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Taking Initiative: How to Leverage Business Architecture for Initiative Planning

By Whynde Kuehn | 29 February 2020

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Leveraging business architecture for prioritizing, scoping, shaping, sequencing, informing and rationalizing initiatives is one of the most common – and powerful – uses of business architecture. Smart initiative planning is critical to effective strategy execution, and leveraging business architecture for it inherently shifts mindsets in new ways that consider the bigger picture for the enterprise both now and in the future. (More on strategy execution and these shifts here in Posts No. 3 and No. 50). And, the great news is that there are opportunities to deliver significant value to your organization whether your business architecture practice is just getting started or well-seasoned and mature. In this installment of StraightTalk, we will explore just a few different ways in which business architecture can be leveraged for initiative planning.

First, what is an initiative?

According to the BIZBOK® Guide, an initiative is “a course of action that is being executed or has been selected for execution.”

This is a broad definition that serves us well for the type of analysis and dot-connecting that we aspire to do. It means that any defined set of work is considered an initiative. For example, methodology does not matter (e.g., waterfall or agile). Size does not matter – anything from an enterprise-wide transformation to a program or project to a two-week sprint can be considered an initiative. Even business efforts (e.g., a continuous improvement effort) can be regarded as initiatives.

How can we use business architecture to help with initiatives?

There are so many possibilities, so we will just skim the surface with a few ideas here. First, it is helpful to think about how business architecture can help from a few different altitudes.

At a higher altitude (i.e., the least level of detail and involvement) is leveraging business architecture as an analysis and communication framework to inform initiative investment decision-making within and across portfolios.

Moving down in altitude, we can leverage business architecture to help us shape multiple initiatives across one big change (e.g., to create a strategic roadmap for an enterprise business transformation) or facilitate collaboration across initiatives.

At a lower altitude, we can leverage business architecture to inform or assess one specific initiative.

How do we get started?

To get started, we still need to have the same two fundamentals in place as for any business architecture practice.

  1. A clearly defined value proposition for business architecture within your organization – This will guide your priorities for selecting business architecture use cases, building relationships and performing integration activities.
  2. A business architecture baseline – This consists of a capability map, set of value streams and a cross-mapping between them for the scope of your entire organization and the ecosystem in which it operates. A solid business architecture baseline is a must-have for any use case – and value streams and capabilities are the super connectors for everything. (More on business architecture as a connector here in Post No. 53 + more on how it bridges silos here in Post No. 68 + a bit on building value streams and capabilities here in Posts No. 17 and No. 51).

So, how can business architecture inform initiative investment decision-making?

How Business Architecture Shifts Minds.

Business architecture objectively informs initiative investments within and across portfolios, with the enterprise in mind.

How We Leverage Business Architecture.

In this cross-initiative scenario, we use business architecture – often centered on the capability map – as a framework for analyzing, visualizing and communicating the strategic alignment of initiatives as well as their alignment to each other. We typically heat map data onto the capability map structure (value streams may also be leveraged) to represent and analyze things such as:

  • What is the aggregate planned spend for each capability during the next investment cycle – within each portfolio and across portfolios?
  • How does the planned initiative spend align with the health and strategic importance of each capability?
  • Are there any overlaps or conflicts in initiative investments by capability?
  • Are there any gaps in initiative investments by capability to deliver on our business direction?
  • How much change is planned across capabilities impacting key stakeholders?

(More on leveraging business architecture for investment decisions in Post No. 10).

Why It Matters.

Business architecture can provide a new lens to inform portfolio leaders and decision-makers before they decide where to invest. By leveraging the common enterprise business lens that capabilities (and value streams) provide, we can ensure that we are investing our precious resources in the smartest way and on the work that is of the highest priority to the enterprise. This can help bring clarity where there is an inability to prioritize (e.g., everything is a priority) and objective truth where there is subjective or even biased decision-making based on portfolio, business unit, product or other silos. Making sure that we invest in the right things also ensures that when we fast forward into the future, these initiatives will add up to consistent and integrated experiences for the customer and an optimized business and technology environment that is cost-effective and can continuously adapt to future changes.

How To Get Started.

Start having conversations with portfolio decision-makers about how business architecture can help.

This scenario does not require a lot of business architecture content to be developed, making it an ideal place for new teams to start or mature teams to pursue at the right point. Regardless of timing, it can be a big win. Make sure your capability map is solid and then tie capabilities to objectives and initiatives (and value streams if you like for additional context).

How can business architecture help shape initiatives for a big change like a transformation?

How Business Architecture Shifts Minds.

Business architecture shifts strategizing and planning from an initiative mindset to a capability and end-to-end value delivery mindset.

How We Leverage Business Architecture.

In this scenario, we use business architecture to translate business direction into a coordinated, logically sequenced set of actionable initiatives based on the collective set of value stream and capability changes. These initiatives are usually represented on a strategic roadmap that provides a business-focused and high-level view of where we are headed (not programs and projects). Value streams and capabilities frame the changes being delivered by each initiative – though the value streams and capabilities themselves usually do not change, but rather the people, process and technology related to them changes (or something in the extended business architecture domains such as if a new policy or product needs to be created).

Check out the handy diagram below for a visual of that. (More on leveraging business architecture for translating ideas into action in Post No. 9).

Why It Matters.

This may not sound very significant, but it requires new ways of thinking and working (e.g., decision-making or funding may need to cross organizational boundaries). Organizations often translate business direction in silos, and even with intentional coordination the resulting initiatives can be misaligned with direction or create redundant solutions and fragmented customer experiences. Using a business architecture approach, we can again ensure consistent and integrated experiences for the customer and an optimized business and technology environment for the organization.

How To Get Started.

Translating strategy into initiatives – especially for a large scope of change that requires cross-business unit coordination – is a more advanced scenario for using business architecture. Having a more robust business architecture knowledgebase can be advantageous including connections to other disciplines such as business processes and system applications.

Nonetheless, a place to start is to find a leader(s) or within the organization who is open to trying a new approach and translate one strategy or big idea into action. Once you have the business architecture baseline in place, you can build out any additional business architecture content and cross-mappings just enough, just in time.

Translating strategies into initiatives from left-to-right would be ideal, but we’re not at that point yet.

We start where we can start. Business architecture can also help to facilitate collaboration across business units or teams – and as long as you have a business architecture baseline in place, you can start doing this right now.

For any planned or currently in-flight initiatives you would like to focus on, first tag the initiatives with the impacted value streams and capabilities. Why? Remember, we don’t usually change a value stream or capability, but rather use them to give us business context for where the change is happening. (See Post No. 53 for more on this idea of tagging). Once you have done this, you can not only systematically bring teams together around relevant coordination points (e.g., a Payment Management capability which multiple teams are building duplicate solutions for, just within different contexts), but you can also consult your knowledgebase to see what else is related to that capability (e.g., policies, stakeholders, reusable software services, etc.) so that teams can better be informed of the bigger picture.

Even agile teams still need a bigger picture to align with, so bottom line, how does business architecture shift minds here?

Business architecture facilitates overall alignment to enable autonomy.

How can we use business architecture to inform a specific initiative?

How Business Architecture Shifts Minds.

Business architecture accelerates initiatives and unlocks potential.

How We Leverage Business Architecture.

In this scenario, we use business architecture to inform and accelerate a specific initiative. Picture a package that articulates the clear scope of an initiative based on impacted value streams and capabilities as well as the enhancements needed (e.g., specific people, process and/or technology changes). It also includes a tie back to measurable business objectives and even a bigger picture target business architecture if applicable.

Why It Matters.

First, this approach ensures that the initiative is aligned with business priorities and is scoped in the smartest possible way in the first place. A business architecture-framed initiative helps to accelerate execution because the scope is clear and key considerations are surfaced (because the knowledgebase tells us what policies, stakeholders, other initiatives, etc. are relevant). The information map, capability map and value streams also provide a shared language and mental model that spans the entire organization. Requirements can be directly translated from the business architecture input and if cross-mapped to applicable capabilities, they can easily be located for future reuse. With business architecture, teams can focus their full creativity and talents on what matters – not trying to figure out terminology, scope, gaps, overlaps and coordination points based on tribal knowledge and peer-to-peer communications.

How To Get Started.

As mentioned above, find a leader(s) or partner(s) within the organization who is open to trying a new approach, and then use business architecture to inform one initiative to start.

Again, this approach sounds ideal, but if we’re not at that point, are there other things we can do?

Yes, you can create an initiative assessment, even for one which is already in-flight. This might include an impact footprint across all business architectures domains (and may include domains from other disciplines such as impacted journeys, processes and system applications) as well as assessments of its strategic alignment, alignment with other initiatives and other specific evaluations such as degree of customer experience impact. You will still surface unique insights and new connections – and then next time, you might be invited to the table before an initiative is planned.

Take the initiative and try some of these techniques, even if for something small. Some are simple things you can do that will deliver unique value and perspectives. Every mountain is climbed one step at a time and each individual drop adds up to an ocean.

More Good Stuff…

Business Architecture Initiative Mapping Content (BIZBOK® Guide): Check out Section 2.6 in the BIZBOK® Guide (Business Architecture Guild® membership required) for the official word on the how to map initiatives and cross-map them to other business architecture perspectives.

Business Architecture for Initiative Planning Case Studies: Always learn from your friends. Here are a few examples from previous Business Architecture Guild® Summits where business architects have shared how they used business architecture for various types of initiative planning. Please visit the Public Resources page on the Guild website to locate these case studies.

  • Using Capability-Driven Assessments for Strategic Planning Case Study (Principal 2015)
  • Digital Transformation in a Complex Environment (Abn Amro 2019 Master Series)
  • Business-Driven Roadmaps, Initiatives and Funding (United Airlines 2015)
  • Capability-Based Approach to Enabling Strategic Initiatives (United Airlines 2014)
  • Business Architecture and Major Portfolio Initiatives (USPTO 2014)
  • Architecture-driven Investment Planning (Mastercard 2015)
  • Business-Driven Roadmaps (Mastercard 2014)

3 Ways to Plan for the (Very) Long Term (TED Talk): Speaking of considering the big picture in planning, here is an interesting TED Talk by Ari Wallach on how can we learn to think about and plan for a better future in the long term. He also shares three tactics for thinking beyond the immediate.