On what constitutes a capability

On what constitutes a capability

It is widely acknowledged that capabilities are integral to business architecture. According to the BIZBOK® Guide (A Guide to the Business Architecture Body of Knowledge®), a capability is “a particular ability or capacity that a business may possess or exchange to achieve a specific purpose or outcome.”

So far so good, but what is it that actually constitutes a capability? In fact, it is often referred to as a combination of people, process, and technology. We believe that this represents a too narrow view of what capabilities are rooted in. There are further aspects that may make a business capable of doing something or, more informally speaking, good at something (such as, e.g., capturing and understanding customer preferences, designing products, or managing orders). It is therefore vital that approaches like capability-based planning take a more holistic view that is not limited to people, process, and technology. We would like to start off by drawing a little analogy to illustrate our point: the “capability” of a football team to achieve successful results.

The analogy of a football team

Whether or to what extent a football squad is capable of being successful is of course very much determined by the individual quality of its pool of players. But there is more than that. Otherwise tables would be much more predictable.

One aspect that may make a team more or less successful is how well it is organized in a certain formation (such as, e.g., 4-4-2) and to what extent it can switch between different systems during a game. Then there are teams that come with outstanding open-play moves or that excel at set pieces. Others stand out by their winning mentality or exceptional team spirit, with players who fight for each other, do not give up, and are driven by a huge desire to win. Precise information about the opponent may also make a difference. Finally, there is equipment: while maybe not differentiating in professional football, it is certainly a necessity to be equipped with high-quality football shoes, for example.

Back to business architecture

Let’s translate this to capabilities in business architecture and break it down to some fundamental questions to address when dealing with the configuration of capabilities:

  1. Pre-defined open-play moves and set pieces are what processes are in business architecture. The question to be dealt with is: “In what order at what pace and quality do we (need to) perform certain actions?”
  2. A team’s formation is what organization is in business architecture, as framed by the following question: “How are we (or should we be) organized and structured as a business and how are responsibilities allocated within that structure?”
  3. Individual quality is what the people dimension covers in business architecture. The relevant question is: “What level of skills and expertise do we (need to) have in certain areas, and in what quantity?”
  4. Knowledge about the opponent is translatable to what information are in business architecture. The corresponding question is: “What type of information relevant to certain aspects of our business do we (need to) have access to?”
  5. Equipment corresponds to what physical and technological resources are in business architecture. What is to be dealt with is: “What materials, equipment, facilities, machinery, and tools do we (need to) have available for use to suit certain business needs or purposes?”
  6. Winning mentality and team spirit is what culture is in business architecture. Here, the fundamental question is: “How do we typically behave and (need to) do things around here?”

Referring to examples from practice, one may argue that capabilities may well have a predominant “source of existence.” A business may thus be good at doing something due to one of those facets that is particularly well developed. All in all, though, they may all affect a capability’s state to some extent, which is also because they are usually not independent from each other (e.g., high-quality processes require skilled people and / or other first-class resources).

Conclusion

As outlined above, there is more than people, process, and technology that may be combined to form a capability. What we suggest to consider are process, organization, people, information, physical and technological resources, and culture. Not all of those aspects may need to be represented in formal blueprints, but as a business architect you are well advised to deal with all those dimensions in a thorough way when examining or (re-)con-figuring capabilities.

If you would like to learn more about capabilities and the different facets of their realization, you may find our business architecture courses an interesting choice. Of course, we are also happy to have a conversation about your take on capabilities and their underlying elements, so please do not hesitate to drop us a message.

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