Living The Dream: How to Integrate Business Architecture With Strategy Execution

This marks the 50th installment of StraightTalk, and we’re returning to our roots. Waaay back in Post No. 3, we introduced a new vision for strategy execution and explored how business architecture could help to enable it. We called it the Strategy Execution Metanoia, because a metanoia is a transformational moment – when you see the world in a different way and can’t go back.

What if our organizations could shift:

From what’s best for the silos…To what’s best for the enterprise with collaboration across business units

From narrow focuses for initiatives and issue resolution…To systemic, big picture thinking

From internal focus (“inside out”)…To value and customer/stakeholder focus (“outside in”)

From technology and solution focus…To business focus

From execution focus and doing things…To slowing down to speed up and doing the right things

From fragmented, unintentional strategy execution…To deliberately designed, transparent and owned strategy execution from end-to-end

Great strategy execution (i.e., the ability to translate direction into action quickly and well) can be a source of competitive advantage for an organization, though one could argue that it will soon just become necessary for survival considering the increasing magnitude and speed of change. And it takes a village. Great strategy execution takes an ecosystem of teams working together in harmony to move big ideas into action. Business architecture plays its own important (and often missing) role but is also instrumental as a dot connector and enabler of other teams as well.

The recognition of business architecture’s role in strategy execution has continued to gain traction among organizations, communities of practitioners, industry associations (like the Business Architecture Guild®), vendors, and even the academic community to some extent. So now what? What can business architecture teams do to actually make it real within their organizations? StraightTalk No. 50 can help.

P.S. Before reading this post, make sure to check out StraightTalk Post No. 3: The Strategy Execution Metanoia (a.k.a. Translating Strategy Into Action With Business Architecture) and some of the resources in More Good Stuff to gain background and context for the role of business architecture in strategy execution.

Where do we start?

The first thing you can do is ensure the right positioning for the business architecture team within your organization. Regardless of where the team actually reports or how it is structured, make sure that business architecture is understood to be a strategic, business-focused, enterprise discipline placed after strategy but before planning and initiatives. (BTW, you can check out No. 8: Organizing For Success, for more information on business architecture team structures.)

As the business architecture discipline gains traction, there is an encouraging trend in that more and more new business architecture teams are positioned just as they should be from the very beginning.

Our team is not ideally positioned. Now what?

You’re not alone. If your business architecture team is not positioned ideally – perhaps because it is more focused downstream on initiatives or perhaps because people in the organization view you through a technology lens — remember that you can always adjust. Start by reshaping your value proposition in a way that is aligned with the strategic intent of the discipline and make sure that you are well-prepared to deliver on it.

It may not happen overnight and it may not be easy, but business architecture teams have overcome this challenge many times. In fact, it is commonly referred to as shifting left, which means moving the role of business architecture upstream in the strategy execution life cycle over time.

Got it. What next to make it real?

First, you have to have a vision — a new vision for strategy execution with business architecture. This, of course, requires a pre-requisite understanding of business architecture, how strategy execution should work and how it currently works in your organization.

Before you can influence others and start working to make it real, you have to see it and believe it. (See No. 3 and other resources for some inspiration. Make sure to talk to your business architecture friends who have been on this journey, too.)

Check. Next?

Here’s where you take ownership for the good of the organization and start mobilizing and influencing others. Below are a couple of common paths for creating cohesive strategy execution, which is enabled by business architecture.

  • The Perfect Path (Enterprise Definition): This is when your organization already has a cohesive enterprise perspective and process in place for end-to-end strategy execution with cross-business unit coordination, transparency and ownership. In this case, the business architecture team can focus on integrating business architecture into the appropriate steps (e.g. to inform and translate strategy, to frame initiatives and requirements, and to measure results back to business objectives) and sharing any additional ideas for improvement.
  • The Real World (Start Where You Can): This is when your organization has fragmented (and likely ineffective) strategy execution activities that occur in various silos, portfolios, processes and teams. In this case, the business architecture team has some more work to do because it’s not just about integrating business architecture into the appropriate places, but also working with others to help the organization reimage and reshape how strategy execution works. If there is enough support for these ideas at an enterprise level, then progress can be made. Otherwise, you can simply take interim steps. Introduce ideas to others when you can. Form partnerships and just start working differently among yourselves. Take advantage of opportunities to work end-to-end across the strategy execution life cycle when they present themselves (e.g. to translate one strategy starting from the beginning).

Check out the handy diagram here for more on these two paths.

Cohesive Strategy Execution Diagram

Who should we work with?

Business architecture teams should work closely with a wide variety of teams, such as those related to strategy, innovation, customer experience design, portfolio management, planning at various levels, organizational change management, business process, organizational effectiveness and business analysis – to name just a few.

It is critically important for business architecture teams to:

  • Identify all related teams.
  • Document those teams in an Engagement Model.
  • Understand where each team plays across the strategy execution life cycle.
  • Define the value provided and interactions between each team.
  • Deliberately build integration and strong partnerships with each team over time.

Good partnerships are everything and are what will actually make a new vision for strategy execution real.

(Check out No. 5: We Are Family for more about business architecture and how to build partnerships with other teams.)

How have other organizations done this?

At a high level, pretty much like it is described here. There’s no silver bullet. It’s a journey and it requires the hard work of formulating and sharing a vision for better strategy execution, partnering with other like-minded people, and working the change from within the organization day after day.

However, when it comes to people who truly care about an organization, its customers and stakeholders, and its mission – never doubt what a small and mighty group of them can do. Dream big and do big.

More Good Stuff…

The Strategy Execution Metanoia: A New Approach for Translating Strategy Into Action with Business Architecture (S2E white paper): A foundational whitepaper that explores how business architecture can be leveraged as a means to integrated business direction that is collectively architected, prioritized and planned from a business-driven, enterprise-wide perspective.

Business Architecture-Enabled Strategy Execution (S2E diagram): A handy diagram for you to download on the role business architecture plays across strategy execution. It is the Cliff Notes version of the white paper above.

Leveraging Business Architecture to Translate Strategy Into Action (S2E diagram): A second take on the diagram above, but with more to the story. This one was created based on an original 12 by 8 foot hand-drawn masterpiece by Sarah Greer.

Leveraging Business Architecture: Translate Strategy Into Action (Cutter Webinar): An on-demand webinar (available to anyone) which explores an enterprise perspective on the strategy execution life cycle and the critical role business architecture plays throughout.

Business Architecture Integration (S2E white paper): A white paper on how business architecture interacts with other teams and how to formally integrate with them.

Business Architecture Interaction With Related Teams (S2E diagram): A diagram which describes the value of business architecture for a common set of related teams.

Business Architecture — The Gateway to Transforming an Organization into an Agile Enterprise (White paper by Whynde Kuehn and William Ulrich): An overview of how business architecture enables end-to-end organizational agility through effective, coordinated translation of business directives into targeted results from strategy formulation through strategy realization. Case study included.

Business Architecture and Strategy Realization (BIZBOK® Guide by Business Architecture Guild®): Check out Section 3.11 in the BIZBOK® Guide for content on business architecture and strategy realization. (Membership required.) There is also reference to the role of business architecture in strategy realization in Part 1 of the BIZBOK® Guide. (No membership required.)

94 Mind-Blowing Strategy Execution Stats (Boardview): A gold mine of statistics on strategy execution all in one place. While a bit concerning, they are helpful when you’re making a case for business architecture.

Why Strategy Execution Unravels—and What to Do About It (HBR): A video which articulates the five myths of strategy. Business architecture can help with every single one.

Execution Is a People Problem, Not a Strategy Problem (Harvard Business Review): “Your organization’s biggest strategic challenge isn’t strategic thinking — it’s strategic acting.” Another perspective on the importance of outcome clarity and behavioral clarity for strategy execution.

The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization (Book by Peter Senge): If you haven’t read this classic, add it to your list. It really is an incredible piece and reflects many common themes such as the mind shift from seeing parts to seeing wholes, the importance of system thinking, and the power of shared visions. Senge even introduces the concept of metanoia as “a fundamental movement or shift in mind” which requires “deep shifts in our orientation.”

Draw Your Future (TED Talks): An outstanding TED Talk by Patti Dobrowolski on drawing your dreams into reality. A must watch.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Dos and Don’ts For Establishing a Business Architecture Practice

This installment gives you the straight talk on some serious dos and don’ts for establishing a business architecture practice within an organization. We’ll ground our conversation by reflecting on a fundamental concept of the business architecture discipline — often misunderstood — that will assist in guiding you and help you to stay on the right path.

Okay, so what do we need to know?

Business architecture is an enterprise discipline. This is the fundamental concept to understand and remember.


This means that an organization’s business architecture should:

  • Describe the entire scope of an organization’s ecosystem (it is created top-down—not bottom-up by individual business units or projects)
  • Represent that ecosystem at a high level of detail (allowing us to see the forest for the trees for new insights and targeted focus)
  • Be shareable and reusable (giving everyone the same mental model about what the organization does)

Can’t we just use business architecture as a set of tools and techniques that we can apply whenever we want to, such as for a specific business unit or project?

You can do anything you want.  However, creating business architecture piecemeal and in isolation for a certain business unit or project does not leverage the full power of business architecture. If you define your business architecture at an enterprise level as described above, it will give you the ability to break down and facilitate collaboration across business silos – something that almost no other disciplines or techniques can do. On the other hand, if you create and practice business architecture separately within multiple silos across your organization, it will only serve to reinforce the silos.

If there has ever been a time when business architecture is so desperately needed to look across silos, that time is now. Business architecture allows us to finally create cohesive customer experiences, work together like one organization to transform and simplify our operating environments for cost savings and future organizational agility.

Won’t it take a long time to document our business architecture at the enterprise level?

Most people assume that documenting business architecture requires a lot of time. However, there are ways to greatly accelerate the development of your organization’s baseline of capabilities and value streams, and then you can build the rest over time – driven by practical business value and usage.

If this topic is new to you, don’t worry, StraightTalk has you covered on other posts:

What does this mean to an organization’s business architecture practice then?

Based on the fact that business architecture is an enterprise discipline when you establish a practice within your organization, there are two immutable principles:

  1. There is one shared business architecture for an organization.*
  2. Business architecture practitioners utilized a shared methodology.

* Unless the organization is a conglomerate or equivalent level of structural difference.

There are many areas of business architecture where flexibility is welcomed and has no implication – but that is not the case here. These principles apply regardless of organizational structure. In fact, there are many good examples of organizations that have created effective and robust business architecture practices with only virtual collaboration (i.e., where there is no central business architecture team officially on the org chart).

So how do we know if our business architecture team is on the right path?

Below are a few common paths that organizations tend to find themselves on. Try to start on and stay on The Good path, but what’s most important is to recognize where you are — and if necessary, course correct when you can to set yourself up to have the most successful and scalable business architecture practice as possible.

  • The Good path (one single enterprise business architecture practice) – Regardless of team size, this is when you have (or are taking action to have) one business architecture and methodology for the entire organization. This will allow you to fully leverage the business architecture discipline and effectively scale your practice over time. Keep going. Stay on this path as you grow and evolve the practice.
  • The Bad path (some separate business architecture practices exist within silos) – This typically happens when you are in the early stages of your practice, but have two or more business units with different architectures and practices. Veer now. Do a business architecture maturity assessment and take full action now to shift to an enterprise practice (before it gets ugly).
  • The Ugly path (many “mini” business architecture practices exist within silos) – This is when business architecture has been deployed across all (or significant portion) of business units, each with their own separate business architecture and differing practices. This only partially leverages the true value of business architecture and unfortunately reinforces the silos. It also tends to create chronic confusion about the discipline throughout the organization. Course correct. Do a comprehensive business architecture maturity assessment and work together on an action plan to shift to an enterprise practice.

All of that is summarized here for you in this handy diagram.

Guidance for establising business architecture practice diagram

Got it. Anything else?

Regardless of which path you are on, you can always adjust. (And if you’re not on the path you’d like to be, you’re not alone.) Keep in mind that we are all on this journey and the steps we take every day continue to move our organizations — and the business architecture discipline — forward every single day.

More Good Stuff…

The Business Architecture Practice: A Practical Approach to Establish and Mature Your Internal Practice (S2E Whitepaper): A foundational whitepaper on how to establish and mature a business architecture practice within an organization.

Case Studies On Establishing and Maturing a Business Architecture Practice: Learn from your friends. Here are a few examples from previous Business Architecture Guild® Summits where business architects have shared their business architecture journeys.

On Being Wrong (TED Talk): A TED Talk by “Wrongologist” Kathryn Schultz who makes a compelling case for not just admitting but embracing our fallibility. And rediscovering wonder.