The Business Architect’s Journey: Top-Three Qualities for Success

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Picture this scenario: You are brimming with excitement as you start your engagement with a brand-new client - a client who had persuasively spoken to you their company’s capability-driven approach to architecture and its commitment to building a Business Architecture competency. A client who, in preliminary discussions, had emphasized their urgent need for seasoned experts (such as yourself) to guide the more junior Business Architects. The importance of personal leadership and of having the requisite fortitude to stand by your recommendations had been emphasized. (Your certainly don’t lack either of these traits). The existence of some challenges might have been mentioned. (But what reality is that where there are no challenges...?)

While you rub your hands in satisfaction, content that the universe has finally brought you in touch with a client who “gets” Business Architecture, some minor feelings of unease may poke at your subconscious. Still, you let it all wash away, the slight anxiety and the second thoughts, because you are experienced and well-regarded and therefore in control…

Let me stop the trailer right here and point out several potential red flags in this scenario:

  1. If a prospective client is trying to sell you on their Business Architecture practice, then something is wrong. Usually (and overwhelmingly) the burden of selling is on us practitioners;
  2. If ‘personal leadership’ is mentioned, that may be an early warning that corporate leadership support may be in short supply;
  3. If you are asked about your ability to defend your expert recommendations, that could be an indication that no one else will have your back;
  4. If your presence is required ‘urgently’, that may have more to do with the level of turnover in the practice then with the company maybe, possibly missing its target margin projections; and, finally,
  5. You are never truly in control, as even the best laid plan - or methodology - never survives the contact with reality.

If you find yourself in this situation and you truly love a good challenge (which is such a sine qua non for Business Architects that I am not even giving it its own heading in this posting) - what are the three qualities that you absolutely must have to successfully deliver on your engagement?

1. Depth of Experience

The Business Architecture discipline is layered enough that you should be prepared to wear multiple hats. In my practice, I have seen at least five fairly distinct specialties that are required to make up a good Business Architecture team – and you may be called upon to fill any or all of them:

  • Strategists – monitor the external business environment, discern trends and impacts at the business level, and build the business cases for internal changes;
  • Strategic Business Architects – take their input from Strategists and turn it into foundational business architecture artifacts (such as capability heat maps and enterprise-level blueprints) to inform and support the business cases;
  • Tactical Planners – use the foundational artifacts developed by the Strategic Business Architects and develop capability and/or initiative-level roadmaps;
  • Tactical Business Architects – directly support business areas/initiatives and are responsible for baseline and target business architectures serving those initiatives; and,
  • Repository Administrators – technologists whose primary responsibility is to administer and maintain the central repository of business architecture information and ensure its integrity and consistency.

2. Range (and willingness to cross boundaries!)

Next, while you diligently take apart the organization’s business strategy and performance goals, assess and document capabilities and generally labor to get your arms around the current state – word will get around that you have knowledge of how to tie together domains hitherto managed in isolation from each other. Soon you can expect to find yourself co-opted to help out with expertise in high-visibility areas such as:

  • Strategic Planning – your ability to articulate and assess costs and benefits, advantages and disadvantages, and to work systematically through a problem will make you an indispensable participant in need analyses and business case development.
  • Enterprise Program Management Office – as the organization recognizes the importance of aligning its IT investments with its business and IT strategy, Business Architects will be called upon as members extraordinaire to weigh in on the extent to which new investments support strategic goals, build up business capabilities, reinforce strengths and/or compensate for weaknesses and threats.
  • Business Process Management (BPM) – while there is no single definition as of yet, most organizations see BPM as encompassing business process improvement methodologies, business change management, business rules management, Lean Six Sigma, and a few other sub-disciplines*. Some misunderstanding persists as to where Business Architecture ends and BPM begins, so you may be asked to support activities related, for example, to business rules definition and system-level process modeling.
  • Data Architecture – one of the goals of Business Architecture is to clarify the main concepts relevant to the organization and to organize them into a common business lexicon. The resulting concept model looks and feels like an enterprise-level data model - although, in actuality, it sits at a higher level of abstraction. In organizations lacking a Data Architecture practice, the concept model can (and often does) serve as the first-cut enterprise ERD.

3. The Right Attitude

As with most things in life, attitude matters – a lot. As Business Architects, our job is to uncover questions and to help the organization collectively discover the answers. This requires us to approach our work with inquisitiveness and healthy curiosity, but also with a certain dose of humility.

So, whichever role you play on any given day – if that does not seem to fit perfectly within the Business Architecture pantheon, take a deep breath. You are helping your client build the array of capabilities which make future growth possible. Your journey as a Business Architect is woven into the organization’s business transformation journey, so enjoy the ride and your part in making it happen.

*Serge Thorn, 2011, “Are Business Process Management and Business Architecture a perfect match?”,, The Open Group


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