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On the road to a Business Architecture Manifesto

On the road to a Business Architecture Manifesto

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One very powerful metaphor that has reverberated throughout the technical community, in the past few years, was the Agile Manifesto.  Created by a group of folks who wanted to communicate the principles that drove their thinking, the Agile Manifesto has been a very useful tool for deciding if a particular practice is being done well.  I think it may be time to build one for the Business Architecture space.

That said, I am by myself, sitting in my living room.  I am in no position to speak for the community of business architects.  So, this submission is a suggestion for content that could be useful when the conversation begins.  It is my personal opinion about the principles of business architecture.  I would hope to bring this material to a group of other BA practitioners, as my contribution, to develop a full consensus on business architecture manifesto.  

First off, in order to develop principles for business architecture, we need to describe the problem that we are trying to solve. 

The problem that business architecture solves

Business architecture is a relatively new field that addresses an old problem.  Most business people recognize the underlying truth: the structure and practices of your organization directly impacts your ability to deliver the intended value.  Whether we are talking about a military service, a civilian government agency, a non-profit organization, or a for-profit business, the structures and processes that a leader chooses to employ will impact the results that the organization will produce.  That includes both intended and unintended results.  So the basic problem is this: how do we deliver on our mission while maintaining our values?

Business architecture gets to deal with a slice of that problem.  As people, we need to organize around a common shared mission.  We need to know what we want, and we need to go get it.  Humans can be pretty haphazard.  Business architecture does not address every issue.  Business architecture attempts to answer this question: what is the optimal way to organize?  Business architecture typically does NOT answer questions around the integration of corporate controls, or supporting activities like how to find staff to fill new roles.  Business architecture is focused on the narrow slice of “how to organize.” 

So why do we need business architecture to solve this problem?  There are literally hundreds of good, well researched, books that offer useful insight for solving this problem.  Why use a business architecture approach?  Because BA brings a novel approach, one based on the rigorous application of conceptual traceability, process improvement, information science, and mathematics.  While most of the business analysis methods prior to business architecture were founded, fundamentally, in social science, mechanical engineering, and even education, business architecture focuses on the newer sciences that have emerged in the computerized age. 

How does business architecture solve the problem

Business architecture’s unique value proposition is to focus on answering the questions of business structural and organizational effectiveness in a way that is rigorous, quick, clear, consumable, and value-focused. 

We are uncovering better ways of developing business insight by doing it and helping others do it.  Through this work, we have come to value:

Consistently reusable methods over Piecemeal assortment of best practices

Rapid insight over Deeply accurate models

Clear choices over Nuanced decision trees

Consumable deliverables over Consistency with external frameworks

Value-driven prioritization over Justification of the status quo

 

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

 

To break that down:

  • Repeatability, Reuse, and Rigor.  There are many ways to understand a business.  Business architects will expect you to pick one of those ways (one conceptual model) and then stick to it.  The rigor comes from sticking to the model.  If your enterprise is focused on creating a smooth customer experience, then the business architect will leverage the customer experience work done elsewhere, and will drive a business stakeholder to follow along rather than make something up.  While products must be creatively and freely developed, the organization itself must be architected and engineered.  Rigor matters.
     
  • Rapid Insight. There are many ways to analyze a business.  Business architects will work to reduce the overhead of their analysis methods so that they can produce valuable answers in a very timely manner.  Business people are not rewarded for taking a long time to do an excellent job.  Most will be better rewarded if they do a reasonably good job in a shorter timeframe.  While accuracy is great, the value of information is inversely proportional to the time needed to produce it.  Speed matters.
     
  • Clear Choices. If a business person cannot tell what the recommendation is, they won’t follow it.  If the business architect cannot produce insight that is clear for the business stakeholder, the architect will not effect change.  It is not good enough for a business architect to be quick and correct… they must also be clear. 
    The amount of information, and the coarseness of the decisions, depends on the level of the stakeholder.  At any level, a decision maker should be provided a short list of options (often 2 or 3) where the distinctions between them are clear.  This rule applies at all levels of the organization.  One strategy from a senior manager may require a choice among three different tactics for a department head to choose from.  No one person needs to be concerned with the entire decision tree, except perhaps the business architect himself.   The ability to make decisions is proportional to the clarity of the choices.  Business architecture favors clarity over nuance.
     
  • Consumable Deliverables.  In order for business architects to be successful, they must deliver a plan for the execution of business strategy.  That plan has to be something that the impacted stakeholders can understand and use.  In other words, the output of business architecture must be consumable.  Reams of technical detail are rarely useful.  At the other end of the spectrum, vague goals and promises of value may be just as inappropriate.  Recommendations must be provided using words and metaphors that the actual impacted business stakeholders understand.  They must be provided using forms and templates that the existing organization will recognize and can quickly use.  While consistency with frameworks and practices are important, business architects value consumability more.
     
  • Priority based on Business Value.  Business architects can spend their time on many tasks.  In addition, they can recommend that the organization spend time on many tasks.  Sometimes, even an efficient use of business architecture would be a waste of time if the resulting advice is unlikely to deliver strategic insight.  The selection of tasks, which to do now and which to do later, is of critical importance to a business architect.  While all supporting tasks can be justified, business architects will give priority to tasks that directly lead to actionable, consumable, value-driven business advice.

 

I’m always looking for insight and feedback from the community, so please feel free to add your comments. 

Please note: if your comment is long, the software will sometimes have trouble.  Write it in notepad or Word first, and then cut and paste into the comment edit window.  Don’t be afraid to send it more than once.  I will delete duplicates.  If all else fails, e-mail your comment to me and I’ll put it in.

  • Excellent post Nick. Thank you! I'm glad you are promoting the need for Business Architecture. It was getting squeezed out with Enterprise Architecture and Information Architecture! From my experience, the Rapid Insight was the most powerful.

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