Building a Case for Business Architecture

Posted November 2, 2016 | Leadership |
Whynde Kuehn

One of the top areas that business architecture teams struggle with is articulating the value of business architecture. Their challenges have less to do with building the business architecture blueprint or even applying it to various scenarios, and more to do with getting the buy-in to be able to do so in the first place. This is partially due to circumstances related to the discipline and its increasing maturity, but also related to the way we communicate.

Why Is It so Hard to Obtain Buy-In for Business Architecture?

Before we can improve the way we communicate, it is useful to understand some additional context around the business architecture discipline, which often leads people to react the way they do — sometimes questioning its value or challenging how it is different.

  • Relatively speaking, business architecture is “new.” Though rapidly maturing globally, the formalization of business architecture as a discipline is relatively “new” in comparison to some other functions and disciplines that have existed for decades. This fact alone means that more time is required for education and adoption because the discipline has not made its way into all boardrooms or mainstream business literature. In addition, some people interpret the introduction of business architecture as insinuating that they were previously missing something or doing something wrong.

  • Business architecture is not “standalone.” Business architecture is not about creating deliverables and throwing them over the wall. On the contrary, the value is in the process, such as aligning people to a common language or vision of the future, and in how the framework is applied to various scenarios. By nature, business architecture makes other functions and disciplines more effective. However, because of this it can be misconstrued as overlapping or competing when it never is, if structured the way it was intended.

  • Business architecture challenges behavior and norms. Business architecture is most powerful when used to facilitate cross business–unit decision making, strategy alignment, design, planning, and execution. While typically very necessary — and critical for enterprise transformation initiatives — this type of cross business–unit coordination and the transparency it brings may challenge the silos of decision making, investment, and operations that are currently in place. Introducing business architecture may indeed make the enterprise more effective overall, but this change may not be welcomed by those who would prefer the status quo.

Successfully Communicating Business Architecture Value

With this context in mind, we can sharpen the way we communicate about the value of business architecture. As described in the points in this Advisor, the key is to build a logical case for it, clearly articulate its value and where it fits within the organization, and then tell success stories on an ongoing basis in a compelling way.

Build a Case for Business Architecture

Because it is sometimes so evident to them, business architecture teams often skip this part of the storytelling and jump into describing the value of and possibilities for business architecture without making the case for the challenges or opportunities it will address in the first place. This leaves others to connect the dots for themselves, and they may arrive at the conclusion that the challenges/opportunities that business architecture could address are not that pressing or important.

Instead, build a solid case for business architecture that articulates:

  • The relevant challenges and/or opportunities that exist within the organization today
  • The impact and/or possibility they present (quantifiable where possible), including what will happen if they are not addressed
  • How business architecture can help

Sometimes it is also useful to describe how the organization got to its current state and why it is important to address the relevant challenges/opportunities now. This can help to diffuse any concerns about why business architecture wasn’t in place previously and pave the way for why it is so important to have now.

Clearly and Simply State the Value Proposition of Business Architecture to Your Organization

Some teams approach this activity by providing a laundry list of what business architecture can do, often using complex and academic language. Worse, some teams skip this step altogether and start building the business architecture blueprint without communicating how it will be used.

The key is simplifying and tailoring the message for your organization. Business architecture can be leveraged in many different ways, but narrow the value proposition for your organization down to no more than three or four outcomes, especially if you are establishing a new practice. Articulate these outcomes in clear and simple business language, and ensure they align with your organization’s strategic priorities. The key stakeholders and intended outcomes for using business architecture will also guide the decision making for your practice, such as how you will measure success, what activities you will focus on, and what type of business architects you will hire. Not having a clear picture of the stakeholders and value proposition for business architecture is like starting a company without knowing what products you will sell or who you will sell them to.

Position Business Architecture Within the Enterprise Context

Some teams misinterpret business architecture as a downstream discipline that works at the project level and they can create confusion once they start communicating this. However, business architecture is in fact an upstream discipline positioned between strategy and execution, and is most effective when used for cross business–unit purposes.

Communicating where business architecture fits within an enterprise context is important because it alleviates concerns about overlap and ensures the discipline gets the right visibility, resources, and authority. Positioning business architecture as the bridge between strategy and execution, as shown below in Figure 1, can be an effective way to describe its context. This view facilitates discussion around the typically missing stage of “architect changes” and the value it could provide in creating a set of cohesive designs, plans, and execution across strategies, transformational initiatives, and innovations.

Figure 1 — An enterprise perspective on strategy through execution.

Figure 1 – An enterprise perspective on strategy through execution.

Because of its role between strategy and execution, business architecture is the foundation of enterprise transformation. It enables the constant stream of strategic and tactical changes necessary for organizations to compete and operate effectively. It provides the framework for translating strategy into concrete actions, quickly assessing all business and IT impacts, and creating a coordinated set of plans for execution. Having a business architecture has even become a competitive advantage for some organizations as it has increased their agility and effectiveness in quickly implementing changes.

Continually Demonstrate the Value of Business Architecture

While most business architecture teams acknowledge the importance of this activity, it often falls to the bottom of their priorities, usually due to a lack of resources.

However, nothing communicates business architecture value better than results. Track and tell success stories, collect quotes, and capture and report on quantifiable results from the very beginning. Build advocates who will tell stories on your behalf and influence others within the organization.

Make Your Business Architecture Communications Compelling

Due to a lack of resources, abilities, or interest, business architecture teams often resort to standard communication methods such as presentation slides and documents.

However, the reality is that the way we communicate both inside and outside of the workplace has changed significantly, and we are constantly competing for peoples’ attention. This heightens the importance of creating simple and compelling communications (with a clear “what’s in it for me”) using a variety of formats. Illustrations, stories, and videos are good ways to communicate, and information can be shared through various mechanisms — from posters to intranet sites to in-person forums. More business architecture teams are now working with illustrators and design resources to create high-impact communications.

The Importance of Investing in Business Architecture Communication

While it may be tempting to focus only on developing and using the business architecture blueprints, some investment of time on business architecture communications is critical, no matter what your situation. Having the best business architecture won’t matter if people within the organization do not understand or adopt it. It may not be what you intended to spend time on, but considering the context around business architecture, it is a necessity. However, if you build a strong case, position business architecture well, continue to communicate your successes in a compelling way, and have patience, your business architecture practice can become a true enabler of enterprise change and facilitate cross business–unit collaboration in ways never before possible.

About The Author
Whynde Kuehn
Whynde Kuehn is a Cutter Expert, a member of Arthur D. Little’s AMP open consulting network, and Managing Director of S2E Transformation Inc. She is also a Fellow at the Institute for Digital Transformation and author of the book Strategy to Reality. Ms. Kuehn is passionate about bridging the gap between strategy and execution. She has extensive experience in enterprise transformation and planning and was a key player in one of the largest… Read More