Ten Steps To Design A Powerful Business Architecture Practice

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President, Business Innovation Partners
Jeff is a senior business and technology executive, with extensive expertise and leadership in innovation, strategy development, business architecture, and organizational transformation. He has substantial consulting and corporate experience working with senior leadership to set direction, build consensus, and translate business objectives into effective action. Jeff is an internationally recognized thought leader in business architecture, strategy execution, and organizational transformation. He frequently speaks, writes, and teaches seminars on these topics Jeff currently writes the blog, The Business Architect, chairs The Business Architect’s Roundtable, is a member of the Business Architecture Guild’s advisory board, and is the Editorial Director for the Business Architecture Institute.

Most new business architecture teams jump right into defining business architecture models and frameworks. They spend incredibly little time defining the practice itself, what they want it to be, and how they are going to drive results. Yet this is where the challenge is. I rarely see an enterprise or business architecture team that can’t produce great architecture; but I see many that can’t create a successful practice.

Here are ten steps every business architecture team should take to ensure long-term success.

Step 1 – Identify and refine your mission. You are not creating a business architecture practice to build business architecture. You are creating a practice to solve business problems. You should know what those problems are. Business architecture missions vary widely from facilitating organizational transformation to guiding technical architecture development. IT-centric business architects typically focus on business-IT alignment while business-centric business architects most often focus on improving business effectiveness. Whatever your mission is, it should be crystal clear for everyone involved. 

Step 2 – Create your vision. With a well-defined mission in hand you should develop your vision. Not the architecture-focused vision – the vision for the business architecture practice. Before thinking about where you want to take the enterprise, you should be clear about where the practice wants to go. A strong vision supports the practice’s potential to grow in effectiveness and impact over time. When you build the practice’s vision, you should also identify the big picture challenges you expect to face in realizing it.

Step 3 – Identify and assess stakeholders. Understanding the difference between stakeholder roles and who plays those roles is essential to success. This is often more difficult than it looks, as many people play multiple roles depending on the context. Most business architects can identify their investors – those who are focused on the overall outcome, and their consumers – those they actually provide services to. However, many miss partners, downstream beneficiaries, and competitors. Yes, competitors are stakeholders too. They care about your success – just not the same way you do.

Step 4 – Understand your context. If I had to name a single reason for architecture practice failure, it would be a lack of appreciation of how much culture, organizational structure, management style, and other contextual factors affect a business architecture practice’s chance for success. At the end of the day it isn’t about creating a great architecture – it’s about influencing people. And if you don’t have an appreciation for and understanding of the factors that drive their thinking and decision making, you don’t stand a chance.

Step 5 – Identify products and services. Every business architecture practice should have a well-defined set of products and services. This isn’t just for your clients; it’s for you too. Once you have defined discreet products and services, you can then move to detailed product design. For example, if one of your products is a business capability model you should have a documented process for developing the model, a structure for defining the details, a template for displaying it, a method for updating and refinement, and so on. Most importantly, with well-defined products and services, you now have a baseline you can begin improving on after each client engagement.

Step 6 – Assess your team’s skills. Whether you are a small centralized group, a highly matrixed and distributed team, or a lone business architect practitioner, a critical evaluation of your skills is important to ensure a successful launch. A SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) is a quick and easy way to understand what skills you can quickly leverage and which you need to grow. Or create a business architecture practice capability map with a skills-oriented heat map for a more robust view. The skills assessment will point you to both short-term wins (working on projects that fit your skills) and a longer-term development plan to gain the skills you need.

Step 7 – Identify potential value network members. Take a good look around to identify where you can build partnerships that enhance the business architecture practice’s value. Who is working on strategy? Who has really strong business relationships? Who has the skills your team needs? Where are there opportunities to collaborate? What other “business architecture like” work has been done that you can leverage? Many business architecture teams miss big opportunities by failing to look for partnership and collaboration opportunities.

Step 8 – Identify the top challenges. New business architecture teams invariably want to base their practice design on theory – what should work as opposed to what does work – and many consultants help them do just that. But successful business architects structure their practices to deal with their specific organizational contexts. They understand that overcoming challenges is an integral part of the role, not an afterthought to be dealt with later. For example, the lack of executive sponsorship is a challenge for many new business architecture efforts. Teams that acknowledge this at design time might choose to create a business architecture practice that doesn’t require sponsorship. Understanding challenges guides good decisions.

Step 9 – Build the business architecture practice’s business architecture. A business architecture team, just like any other business unit, needs to clarify its own architecture. This means developing a clear set of goals, strategies, capabilities, and processes, and then using these elements to clarify the practice’s operating model and identify where and when to invest in its success. If you can’t architect your own practice, how do you expect to architect others?

Step 10 – Build an action plan. Now – with a well thought out design – you need to get busy. Develop a three-level plan. First, create a three- to five-year roadmap for the practice. How will it evolve over time? How will its influence grow? How will skills be developed? Second, create an 18-month roadmap that adds more specific details for these items and sets quarterly goals. And third, develop a 90-day action plan that lays out objectives for the next three months, the specific actions you need to take to attain those objectives, and the specific people who will take those actions.

Step 11 – GO!

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