A ‘Simple as Possible’ Enterprise Diagnostic Method

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Mr., DougMcDavid Enterprises
Educated as a generalist, Doug was among the "pioneer" class at UC Santa Cruz, and went on to a career in information, in systems, and in information systems. He led major automation projects for library functions, and the enterprise-wide application of network control, order processing, billing, and network engineering in an early data communications company. He’s done data and process modeling and enterprise architecture for telco, brokerage, banking, software, consulting, insurance, government (local, state, federal, and military), aerospace, high tech, consumer electronics, as well as secondary and higher education. He writes about people and technology in organizations.

I suspect we all agree that it’s very important for business architecture to demonstrate valuable results in a reasonable timeframe.  There is nothing more discouraging for business architects and their sponsors than effort spent on modeling for its own sake, or continuous planning to plan the plan.  Here, in this article, we have a method that quickly leads to tangible results, while building the foundation for a continuous flow of valuable results from business architecture.

When we talk about the architecture of a business or enterprise, we are talking about the way it is structured for performance, within its unique and evolving context.  The discipline of business architecture calls for explicit architectural descriptions of how our organizations relate to external parties, and how they are internally structured to do so.  The focus is on interfaces among organization elements, rather than fully detailed design of the various elements themselves.

A useful (but not exhaustive) list of types of organization elements would include roles and role players, information structures, agreements, resources, procedures, rules, standards, regulations, information management technology. A short list of interface types would include relationships among role players via services, data flows between data stores and applications, communications channels among organizations, including process steps and procedures.

Rigorous and timely description of such a set of elements and interfaces is daunting, to say the least. The burden on a business architect or architecture team can really feel overwhelming.  When we add to this the recognition that all these elements and interfaces are in a constant state of flux, further complicated by a variety of work cultures and languages, it’s easy to see how business architecture efforts get bogged down, become ineffective, and are often simply abandoned.

The method proposed here enlists individuals across a business to participate in the capture of a simple but powerful subset of its architecture as it exists in its current state. Participation in this effort is motivated by a serious, work-related game, or competition.  This method supports key business architecture artifacts, such as Value Stream, Value Network, and Value Chain models.  This “simple as possible” diagnostic captures interfaces, compatibilities, and the flow of value within the business and with its various stakeholders.


1. Determine applicability
The first step for this method is to identify opportunities to apply it effectively.  This method can be used whenever we suspect or see evidence of organizational disconnects that need to be addressed.

2. Select scope
This method can equally address the entire business or enterprise, a business unit, a department, an agency, or a leadership team.  It is always necessary to get management support to involve members of an organization in enacting this method.

3. Tailor Information Capture
At the chosen level and scope of the organization, people (managers, leaders, workers) are asked to respond to two basic “what” questions:

  • What do you do, and for whom?
  • What do you need (in order to be able do what you do) and who needs to provide what you need?

These two basic questions can lead to specifically tailored follow-on and supplementary questions, involving the nature of the work, the results expected, and various interactions with role-players inside and outside the business.  But the two basic questions focus on the key interfaces in any business – who does what, and for whom.

These basic and extended questions probe for quality and satisfaction issues among those who provide services and those who receive those services. In other words, what are the sources of value?  These should be very open-ended questions, which can generate rich insights into the architecture of structure for behavior.

4. Administer capture
There are many ways to actually capture the distributed responses to “who owes what to whom.”  There are many free or inexpensive ways to set up and administer a survey, or forms to ask questions and capture the answers.  The tool is not as important as the preparation of the participants, who ideally are enthusiastic about the potential to improve their working lives.

Each provider/receiver pair can be seen as a team.  These naturally-occurring pairwise teams provide the basis for a serious game, or competition.  This can work whether or not the participants know they’re in a game.  The best-matching narratives can be publicized, highlighted, or rewarded in more tangible ways.  The whole point is to encourage cooperation, so if the pairs know they’re competing against other pairs, and collaborate in their answers, this actually improves business health.

5. Analyze the Results
This key step of analyzing the responses from participants consists of comparing the answers provided by the different players.  For every participating party we should see at least one counterparty, looking upstream and downstream in the flow of value production.  In other words for every provider there should be at least one receiver, and for each receiver there should be at least one provider.  If such counterparties are missing, this indicates an obvious disconnect in the business. More commonly we want to determine the level of match.  Does the receiver’s answer match the provider’s answer?  What gaps exist? What contradictions exist?

A perfect match between provider and receiver perceptions generally signals a healthy condition.  This is the case where both receiver and provider describe a recognizably identical situation.  To the extent there is a mismatch, there may be an enterprise health issue.

6. Targeting improvements
This method provides immediate opportunities to improve the health of the business.  We may see a missing or ineffective interface between the brand image as projected by the messaging of the business, vs. the actual delivery of experiences to the marketplace of clients or customers.  We may find a maladapted interface for delivery of data from an engineering function to the billing and accounting functions.  Or maybe we see a cumbersome interface between regulatory requirements and adaptive compliance.

Even with a clear common understanding of need and provision, there can be unhealthy issues of poor quality results or unwelcome manner of delivery.  This is where it’s useful to build on detailed questions that drill into the details of “What do you do?” and “What do you need?”

7. Tailor survey
Based on what the business learns through this method, and the changes we have made as a result, there is always the opportunity is to upgrade and extend this simple method. This step can revisit the questions that probe organization interfaces. The game can be expanded to a wider set of participants.  It can be re-administered to gather additional information about matching and mismatching narratives, thereby providing material for ongoing diagnostic and improvement approaches.

Here we have a method that accomplishes two things:

  • It elicits rich, highly credible input into various business architecture artifacts (value nets, chains, webs)
  • At the same time, the method addresses health issues and health improvement for the enterprise

This is architecture work that changes things and that does things. This is not modeling for its own sake, but for knowledge navigation, and for business improvement.


[1] Ulrich, W & Jim Rhyne, J, “Business Architecture: The Real Tie that Binds”

[1] Allee, V, Value Networks and the True Nature of Collaboration, Meghan-Kiffer Press, 2015

[1] Grigoriu, A, “Business Model as a Value Chain”

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