The Future-Proofing Business Architect: Lessons from the Field

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"It is always wise to look ahead, but difficult to look further than you can see." - Winston Churchill

It is fashionable these days for business and political leaders to wax poetic about how "Change has never happened this fast before, and it will never be this slow again.” (Ironically, this exact saying was first attributed to journalist Graeme Wood almost 10 years ago.)  Humans have long sought to future-proof their creations. Whether it is architecting and designing buildings, products, or software, the idea is the same: how can we build something that lasts, even as the world changes around us?  Let's be blunt: nothing is future-proof.  The unpredictability of today's world and the accelerating pace of change make accurate prognostication impossible. Instead of trying to accurately predict the future or just telling everyone to learn to cope with change, however, what if we could build a strategy and organization that is more resilient and more adaptable to change?  Let's dig a little deeper into this topic and see how business architects can help.

Future-Proofing your Strategy

A constantly changing strategy results in constantly changing execution plans which makes it difficult to get anything done.  Here are some examples of how business architects can work with business leaders to help (quasi) future-proof their strategy and minimize strategy churn:

1. Ensure there is full transparency to the current state. Start with the basics: document the current strategy and business model.  Be sure to take a holistic view of the strategy across your entire ecosystem, including customers, partners, and employees.  Use something like the Business Model Canvas to keep it simple. Model proposed changes against this so it is very clear on how each stakeholder group is impacted by any potential strategy change.  Business architects can help the business to understand the implications of proposed changes in terms of real impacts to people, process, data, and technology.

2. Use business capabilities!  Be clear on what capabilities you have, how mature they are, and what you need to develop.  Strategies built with incomplete knowledge of a company's actual capabilities are destined for surprises.

3. Building grand strategies from the boardroom doesn't work.  Influence your organization to broaden involvement in your strategy development efforts.  Include implementation and support teams.  Include customers and partners.

4. Strategy should be focused on how to add value. Sell an experience or information, not just a product.  If your leadership doesn't get this, you have work to do.  Learn UX design, discover what data you have that could be monetized, try the Value Proposition Canvas; find what works for you and your company.

5. Arm yourself with data.  Know your market.  Know your customers.  Know your competitors.  Be vigilant about staying current on developments across your entire ecosystem.

6. Embrace technology disruption.  Understand what new technology capabilities are most useful for your organization and are the best fit for the problems you are trying to solve for your customers.  Get comfortable knowing that what technology you decide on today will likely be swapped out in a couple years.  That's OK.

Future-Proofing your Organization

According to McKinsey, the average large firm reorganizes every 2-3 years and it takes over 18 months. Wow.  As anyone who has been through a reorg knows, lower employee engagement, productivity loss, and sometimes short-term inability to actually get work done is often a result.  A potentially even more important risk was called out by Ron Askenas in an HBR article:   "Equally important is the web of relationships that people develop over time to get things done. Reorganizations disrupt those relationships, hindering productivity until connections can be rebuilt within the new structure. As one senior executive said to me, “Every time we reorganized, we lost at least a year of innovation.”"  Here are some examples of how business architects can work with business and HR leaders to help (quasi) future-proof their organization and minimize organizational churn:

1. Put on your influencing hat and work with leadership to begin to build a more adaptable organization.  Flatten your org structure.  Streamline decision-making processes. Reward those who are fast learners and can quickly pivot from one project to the next.  Hire people who have strong commercial and technology acumen. Remove all unnecessary hierarchy.

2. Implement organization mapping, a frequently unused tool in the business architect's toolbox.  In today's highly matrixed organizations, the traditional org chart offers a very limited view on how work actually gets done.  Organization mapping fills in the gaps and can provides a higher level of transparency to the actual interactions and collaboration occurring across the business.  See the BIZBOK for more details.

3. As part of your capability assessments and strategy reviews, really hone in on the people and organizational component.  If a change will result in significant organizational change, be sure that indirect costs are considered, such as loss of institutional knowledge and damage to team performance and morale.

Conclusion

In construction, future-proofing focuses on long range planning, flexibility, sustainability, adaptability, and resiliency, overall ensuring that what is built will last.  Sounds a bit like business architecture, doesn't it? I would assert that one of the most valuable jobs of a business architects is to future-proof their businesses to the extent possible.  The pace of change will likely continue to accelerate.  The winners will be those whose strategies and organizations have been built wisely with an eye to the future, and those that can most easily and quickly adapt their business and operating models to take advantage of disruption.

This article was prepared by Dean Heltemes in his personal capacity. The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not represent the view of his employer.

Sources:

Ashkenas, Ron. “Reorganizing? Think Again.” Harvard Business Review, 23 July 2014, hbr.org/2011/10/reorganizing-think-again.

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