Countering skepticism about business architecture

Countering skepticism about BA

Throughout the past years, an increasing number of enterprises have found business architecture (BA) to offer valuable practices for use in their design and transformation journeys. According to the BIZBOK® Guide (A Guide the the Business Architecture Body of Knowledge®), business architecture “represents 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.” As such, it comes with a value proposition that can be summarized as follows:

“The value of business architecture is to provide an abstract representation of an enterprise and the business ecosystem in which it operates. By doing so, business architecture delivers value as an effective communication and analytical framework for translating strategy into actionable initiatives. The framework also enhances the enterprise’s capacity to enact transformational change, navigate complexity, reduce risk, make more informed decisions, align diverse stakeholders to a shared vision of the future, and leverage technology more effectively.”

Yet, when people first hear about business architecture, they may react with skepticism and may question its legitimate place in today’s enterprises. Here are some of the most common doubts and suggestions on how to counter those statements:

Assertion #1: Business architecture is just “the flavor of the day”

Growing communities and associations of business architecture practitioners, the establishment of academic programs on business architecture, maturing reference models and standards (such as the BIZBOK® Guide), the increasing variety of sources dealing with business architecture, and the advancing alignment with other fields of practice clearly militate against a skeptic‘s expectation that business architecture will pass soon.

Assertion #2: Business architecture is not worth it, we have been successful without it for ages

There are certainly many enterprises that managed to achieve outstanding success in the past without a formal business architecture practice in place. At the same time, however, people in the majority of enterprises will likely remember past initiatives that failed to a certain extent. Some of those initiatives will have sufffered from scope creep and misalignment with strategy, others might have been complete failures. By illustrating how the use of business architecture could have helped understand the initiative’s scope, saved efforts, and kept the initiative in line with the overall strategy, you will be able to counter statements that claim there has never been a need for business architecture.

Even without such past failures to refer to, it is quite obvious that times have changed, and so have many enterprises. Enterprises are in a state of constant change and have to deal with diverse interdependencies, both within and across the organizational boundaries. So whether or not business architecture played a role in the past, it is well explainable that it is crucial now and even more in the future.

Assertion #3: Business architecture is too time consuming

Of course, certain efforts will be necessary to establish a business architecture practice and set up a proper business architecture baseline. One step will lead to another though, things don’t have to be done at once. Using an initial baseline to focus on key stakeholder concerns first, you will be able to make a readily appreciable impact with your business architecture efforts. Distributing business architecture responsibilities across the enterprise will let you avoid disproportionally high efforts accumulating at one place.

Above all, the time saved by business architecture use in scenarios like mergers and acquisitions, new product deployments, and digital transformation initiatives will at a certain point outweigh the initial and ongoing efforts of maintaining various kinds of mappings and accompanying documentation. In the long run, not doing business architecture will likely be much more time consuming than doing it, since the lack of a business architecture knowledgebase will force initiatives to “reinvent the wheel” again and again.

Assertion #4: Business architecture has no place within agile operating models

With the rise of agile methods, business architecture work has lost its relevance one might argue. In fact, the opposite seems to be true. While it is correct that the times of big upfront design might be over, experience shows that for agile practices to be successful it is crucial to align teams around a common vision, facilitate communication across those teams and manage to set priorities according to overall business needs. As a result, business architecture seems to have become more important than ever before.

Assertion #5: Business architecture is not necessarily the go-to approach to strategy execution

People may acknowledge the high dynamics of change nowadays and the need for something that helps to cope with complexity and translate strategy into actionable terms, but may take a critical stance towards business architecture in that context. Once they are challenged though to suggest other approaches that help navigate the strategy-to-execution continuum, you usually see people shrugging their shoulders. Putting the ball in the other’s court can thus be a helpful move. When there are no other approaches that have proven to be more effective, why should you then not go for business architecture?

Assertion #6: Business architecture comes with practices that are odd

Reviewing blueprints on a regular basis and keeping business architecture information up to date is something that some people may consider a pointless and odd exercise. Here it might help to point to other fields of practice, such as, e.g., accounting. Isn’t it common practice to turn in receipts, claim travel expenses, and, generally speaking, keep records up to date on a regular basis? So does business architecture; it thus incorporates operating principles that are common elsewhere.

Conclusion

As pointed out, there are different kinds of skepticism about business architecture that you might have to deal with. You are well advised to make sure to be able to counter voices of skepticism in a reasonable way and thus dispel doubts and get people on board. It is beyond question that the way you communicate about business architecture is of utmost importance. That is also why we consider storytelling a cornerstone of effective architecture practices. Please don’t hesitate to drop us a message if you’d like to discuss further or if you are interested in our business architecture storytelling course, which includes dealing with how to articulate the business architecture value proposition making use of stories.

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