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Analysis, Synthesis, and Scope: Business Architecture vs. Business Analysis, part two

Analysis, Synthesis, and Scope: Business Architecture vs. Business Analysis, part two

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A few days ago, I quickly dashed off a post on the difference between a business architect and a business analyst.  The reaction was immediate and rather vociferous.  The IIBA took me to task for saying that a business architect is NOT a business analyst.  In addition, Tom Graves (Enterprise Architect) asked me to consider the possibility that the two roles are primarily different in another way, altogether.  Tom asked me to consider the possibility that an architect role is primarily one of synthesis (putting things together), while an analyst role is one of analysis (taking things apart).  I beg to differ.  This post included my thoughts on that distinction.

Graves’ trilogy: Analyst-Anarchist-Architect

Tom has pointed out, in past articles, that there is real value for enterprise architects to consider the Hegelian triad of Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis.  In his post, Tom presents a triad, based on Hegelian thinking, three different roles in sequence: business analyst – business anarchist – enterprise architect.

In Tom’s thinking, the analyst is good at creating an initial hypothesis that represents incremental improvement… at doing things right.  The anarchist is the role that questions the assumptions underlying the analysis.  It is the role of anarchist to test those assumptions, and make sure that they do indeed align with the real world of “trial, error and experience”.  The anarchist prevents us from accepting our assumptions.  The architect puts it all back together.  According to Tom Graves:

And the architect role is about bringing it all together again. It’s the ‘synthesis’ part of the triad; but it’s also about the Concrete, about making things real, being effective – about doing the right things right in a concrete, practical way.

Here is where I have to take my hat off to Tom.  There is a very important thought process going on here, and one that I both agree with and can immediately use.  I admit to not having taken the time to really grok Tom’s post prior to now, but I couldn’t agree more with the thinking process.  You have to form an initial idea, then break apart the assumptions in order to test the initial idea, and lastly bring it all together in a solution that actually works.  It’s an excellent approach.

Shouldn’t this kind of thinking simply be a template for each individual person?  Shouldn’t one person perform all three activities?  Tom addresses this as well.

One way to resolve the architecture of that architecture is to have just one person doing all of those roles – after all, they’re different roles, not necessarily different people. But that can sometimes be quite a ‘big ask’, because each of the roles does demand different skillsets, different paradigms, even different worldviews – again, somewhat tricky.

Tom suggests that it is difficult for one person to perform all three, and that large organizations (and large markets) may have the freedom to separate out the roles into different people.  It’s an interesting idea, but I don’t know if provides the clarity I’m looking for.

I believe that Tom is completely right in one respect.  Solving a problem effectively requires that you go through stages of thinking.  If you simply look at the problem and conceive of a couple possible solutions, you could just as easily fail to consider the optimum one (not on the list), or choose the wrong solution (whatever “wrong” means).  In order to reach the best possible decision, you must go through the additional steps of antithesis and synthesis. However, I don’t think that this distinction is sufficient to explain and position the roles of Business Analyst and Business Architect. 

The process of thinking through a problem applies to ALL roles that solve problems (a fairly long list).  It doesn’t just apply to business analysis.  Following the path from thesis to antithesis to synthesis is an art practiced by artisans, craftsmen, mathematicians, scientists, engineers, leaders, managers, and politicians.  It is best practice for all of human thought, and not just one area of human endeavor.  Everyone who thinks, and considers, and solves, should use all three steps.  To use Tom’s terminology, each person should be an analyst, an anarchist, and an architect.

Different Efforts, Different Results

Tom’s thought process is excellent, but I don’t believe it answers the core question.  Over the past few years, we’ve seen the emergence of two different “job titles.”  Both jobs emerged out of the need for the information technology division to address business problems in new and novel ways.  The core question that I’d like to address is simple: is this something that one person does, or something that two people do?  Are we more effective, and efficient, to separate the roles and responsibilities?

Some things we all agree on.  The business analyst role is much more tactical than the business architecture role.  Traditionally, the business analyst is required to understand the problems of a business area and to document the requirements of the business in solving them.  The business analyst is NOT accountable for developing the solution, or even the vision for the solution (The solution architect does that).  He or she is accountable for understanding the problem and documenting the requirements that the solution must meet.

The business architect role is a more recent innovation.  This role emerged out of the need to insure that departments and divisions are using IT resources correctly by asking for the right problems to be solved.  From there, the role has expanded to a non-IT-focused value proposition.  The business architecture role is important.  Without the business architect involved, we may do an excellent job of solving problems that the overall enterprise does not need solved, when the real enterprise-level problems are going unaddressed or under-resourced due to the long list of demands from the existing businesses.

The business architect is different from the business analyst because he or she is fundamentally charged with four different responsibilities:

  1. understanding the actual enterprise-level needs and the relationship between one business area in respect to the overall strategies,
  2. partitioning the services that one business area should produce and the needed level of maturity for those services,
  3. creating a vision of those services, from the perspective of the business, and
  4. insuring that it aligns to the actual and proposed architecture of the business as a whole. 

Note that (2) occurs rarely… only when major changes to the business models themselves occur. 

Some analysis will perform responsibilities (1) and skip to (3).  In most cases, that works.  On the other hand, performing responsibilities (2) and (4) requires the skills of an architect.  There are two different skill sets here.  Can one person do both?  Yes.  Should they?  That depends.

As these roles continue to mature, we need to either carve out distinctions, or merge them into a single role. 

Business Analyst and Business Architect as one person

In my prior post, I made the case that there are many differences between a business analyst and a business architect.  My prior post was based on the assumption that there needs to be two different people playing these roles.  That assumption is NOT valid in all cases. 

There are many situations where it makes a great deal of sense for the activities of business architecture and business analysis to be performed by ONE individual for financial and logistical reasons.  For example, if the IT unit in question has a small set of responsibilities, or if we are talking about a medium-to-small business (or business area), there just isn’t enough work to keep two different people employed full time in complementary roles.  Within my company (Microsoft), there are some smaller areas of the business that are covered by one individual who performs both business architecture and business analysis tasks.

The question that I have, however, is simple.  While it is possible for one person to perform two jobs, does that mean there SHOULD be one job?  Should we merge the roles so that every business analyst should be an architect, and every business architect should be an analyst?

Business Analyst and Business Architect as complementary roles

Regardless of what we want to happen, reality is going to keep getting in the way.  Both roles exist.  Sometimes they intersect.  The real challenge comes when two people have to play complementary roles, one as a business architect, and the other as a business analyst.  In larger organizations where business architects are appearing as independent roles, and in situations where consultants are being hired, this situation is increasingly common. 

In order to be effective, these two folks need to have clear accountabilities.  They need to be clearly supporting the success of one another, but able to succeed independently of one another (the failure of one cannot prevent the success of the other).  In order to meet these criteria, there is one very important distinction.  Both must have a different set of problems to solve, and both must have the full scope to solve those problems.  Both must perform the three steps of emergent thought that Tom points out: thesis, antithesis, and synthesis… or analyst, anarchist, and architect. 

There is no good source, in existence, for clarifying those accountabilities.  The Business Analysis BOK focuses on skills and methods, not accountabilities.  The Business Architecture BOK focuses on different skills and methods, but not accountabilities.  Both fields seem happy to simply overlap.  That is probably OK from the perspective of describing the fields.

However, in an actual organization, where people have jobs to do, more clarity is required.

Conclusion

No matter how we reconcile these two roles, we need to understand that the growth of business architecture will not be abated just because the profession of business analyst has laid a moral claim to the activities that business architects have decided to focus on.  Rather than argue about whether business architects are, first and foremost, analysts, lets look at whether we can address two key questions:

a) Is it better or worse for these roles to be independent?

b) When both roles exist in the same organization, how do we prevent confusion, clarify accountabilities, and make both roles effective?

Arguments don’t matter.  Answering these questions… that matters.

  • Hi Nick

    I've had a go at answering the questions. Happy to take feedback.

    ebanous.wordpress.com/.../analysis-and-architecture

  • Thank you EBAnous.  I really enjoyed your post.  You answered the questions I asked.

  • Hi Nick

    Many thanks for a very fair and accurate summary of my thinking on the relationship between architecture versus analysis (and the 'business-anarchist' too :-) ).

    There's one part, though, where I think we part company somewhat - and I'd have to say it's much more my fault than yours. It's around the term 'role': you've used it in a more business-conventional sense, close to 'job-title', whereas in my 'analyst-anarchist-architect' piece I meant 'role' in a sense closer to 'mode' - a 'way of thinking' rather than a bounded 'way of activity'.

    So I suspect we're talking somewhat at cross-purposes, or that the two meanings (and hence interpretations) are more orthogonal to each other. Which means that I didn't properly answer your question: all I did was muddy the waters... My apologies. :-|

    One minor quibble: the 'three steps of thought' do need to occur as distinct steps, but it's not necessarily a simple linear sequence from one to the next. More often, they'll occur iteratively, recursively, interweaving through each other and so on - all the usual complexities that we'd expect in any real-world challenge.

    To answer your two questions at the end of this post:

    a) I'd use 'roles' in both our senses here - both 'job-title' (or 'business-oriented responsibility-set') and 'mode of thought'. Given that, I'd say that each role-as-responsibility often needs to be somewhat independent from the other because in real-world practice the role-as-mode-of-thought tends to be different in each case: people tend to settle more comfortably into one mode or the other, and find the other mode more challenging, hence we'd probably get better effectiveness if we keep the task-roles distinct.

    b) Avoid confusion by placing focus on the mode-of-thought that is emphasised within each task-role.

    Hope this makes some degree of sense? - and thanks again, anyway.

  • Makes sense, Tom.  For situations where one person MUST perform both roles / modes of thought, there should be training developed (by a professional organization?) to help the person switch between modes of thought.

    You didn't muddy the waters.  I stuck to my somewhat arbitrary "titles" so that both posts remained consistent in use of terminology.

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