The Secret: What Business Architecture Is Really About and Why It Can Be So Hard

What is business architecture really about? And why can it be so hard for others to understand its value and see what business architects see?

Some of you know The Secret. Some of you think you do not know The Secret, but you actually do. Some of you will learn it now.

This installment of StraightTalk aims to provide some context for what happens to many of us on a daily basis and why. Perhaps to help you navigate it a bit better or approach things differently – or even just to take comfort in the fact that you’re not crazy and you’re not alone. The ideas shared here are just a start and should be considered as the beginning of a conversation for us to come together around messaging and a movement that can help fuel the adoption of business architecture.

Okay, so what is The Secret?

It’s StraightTalk, so let’s get right to the point. “Business architecture” as we often talk about it, is not really about the business architecture itself.* The Secret is this: what we try to do as business architects, leaders, and change agents is actually a much bigger vision; a shift in mindset and behavior. Business architecture is simply an enabler for the bigger picture. That’s what this is all really about and that is why sometimes it is so hard.

Modeling an organization and its ecosystem is not hard. Change is hard.

At first, this might sound a little bit like blasphemy, but it’s not. The business architecture knowledgebase is still the foundation of being able to enable the type of vision and shifts we are envisioning. It’s just that we need to remember that it is really a means to an end, not an end in itself.

* Where business architecture is, according to FEAPO, “holistic, multidimensional business views of capabilities, end-to-end value delivery, information, and organizational structure; and the relationships among these business views and strategies, products, policies, initiatives, and stakeholders.” (If you’re new to business architecture, check out Post No. 1).

So, what is business architecture really about then?

First, let’s give some context. The backdrop is a digital, globally connected world and the evolution of the very purpose of the firm. As a result, organizations are beginning to rethink and shift their mindsets and structures from competing as organizations to thriving as part of ecosystems, from shareholder focus to stakeholder focus, from profit-driven to value-driven, from hierarchies to self-organization, and from planned and predictable to agile and adaptive.

So, what we are really about is a new vision for strategy execution and new ways of working in our organizations and ecosystems. The amazing people who tirelessly work as business architecture practitioners, leaders and advocates were not drawn to business architecture to build a knowledgebase – but rather they were compelled by a bigger purpose and ability to make a real difference. There are many easier paths to choose from than business architecture, so we are all bonded by our vision and commitment to something greater than ourselves for the benefit of our organizations and societies.

For example, we see the need to shift organizational mindsets and ways of working…

  • From silo orientation to enterprise optimization and cross-business unit (and cross-organization) collaboration
  • From narrow focuses in investments and problem-solving to systemic and big picture thinking
  • From an internal “inside out” focus to an “outside in” perspective which focuses on value for customers and stakeholders
  • From leading with technology and solutions to thinking about the business first and what we are really trying to do
  • From a focus on execution and doing things to slowing down to speed up later and make sure that we’re doing the right things

Business architecture and business architects provide the big picture (in a common language, for a broader scope of focus, and with a longer-term perspective) and bridge silos – to facilitate effective strategy execution, decision-making and design of organizations and ecosystems. Of course, there are many ways to spin the opportunity, but this seems to be coalescing as the heart of it.

See below for a handy diagram that quickly summarizes everything above.

diagram showing before and after state shifts in organizational mindset

P.S. More on business architecture’s role in strategy execution here in Posts No. 3, No. 50 and No. 9. More on how business architecture is an expert silo-buster in Post No. 68.)

Why is business architecture sometimes so hard for other people to grasp and see the value?

There are the basics that we all know and experience. Business architecture can seem abstract to others where business architects readily see the patterns. The word architecture makes some people think about technology or makes them feel uncomfortable because they do not understand it. There can be some history and bad associations with previous enterprise architecture efforts.

There is also the very real fact that the way we’ve socialized business architecture has sometimes been academic and we could have told the story differently. (More below on this.)

However, refer back to The Secret. This isn’t really about that capability map or those value streams. It’s hard because introducing business architecture is ultimately about introducing change.

Sometimes resistance to change just comes dressed in a different outfit. People may not come out and say, “I really don’t want to be transparent or accountable about what I’m doing, or slow down, or collaborate and pool my budget with others because it’s not what I’m used to doing or incentivized to do.” However, they may say things like “business architecture sounds like a really good thing for us to do, but I just don’t think we have the time right now.” Or, “I just don’t see the value in business architecture.”

The new vision and change we introduce pushes on just about everything: organizational structures, motivational mechanisms and even human nature. For example, if we turn to the anthropological research described in The Silo Effect1 (a must-read), we can see that a crucial part of our shared social norms and a central element of culture is the commonly held set of ideas about how we classify the world. These cultural norms are so woven into the fabric of our daily lives that we barely notice the classification system we use and just assume it to be inevitable. As humans, we have a natural tendency to sort the world into groups and silos. Our classification systems exist not just to make our internal mental processes efficient, but they are also necessary for social interaction. They are core to belonging and that goes to the heart of being human.

So while there are tremendous benefits for organizations to have a bigger picture view and bridge silos, in some respects it goes against our human nature – and that is important to keep in mind.     

BTW, business architects are pretty special people who do think differently. Here’s more on how they are organizational guides and enterprise advocates and have special ways of working.

Why does all of this matter?

Let’s return to Simon Sinek and the golden circle of Why? How? What? that explains why some organizations and some leaders are able to inspire and succeed where others are not.

Sinek states that the way we typically communicate is to first say what we do, then say how we are different or better than others – and then we expect some sort of action from others such as a behavior, a purchase, a vote, etc.

However, the golden circle starts with why. Sinek references Apple’s success by doing this. For example:

  • First comes the why: “Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently.”  
  • Then comes the how: “The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly.”
  • And then finally comes the what: “We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?” 2  

So why all of this matters is that for us to be successful, we need to tell our story in the right way. We need to start with why. Socializing business architecture as a discipline won’t get us to where we want to go because business architecture is the what. It’s a means to the end.

This all starts with being clear and honest with ourselves about what we’re really trying to do and painting the picture of that vision (the why) for others along with the better results they will achieve. This will open the door for business architecture to be at the heart of that solution, which of course must include a partnership with many other teams as well.

If people can’t see and feel a compelling vision, they are certainly not going to be motivated to care or change.

So where do we go from here?

This is a call to action. It’s a call for bold leadership, vision and collaboration.

We believe in the discipline of business architecture and the important benefits that it provides, so let’s articulate our why with clarity and rally around it.

Let’s start a movement for the benefit of our organizations and world.


1 Tett, Gillian. The Silo Effect: The Peril of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers

2 Sinek, Simon. TED Talk: How Great Leaders Inspire Action

More Good Stuff…

How Great Leaders Inspire Action (TED Talk): A classic must-watch TED Talk by Simon Sinek on the golden circle of Why, How, What. It provides a framework upon which organizations can be built, movements can be led, and people can be inspired. And it all starts with Why. If you haven’t seen it, watch it now. If you have seen it, watch it again.

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action (Simon Sinek): A book by Simon Sinek on the same important topic.

How to Start a Movement (TED Talk): Speaking of movements, in less than 3 minutes, here’s how to start one. Fun + serious wisdom here.  

The Silo Effect: The Peril of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers (Gillian Tett): This book applies an anthropologist’s lens to the problem of why so many organizations still suffer from a failure to communicate. It shares tales of the silo syndrome, yes, but also shows how institutions and individuals can master their silos instead. This one is a must-read!  

Breaking Down the Silos (Psychology Today): Reflections on what it takes for smart collaboration.

Smart Collaboration: How Professionals and Their Firms Succeed by Breaking Down Silos (Heidi K. Gardner): This book offers powerful prescriptions for how leaders can foster collaboration, move to higher-margin work, increase client satisfaction, improve lateral hiring, decrease enterprise risk, engage workers to contribute their utmost, break down silos, and boost their bottom line.

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

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

The Future of Management Is Teal (Strategy+Business): An outstanding article on how organizations are moving forward along an evolutionary spectrum, toward self-management, wholeness, and a deeper sense of purpose. Also check out the book on Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness.

Taking Initiative: How to Leverage Business Architecture for Initiative Planning

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.