience in the financial, IT, government, and small business industries in the US and Asia. Mr. Guitarte is the founding Chairman of Business Architecture Society based in the San Francisco Bay Area. As an avid sportsman, he equips “corporate athletes” to make a difference in the workplace through his company, Enduraman Corporation. Mr. Guitarte is an Adjunct Professor and Doctoral Candidate in Business Administration at Golden Gate University.

Two of my biggest passions are business architecture and participating in endurance events like an Ironman® or an ultramarathon.  Having excelled in both over the years taught me a few lessons.  At the end of the day, every business architect’s goal to improve decision-making and accountability for business outcomes is not much different from an endurance athlete’s goal to win.  I even coined the term “endurance architect” to aptly describe what I do.  In my opinion, an endurance architect is someone who can bring the lessons from the playing field to the boardroom and vice versa to achieve sustainable profitability and/or self-actualization.  How do we achieve these lofty goals?  Let me start with the nuances of strategy and outline the steps of achieving success through strategic co-alignment, with examples from an endurance architect’s point of view.

What is strategy?

The word “strategy” comes from a Greek word that means “the art of the general”.  Business architects (who in some organizations are enterprise architects) are oftentimes in a position to practice “the art of the general.”  A business architect contributes to shaping the long-term goals of the organization, allocating resources, and governing the successful achievement of these goals.  This requires a business architect to be knowledgeable with strategy formulation techniques such as industry analysis, environmental scanning, organizational configuration and fit, strategic marketing, and organizational design.

Strategy is both a formulation of senior managers who meet in strategic planning sessions as well as something that mid-level managers form on a daily basis to respond to change.   I prefer this dynamic way of thinking that strategy is both a concept and process.  This ensures that the organization maintains alignment with the environment as well as alignment with the interdependencies internal to the organization.  Every strategy influences an organization’s operating model and changes that affect the organizational structure and process can influence strategy.  Every enterprise change should maintain this co-alignment to achieve the intended benefits.  Enterprise architects and business architects play a dominant role in this co-alignment task by defining an enterprise architecture that aligns with the business strategy and operating model.

In the world of endurance sports, a successful team or athlete possesses a strategy for success.  Motivation and effort will only bring you so far.  The other part of hard work is to listen and be aware of your surroundings so that you can adjust and adapt quickly to uncertainty.  I can compartmentalize my annual training schedule, for example, to build a strong foundation and peak for a couple of “A” races where I have a good chance of winning.  That means saying “no” to races where I can’t compete well.  But based on my daily training results, I have the ability to adjust my goals to take advantage of my renewed strength or prolonged recovery after an injury.  I’m always sensing and responding in order to establish the right balance for the achievement of my long term goals.

Lead and lag

Here’s the paradox. If I want my organization to be agile, I standardize my processes and integrate my data used by my processes.  But now I’m limited to a set of standardized processes to produce something.  I have to learn to reuse to benefit from my standardization task which can then limit my options.  How then do I establish a balance between standardization and business agility?

Adopt a “lead and lag” tactic (Miles & Snow, 1978).  Lead by integrating data across processes to have a single source of truth about my customer and organization.  This serves as a foundation to spawn future processes that capture opportunities. Lag by reorganizing my organizational structure and processes in response to changing and emerging business strategies.

Whenever I can, I craft a race strategy and plan for every running race I join.  I most certainly do this for any endurance event that lasts more than an hour.  If my strategy is to do a negative split, then I plan to run the first half conservatively.  However, if I’m feeling good on race day, I can up the ante during the first half but still listen intently to my body’s overall well-being.  I then adjust my pace accordingly.  I can take a risk but tempered with discretion.  I lag in terms of pace depending on how I perceive my effort at any point in time.  However, I can lead with hydration and nutrition depending on the microclimate on race day.  I take my electrolytes, carbohydrates, and water proactively and as scheduled.  I drink before I get thirsty, for example.  I cannot afford to lag because I lose precious time due to a slower pace brought about by neuromuscular fatigue and possibly mild dehydration.

Systems thinking

An organization is a complex system and complicated systems produce unexpected outcomes, according to the Generalized Uncertainty Principle (also known as the Heisenberg Principle).  The role of administration is to diminish this uncertainty by instituting structure and process.  However, the new structure and process can lead to new problems and sources of uncertainty.  That’s probably one of the reasons why strategies emerge from the “stream of decisions” that managers make on a daily basis (Mintzberg, 1985).  Managers need to devote energy to solve these problems.  Ironically, new systems that create new problems may consume the energy it was meant to save. 

Try running on a brand new pair of racing shoes on race day and you’ll know what I mean.  Once you get past the discomfort of “breaking in” the shoe, you’re already behind your race finish time goals.  Wasted energy can come in the form of adjusting your running form to not aggravate a “hot spot” that’s developing, for example.  Worse, you lose your mental focus because now you’re playing catch up with your time goals.  You’re slowing down instead of finishing fast.  But wasn’t finishing fast exactly what you wanted to achieve when you bought your brand new pair of racing shoes?

Business capability

Another principle in systems thinking is that “a complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked” (Gall, 1977).  This is the kind of tacit knowledge that business architects bring to the team.  You cannot start to implement a large enterprise change effort without understanding how it impacts the working components of the organization.  This may seem obvious but that’s exactly what happens when you deploy projects in an ad-hoc manner.  You cannot build a complex system such as a new organizational structure and process to align with strategy from scratch.  You need to find out what currently works and what needs to change to make it work.  This assumes that you have a good grasp of how the organizational structure interacts with its technology and processes.  This enterprise view of the business aids in decision-making and in designing complex enterprise change.

I often think that an endurance athlete possesses a set of “endurance-related capabilities”.  These capabilities, once optimized create a successful athlete.  You can count on genetics to be one of those foundational capabilities but there are a lot more capabilities that are core to an athlete’s success.  Anatomy and physiology, hydration and nutrition, mental and psychological state, training and practice, race strategy and planning, work-life balance, teamwork, rest and recovery, competitive strategy, and so on are examples of endurance capabilities.  I can think of building an “endurance capability model” for every athlete in order to identify areas of strengths and weaknesses.  I can create a roadmap for success by maximizing strengths and if there’s enough time, overcoming weaknesses.  This way to thinking should not be any different from operationalizing business strategy using a business capability model, which is a component of business architecture.

In summary, a business architect, just like an endurance athlete, strives to build a foundation that’s long-lasting.  The business capability model is an enduring artifact that you can use as a foundation for your organization.  From there you can implement your winning strategy to achieve the highest goals possible but mindful of the complexities of aligning with organizational structure, technology, and processes.

References

Gall, J. (1977). Systemantics: How Systems Work and Especially How They Fail. Chicago, IL: Quadrangle.

Miles, R. E. and Snow, C. C. (1978). Organizational strategy, structure, and process. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Mintzberg, H. (1985). Of strategies, deliberate and emergent. Strategic Management Journal, 28, 257-272.

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