Business Architecture – The Missing Link in Organisational Agility and Performance Transformation

by admin on September 18, 2009

Business architecture, business blueprint, enterprise architecture……whichever is your favourite flavour of these similar concepts……if you do only one thing better as part of your next business transformation initiative, it should be this.

Nothing else we know of, properly executed (i.e. fit-for-purpose, not over or under done) is so essential to the achievement, or its lack more implicated in the failure, of a serious  (i.e. one where there was the actual political will and desire in the first place to try and make real changes) business transformational change effort.

Effectively, a business architecture it is your routemap for success, a true Critical Success Factor (CSF)…….

Now that we’ve made this bold assertion, let’s take a closer look at just why it may be true.  Let’s start with some leading questions.  Have you ever had the sense that:

  • You have no real grasp of what is going on with all the existing or planned initiatives in your organisation and suspect that no-one else really does either?
  • There should be some sort of design authority or governance body overseeing everything but it is either non-existent or ineffective?
  • The business purpose and risk/reward profile of many initiatives in your organisation are tenuously defined at best and in some of the worst cases they may be either highly risky or pet/vanity projects?
  • Resources are being squandered and opportunities missed because no-one has prioritised what is most important, leading to a culture where everything is undertaken, everyone is overworked and very little is accomplished or gained?
  • There are likely to be gaps and/or overlaps between initiatives because they are not being properly coordinated or their critical inter-dependencies proactively managed?

If the above sound familiar it is likely that you are another of the casualties of the organisational noise and chaos characteristic of many poorly run business transformation initiatives.

This organisational noise and chaos is usually endemic in these environments and leaves many of those involved overwrought, confused, frustrated and ultimately demoralised by the tangible lack of clarity, leadership and progress they are experiencing.

The impression is that no-one is in overall control, that the lunatics must be running the asylum and that there is no cogent or coherent understanding of the ‘fit’ of how everything is supposed to come together towards some common purpose.  Or for that matter any true understanding of ‘what good looks like’ so you might recognise it if you saw it.

This frustratingly common scenario has many root causes, but in our experience, by a large margin, chief among them is the lack or proper use of some sort of structured business architecture approach.

A business architecture serves as a ‘translation layer’ between the vision and strategy laid down by the executive leadership of an organisation and its practical implications and change requirements for line management and staff.

Nearly everyone would acknowledge that if significant change were as easy as writing a short memo to all stakeholders expressing a view of what was desired, and line management and staff could and would then faithfully execute this intent to the best of their abilities, then executive management could and would do just that and all would be well!

However, nearly everyone also recognises that the former approach rarely, if ever, works!

So why so many otherwise intelligent and capable executive management teams persist in writing what are typically brief vision and strategy statements (i.e. the ‘short memo’), and doing little more than issuing them forth, then wonder why not much happens…..or if something does happen why it is not what was intended……is something of a mystery to us!

Our own experiences and viewpoint on this matter are very black and white.

Too many organisations attempt to move directly from a broadbrush vision and strategy statement to the commissioning of specific programmes and projects.

Unfortunately what often comes next is all too familiar and the subject of many of those ’Top 10 Things to Do (or Avoid)’ sort of checklists found in the business press; i.e. broadly related to the confusion of activity with progress until such time as it becomes blindingly obvious to whatever governance mechanism there might be that the progress they thought they were making is largely……well, not the progress they had thought they were making.

In many organisations when the realisation of the true progress situation begins to sink in the political positioning begins, a witch hunt is conducted, the (often not very) guilty are condemned, the ‘great and the good’ declare that lessons were learned, and victory is duly declared.  Then, after a ‘quiet period’, and against all common sense, as though on a timetable the whole process repeats itself.

The next management fad ‘big thing’ panacea……which is of course clearly all very different thing from what was attempted last time..…is thus embraced.  This is also often associated with much positive hype and exuberance projected generously around the organisation by its supporters and in the background the gears in the machine (usually) continue to grind along in the same old way.

But of course the new management fad, what-ever its advantages, is not usually the true solution, or at least not all of it.  This is because it is almost certainly something looking ‘outward and upward’ to the next great heights as written about by the management guru’s selling all the books.  It is likely NOT about looking ‘inward and downward’ onto the simple but important truth that there are most probably some very basic good management principles and practices being profligately violated by the organisation.

This latter message of course not being popular or one which sits well with some of the larger ego’s involved in running said organisation (i.e. it couldn’t possibly be as simple as that, could it?….we’re on top of that sort of basic thing, aren’t we?…..N.B. if you value your job/promotion/raise, at this point you should know to be nodding in the correct way in unison at these, and other similar, often very rhetorical questions!).

Our own experiences in this department have too often left us with the old adages “never time to do it right, always time to do it twice” and “a definition of insanity is doing the same things again and expecting different outcomes” ringing loudly in our ears………..

So, let’s try and be brutally clear, for the avoidance of doubt, about our own considered view regarding this point.  Put simply, in most sizable organisational contexts, most of the time:

If you do not follow up the (necessary and important) vision and strategy statement with some sort of practical and more detailed translation layer mechanism, such as represented by a properly constructed business architecture (again, this need NOT be overly onerous or time consuming – just fit-for-purpose), then you are extremely likely to repeat the experiences we have just outlined above……end of, full stop, period!!

Sorry to be so abrupt, but we do feel strongly about this issue, and we wouldn’t want to pull our punches or be seen as wishy-washy on a matter where clarity is warranted and needed.

The key lesson we would like to leave you with is that history will and often does repeat itself if you don’t learn from it.

Let’s examine why this might be so for a moment…..might it be that a brief, and not too specific or quantifiable, vision and strategy statement often:

  • Gives only limited clues, in concrete terms, as to how radical the changes should, or would need to be, and what areas should be prioritised for action in which order?
  • Usually doesn’t make clear who has authority to make decisions about key changes, who owns what parts of those changes or how the inevitable overlaps in the spans of control of those affected by the changes might be deconflicted?
  • Typically omits any coverage of what the sacred cows, stakes in the ground, ‘real’ budgetary limitations or other key (but unstated) assumptions and constraints might be… know, the sorts of ones that it might be important to be aware of when trying to scope programmes and projects?
  • De-facto makes the easiest and safest way forward the one where the status quo is maintained in all but name, and essentially the same projects, just renamed and slightly re-jigged in scope, are continued?
  • Is sufficiently vague such that those who are so inclined, and in a position to do so, can too easily make interpretations that suits their own professional and personal agendas and interests rather than those of the organisation?

We could go on at length adding to this list, and we’re equally certain you could add a few points of your own, but we trust our point has already been adequately made.  A business architecture, which addresses all of the above failure points and much more, is a step we believe you simply CANNOT afford to omit from any (typically, by definition) large and complex business transformation initiative.

Today the cost of getting it wrong in terms of money, time, customer satisfaction or reputation is simply too great to contemplate.  In our opinion to skip the essential and unifying step represented by a robust business architecture is to be penny-wise and pound-foolish!

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