Lessons from the Field: The Bold Business Architect

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Picture this: you get this fabulous opportunity to work with a business on bringing its new strategy to life. They share with you the fanciest PowerPoint slides you have ever seen describing their vision, mission, and the tremendous opportunities they see in the marketplace and how uniquely they are positioned to gain market share. You dive right in and open up your business architecture toolbox and get to work. You map out their strategy, document the business model, create a capability map and conduct a maturity assessment. Life is great and the energy level is high. As time goes on, though, you start to get an odd feeling that something isn't right. You find pockets of disengagement across the organization. You are finding a growing number of major capability gaps. There are parts of the organization you really can't figure out what they do. And worst of all: you can't figure out why anyone would really choose to buy from your company versus a competitor. And then it comes to you: the root of the problem is that the business strategy itself is flawed. What do you do? This is the time when business architects need to be bold, by being willing to challenge and push to reshape the strategy, and even earn a seat at the table for future strategy development work.

Validating Strategy

Business architecture is most commonly described as focused on strategy execution and how to most effectively deliver on a stated strategy. Traditionally, business architects don't develop strategy, but help to clarify and articulate that strategy. Little value is delivered by this activity but understanding the strategy is a prerequisite. If during your work you start to discover serious flaws in the strategy, do you continue to futilely crank out roadmaps and other architecture artifacts in hopes that maybe your execution plan can create a miracle? You know better than this, as the world's greatest strategy execution plan isn't going to fix a terrible strategy. It is incumbent on the business architect to step up and challenge.

As a starting point, it is good to understand some of the more common mistakes made that contribute to bad strategies:


  • Over-confidence - It is human nature to be over-confident in our own abilities, especially in a work setting. This can lead to flawed analysis and unreasonable expectations.
  • Status quo bias - Preference to the way things currently are because it is comfortable.
  • Risk aversion - Past bad experiences may cause a strategist to be overly risk averse resulting in missed opportunities that have been validated by the data.
  • Sunk costs - Not being willing to kill that big project that is draining the cash and energy from your company because too much money has already been put into it. 
  • Industry peer pressure - Also known as, "All of our competitors are doing it." There are plenty of examples where everyone was wrong, and how about being innovative and trying something new?
  • Corporate egos - Those people just looking to make a mark, knowing that they will have moved on to their next rung on the corporate ladder before anyone discovers how bad their idea was.


Good business architecture, using techniques such as business modelling, value streams, and capability assessments, can expose each of these issues. For example, let's say that the business provides you information on their business model using a framework such as the Business Model Canvas. These elements are then mapped into business architecture concepts (see the Business Architecture and Business Models section of the BIZBOK). Current and target state capability maps are created and a capability gap analysis is conducted. If significant gaps are identified that would be difficult or impossible to overcome, these could be indicators of flaws in the strategy. Are the goals realistic? Do the numbers add up? Ask to see the competitive analysis data. Continue to ask "why" until you either buy-in or have enough data to challenge the direction.

A Seat at the Table

Business architects should have a seat at the strategy development table. Business strategies are sometimes built in a bit of a vacuum with too little acknowledgement of the current state and the difficulty of driving the necessary amount of change across the organization. There is probably no one in the organization who understands the current state of the overall business better than a business architect. Couple this with experience in seeing how previous strategies succeeded or failed, and you have someone who has powerful insights that should be considered during the strategy development process.

Business architects - be bold. Our jobs are not too simply crank out artifacts, but are to help improve the performance of our companies. By being willing to stand up and point out strategy flaws or opportunities to reshape the strategy for better results, you can make an even more significant contribution than by just optimizing execution.

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.


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