Lessons from the Field: The Adaptable Business Architect

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The other day my daughter said, "Dad, I really don't understand what your job is." Many days I am not so sure either. I thought about saying, "I help to align strategic objectives and tactical demands," but knew that wouldn't lead us anywhere. Usually I answer this question by saying I go to meetings and read e-mails for a living, but that joke is getting old. This time I told her that I will explain it to her when she grows up. Part of the reason this has always been a hard question to answer is that my role seems to shift month to month and initiative to initiative. This is also part of the reason I love what I do. I believe that adaptability is a key trait exhibited by good architects, but saying you are adaptable and actually being adaptable are two different things. So what are some of the key ways to demonstrate your adaptability? Don't get into turf wars, bring the right temperament, and think big, or rather act big.

Avoid Turf Wars

Business architects (BA's) have to interact with so many different stakeholders that staying out of turf wars can be difficult. Strategy development teams may question why you want to hear about their strategies. Business process teams may push back against capability modeling as being redundant with process optimization efforts. Other architecture teams may be challenged by your very existence. And of course consulting firms will pop up everywhere and claim they can do everything. Avoid turf wars at all costs and stay away from decision rights conversations. (See my previous post on being politically savvy.) In most companies, there is plenty of work to get done, so leveraging the time and talents of other teams is crucial to making progress. Get these teams involved, make them part of what you are doing, and help them to see the business outcome you are striving for. I highly recommend that architects perform a stakeholder analysis, just as you might do as part of a project. Identify what individuals or groups are most critical to you being able to achieve your goals. Know what roles people can play and get them engaged. And be willing to take on different roles to fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle to shepherd the idea forward.

Temperament

Most architects I have met tend to be quite analytical. David Keirsey, an American psychologist, developed a self-assessed personality questionnaire known as the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, which links human behavioral patterns into temperaments and character types. Combine this with some help from Isabel Briggs Myers and you have what he calls the "Architect" character type, which correlates primarily with the Myers-Briggs type INTP.

According to their work, "Architects" are pragmatic, logical, curious, driven to learn, and independent. They focus on how best to structure, design, or build things. I think most would agree these attributes serve architects well, as analyzing information, willingness to dive into details, and ability to present sound, logical, and fact-based arguments is important. For BA's, however, it is a bit more nuanced. BA's drive change and need to be comfortable with uncertainty. They need to be willing to proceed without all the facts when time is critical. They have to be careful to not be seen as arrogant and all-knowing as this can hurt their ability to build trust. The chameleon-like ability of the business architect to show up with the right temperament for the situation is incredibly important.

Think Act Big

Day-to-day it is easy to get lost in the politics and bureaucracy of corporations. But don't sit back and wait for something to architect. If you don't know your company's strategic objectives, you should. Your job is to help make them happen. IASA CEO Paul Preiss, in a recent interview by Joel Shore for TechTarget, recently offered some great advice:

 

  • "Go find a business case and champion it. Better yet, write a business case and champion it. Find something important to your business that others haven't noticed and make it happen. You want a brand on your forehead that says, 'I care about us being competitive over next 10 years."
  • "…avoid huge three-year roadmaps that prevent you from making quick business pivots."
  • "…understand value, not features or requirements, but outcome."

 

Don't just think big, act big. The world is full of great ideas, but needs more people who know how to make these into something real. Make mistakes, learn, adapt, and try again.

Next time someone asks me what I do for a living, I think I will say that my job is to figure out how to get stuff done. Solving business problems, helping the business execute its strategy, and ensuring my company is competitive now and into the future is what business architecture is all about. Whatever it takes to do this, that is what I will be doing.

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.

References

Comments

Pino Villa
,
posted 16 weeks 13 hours ago
You get proactive business architects versus reactive BA. 90% are the reactive BA, generally of little use; good for power-point, poor in actual benefit realization. This is also the reason that limited job demand for business architects.
A proactive business architect is one that enables effective adaptation; the right things to do; organization meeting its objective, realizing optimum potentiality, innovation and real transformation by ensuring its viability and sustainability. Therefore proactive business architects enables the right things to do with the suitable business architecture in place; governance, process, systems ect…Most BA in reality are process mappers
Tricia Johnstone
,
posted 17 weeks 14 hours ago
Well articulated! It's hard to put your finger on it as there are some intangible things that we do as Business Architects. Technology Architects are much easier to describe in terms of data, infrastructure, security, etc. Being a Business Architect requires a certain amount of instinct and flexibility that is difficult to teach.

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