Good to Great: How to Become a Great Business Architect

This installment of StraightTalk is a follow-on from our previous post on what makes a great business architect. Let’s get actionable on what we talked about last time.

You had me at “business architect,” so how do I become a great one?

Here are some of the most important things you can learn to become a great business architect.

  1. Build foundational business architecture knowledge and start with BIZBOK® Guide-aligned training – It all starts here. First, you have to know how to build a business architecture.
  2. Learn how to structure and evolve business models and formulate strategies to win – Get deep here. If you aspire to be a trusted advisor to the business, you need to understand what makes organizations tick. Not to mention, this stuff is great fun.
  3. Learn how to think and design – Develop structured methods for thinking (e.g. systems thinking and problem-solving methodologies). Learn how to design, including from completely different perspectives (e.g. building architecture, biology, etc.).
  4. Get good at storytelling and visualizing complex concepts and data – Business architects are agents of change, so exceptional and compelling communication skills are important (e.g. visualization, visual facilitation).
  5. Pursue a complementary passion – Pick an elective. There are many complementary disciplines and techniques that are interesting to learn, such as experience design or organizational effectiveness, and they will only make you a more well-rounded, effective and happier business architect.

What else should I do?

Here are some of the most important things you can do to become a great business architect. There’s no substitute for doing, so raise your hand for these opportunities or make them for yourself.

  1. Create a business architecture foundation for the entire scope of a large organization and extend it over time – Build a business architecture from scratch by facilitating a cross-functional group of business representatives. Create an enterprise capability map based on defined business objects. Create a set of enterprise value streams. Cross-map the capabilities to value streams at the stage level. Now you have the foundation. Then, over time, capture additional business architecture domains (e.g. business units, strategies, initiatives, products, etc.) and other domains (e.g. system applications, processes, etc.) and cross-map them to the capabilities and value streams. And, use and live with what you created for a substantial amount of time.
  2. Architect a digital transformation – Building an organization’s business architecture is a necessary pre-requisite, but remember business architects architect—not just model. Signing up to architect a digital transformation is one of the most relevant things you can do at this point in time.
  3. Facilitate the usage of business architecture for portfolio management and investment decision-making – This isn’t “architecting” anything, but it is one of the most impactful common and impactful uses of business architecture.
  4. Architect a new start-up organization or help one to scale – The strategic thinking and urgency of a start-up will test your business architecting skills in a new way, especially if you work in a corporate environment now.
  5. Walk for a while in other pairs of shoes – Most great business architects come to the role with a rich set of prior career experiences, which is necessary for such a multi-faceted role. Get hands-on with technology. Work in a Business Process Management or data role. You get the idea.

Here’s all of that in a handy diagram for you.

How to become a great business architect

Is certification important?

Yes. Business architecture certification* alone will not make you a great business architect, but it is an important part of the program.
  • Business Architecture Practitioners can solidify their knowledge of the BIZBOK® Guide and differentiate themselves to become more marketable for new job opportunities. (P.S. Remember to focus on the learning—not the letters after your name.)
  • Organizations who support business architecture certification can more consistently define job descriptions and assess job candidates and employee performance. Certification is a great way to ensure that all business architects on the team actually know what you think they know. It creates a common frame of reference. Not to mention, happy employees = better retention.
  • The Business Architecture Discipline can continue to advance and demonstrate growth, strength and relevancy. The stronger the discipline = the stronger your position as an individual business architect, so there is an argument to become certified for the greater good.

* See the Certified Business Architect (CBA®) program from the Business Architecture Guild.®

How can I grow as a business architect if my organization does not support me?

Invest in yourself, even if your organization does not yet believe in business architecture. They will when you start delivering value.

First, stay hungry. Never stop learning, exploring and trying.

Find yourself a business architecture mentor from within and/or outside of the organization.

Make up a project. Create one internally (you don’t need to advertise that you are “doing business architecture”). If that doesn’t work (or even if it does), create one externally. Do some architecting for a non-profit, small business, church or other organization. Getting experience + doing good at the same time = the ultimate combo.

Take control of your own career path and decide where you want to go and who you want to be. You can have a lifetime of interesting work and value to contribute in the business architecture discipline—and it is equally an excellent jumping off point for other roles and disciplines.

What else can I do?

Remember that there are things which have nothing to do with business architecture which will make you a better business architect—things that challenge you in new ways, broaden your perspective, give you more confidence and make you a better human. So take a sabbatical, go on a trek or volunteer some time where it’s needed. It all matters.

More Good Stuff…

Business Architecture Recommended Resources (S2E): Loads of business architecture and other related resources, just for you.

The Evolution of the Business Architect (Clark and Kuehn white paper): If you’re new to StraightTalk and haven’t seen this one yet, here’s a look at what the business architect role is and should be, and how you can take charge of your own career path.

Certified Business Architect (CBA)® Program: The level 1 CBA® certification currently available from the Business Architecture Guild® tests a practitioner’s knowledge of the BIZBOK® Guide. An additional level(s) of experience-based certification will be available in the future.

Guild Accredited Training ProgramTM (GATP®) Program: Find an accredited training partner whose training is BIZBOK® Guide-aligned.

Mental Models: The Best Way to Make Intelligent Decisions (109 Models Explained) (Farnam Street): Loads of mental models to help structure your thinking and decision-making.

Making Systems Thinking Sexy (TED Talk): A TED Talk by Eli Stefanski on systems-level thinking—critical to our world now—with social examples. Become an impatient optimist.

Cutter Business Technology Journal: Architecture + Agile

On Tuesday, September 4, 2018, Cutter Business Technology Journal published its monthly issue featuring “Architecture + Agile: The Yin & Yang of Organizational Agility.” Guest Cutter editor and globally recognized business architect and educator, Whynde Kuehn, provided a thoughtful opening statement on the concept of business agility — the ability of an organization to continually anticipate and react to change in response to significant forces such as globalization and technology. She further constructs the idea that organizations are living organisms that must continuously adapt to today’s changing business and market environments. In the September issue (Vol. 31, No. 7), Kuehn selected and edited nine articles that explore the contradictory idea that architecture — something perceived as structural, static, constraining, governing — is actually the enabler for an organization, which allows it to become more agile and fluid, from strategy through execution.

Key shifts in strategy, architecture, and execution enable organizational agility.


Architecture is not a box to be checked. On the contrary, it is the mechanism for translating strategies into the right set of coordinated initiatives for execution. It is the bridge between strategy and execution, the bridge that supports the cross-organizational coordination and objective decision making that is so desperately needed in many organizations today. — Whynde Kuehn

See also:Business Architecture + Agile = Doing the Right Things, Fast” by Whynde Kuehn and William Ulrich. This article focuses on business architecture and reveals how it can be leveraged as an enabler along the strategy realization path that harmonizes the execution of business direction across organizational boundaries and initiatives. (Requires Cutter membership).

In Search of Greatness: How to Find or Be a Great Business Architect

What makes a “great” business architect is a topic of much curiosity and debate. So this installment of StraightTalk is about you, business architect, and what makes you tick.

P.S. Check out Post No. 6 for some background on what business architects do.

First, born or made?

Great business architects are probably more “made” through experience than they are “born,” but there are some characteristics that many have which might arguably be innate. For example, business architects are natural big picture thinkers where many others are not.

For a great conversation, feel free to debate this one further with your friends.

Okay, so what do I have to do to become a great business architect?

Let’s level set.

Business architecture teams can and should aspire to be diverse, in terms of team member personalities, abilities, interests, levels of experience and focus areas. (BTW, more on how to build a business architecture team here in Post No. 7.) Part of where we run into trouble is trying to look for (or be) that uber business architect who is everything all in one: like that person who can architect an enterprise-wide business transformation, can work with executives to inform strategy and evolve the business model with brilliant ideas, can speak technology, has knowledge of the entire organization and industry, has worked with all disciplines across the strategy execution life cycle, is politically savvy, is influential, is a great storyteller and can create visualizations that will knock your socks off.

While some of these creatures do exist in the wild, we are probably better served to envision and strive for the art of the possible, but embrace our strengths as individuals and be realistic about the journey to become the kind of business architect we want to be.

What should we envision and strive for then?

Let’s focus in on a few key aspects of a great business architect to get to the heart of what makes them different and successful. We’ll consider:

  • Knowledge (what you know)
  • Experience (what you’ve done)
  • Competencies (what you can do)
  • Characteristics (who you are)

What is some of the most important knowledge for a business architect to have?

Simply stated:

  • Business architecture knowledge – Like how to properly develop a business architecture knowledgebase and even more importantly, how to use the business architecture and actually architect change (because remember the role is business “architect” not business “mapper”)
  • General business knowledge – The MBA stuff, so that you know the theory of how organizations function and are structured
  • Technology knowledge – Yes, great business architects should have knowledge of technology as well, both to help integrate the business and IT architectures, but also to help the business leverage technology strategically. This one has become even more important as the lines between business and technology have blended.

Do business architects need to be subject matter experts?

There are different schools of thought on this and ultimately you should do what makes the best sense for your organization’s needs and dynamics. Generally speaking though, a business architect does not need to be a subject matter expert, but they can absolutely be more effective if they have knowledge of the industry and business domain in which they are working.

It is possible for too much subject matter expertise to work against you in this role, such as when you become biased, miss things or make assumptions.

This topic is another fun one to debate with your friends.

What is some of the most important experience for a business architect to have?

Here are a few things to focus on:

  • Business architecture mapping – This can be a good place to start because you learn how the business architecture works and gain a great understanding of your organization from end-to-end. It can also help you build relationships and credibility with people across the organization.
  • Using business architecture for portfolio management and initiative planning – This is probably one of the most valuable and relevant experiences to strive for.
  • Architecting a business transformation – Once you’ve completely immersed yourself in a large-scale business architecture-driven business transformation and completed it from end-to-end, then you’re really in the game and can take your career in many directions.
  • Interaction across the strategy execution life cycle – The more familiar you are with every stage of this life cycle, the more effective you will be as a business architect and agent for change. This includes experience in each stage of the life cycle to understand how it works, how each team functions, and the challenges and opportunities that exist. (StraightTalk Post No. 3 has you covered for the details on strategy execution and business architecture.)

Having said all of this, make sure to chart your own course based on what interests you and where you want to take your career. For example, some business architects like to have another “emphasis” such as strategy, experience design, organizational design or technology.

What are the key competencies for a business architect to have?

Very simply stated, here are some of the top ones:

  • Business architecture mapping
  • Real business architecting, including business roadmap development
  • Business architecture practice development (including socialization)
  • Various types of business modeling (most people come to the business architect role with a foundation of experience, and various types of modeling can serve as a good underpinning)
  • Verbal and written communication, including visualization

What are the key characteristics of a great business architect?

Since great business architects can come from anywhere or any role, the frame of reference for this question is, “what are the underlying characteristics to look for in a person who has serious business architect potential, even if they are not trained or experienced as one now.”

Some biggies include:

  • Top of the list: the ability to abstract, categorize and synthesize information – Structured thinking and a natural ability to see patterns is a critical ability for (and a sign of) a great business architect.
  • Big picture thinking and systems thinking – Great business architects always think big picture. They think about the business outcomes, the enterprise and the ecosystem in which it operates, the overall “system.” They always connect the dots. On the other hand, a person who can’t keep their thinking out of the minutiae is not yet ready for the business architect role.
  • Problem-solving ability and tenacity – Great business architects are thinkers. They are not only good at problem-solving but love doing so and are absolutely tenacious about it.
  • Ability to communicate and connect – Since business architects function as architects, leaders and change agents – and since business architecture is often focused on introducing change to an organization – a great business architect is a great communicator. They can tell the story in words and pictures to inspire people at all levels to understand, agree to and move towards a new vision of the future.

The diagram below reflects a bit of each of the four aspects to give you a solid starting point on what to look for (or aspire to) in a great business architect.

S2E Key Aspects of a Great Business Architect

How do I know if I have business architect potential?

So, in summary, you might be a business architect if…

  • You model everything, including aspects of your personal life.
  • You can’t help yourself from seeing patterns everywhere and categorizing things.
  • You are always asking “why.”
  • You connect the dots between ideas and people.
  • You can’t resist the urge to draw on a whiteboard.
  • You are drawn into a big challenge, just because it sounds fun to you, and can’t stop yourself from working on it day and night.

More Good Stuff…

The Business Architecture Team (S2E white paper): If you’re new to StraightTalk and haven’t seen this one yet, this white paper covers a lot of details on the business architect role and team, including a starting point for a job description.

The Evolution of the Business Architect (Clark and Kuehn white paper): A look at what the business architect role is and should be.

Business Architecture Competency Model (BIZBOK® Guide): Learn about business architecture competencies in sections 3.2 and 3.10 as well as appendix B.2. (Note: Requires Business Architecture Guild® membership.)

107 Reasons Why You, Architect, Matter: One of our absolute all-time favorites. This one will make your day. Read it again when you have a hard day to remind yourself that you are an important change agent in your organization and society. “Architects are a rare but powerful breed.”

5 TED Talks to Get You Motivated and on Your Way to Greatness (TED Talk): A fantastic compilation of TED Talks for motivation and inspiration.