Business Architecture – The Missing Link in Business Transformation and Change Management Initiatives

Business architecture, business blueprint, enterprise architecture……..whichever is your favourite flavour of these similar concepts…….if you do only one thing better as part of your next business transformation initiative, it should be this.

Nothing else we know of, properly executed (i.e. fit-for-purpose, not over or under done) is so essential to the achievement, or its lack more implicated in the failure, of a serious (i.e. one where there was the actual political will and desire in the first place to try and make real changes) business transformational change effort.

Effectively, a business architecture it is your routemap for success, a true Critical Success Factor (CSF)…….

Now that we’ve made this bold assertion, let’s take a closer look at just why it may be true. Let’s start with some leading questions. Have you ever had the sense that:

* You have no real grasp of what is going on with all the existing or planned initiatives in your organisation and suspect that no-one else really does either?
* There should be some sort of design authority or governance body overseeing everything but it is either non-existent or ineffective?
* The business purpose and risk/reward profile of many initiatives in your organisation are tenuously defined at best and in some of the worst cases they may be either highly risky or pet/vanity projects?
* Resources are being squandered and opportunities missed because no-one has prioritised what is most important, leading to a culture where everything is undertaken, everyone is overworked and very little is accomplished or gained?
* There will gaps and/or overlaps between initiatives because they are not being properly coordinated or their critical inter-dependencies proactively managed?

If any of the above sound familiar it is likely that you are another of the casualties of the organisational noise and chaos characteristic of many poorly run business transformation and change management initiatives.

This organisational noise and chaos is usually endemic in these environments and leaves many of those involved overwrought, confused, frustrated and ultimately demoralised by the tangible lack of clarity, leadership and progress they are experiencing.

The impression is that no-one is in overall control, that the lunatics must be running the asylum and that there is no cogent or coherent understanding of the ‘fit’ of how everything is supposed to come together towards some common purpose. Or for that matter any true understanding of ‘what good looks like’ so that it would be recognisable if you saw it.

This frustratingly common scenario has many root causes, but in our experience, by a large margin, chief among them is the lack or proper use of some sort of structured business architecting approach.

A business architecture serves as a ‘translation layer’ between the vision and strategy laid down by the executive leadership of an organization, and its practical implications and change requirements for line management and staff.

Nearly everyone would agree that if significant change were as easy as writing a short memo to all stakeholders expressing a view of what was desired; and that if line management and staff would and could then faithfully execute this intent to the best of their abilities; executive management would do just that and all would be well!

However, most experienced managers recognise that this approach rarely, if ever, works!

So why do so many otherwise intelligent and capable executive management teams persist in writing a very brief vision and strategy statement (i.e. the ‘short memo’), do little more than circulate them, and then wonder why not much happens? Or if something does happen why it is not what was intended!

Our own experiences and viewpoint on this matter are very black and white.

Too many organisations attempt to move directly from short, broad-brush vision and strategy statements to the commissioning of specific programmes and projects.

Unfortunately what often comes next is all too familiar and frequently the subject of those erstwhile ’Top 10 Things to Do (or Avoid)’ checklists found in the business press. That is to say activity is mistaken for progress until such time (i.e. much later) as it becomes blindingly obvious to the leadership governance team that the progress they had thought they were making is largely……NOT the progress they had thought they were making!

In many organisations when a realisation of the true progress status begins to sink in the political positioning begins, a witch hunt is conducted, the (often not very) guilty are condemned, the ‘great and the good’ declare that lessons were learned, and victory is duly declared. Then, after a ‘quiet period’, and against all common sense, as though on cue, the whole process repeats itself all over again and a new management fad is embraced.

But of course the new management fad, what-ever its advantages, is all too often still not a well considered and effective solution to the issues at hand, or at best only a partial answer. This is because most management fads implicitly look ‘outward and upward’ to the next great heights as written about by the management guru’s selling all the books.

They are almost never about looking ‘inward and downward’ onto the simple but important truth that some basic good management principles and practices are very probably being profligately violated by the organisation and that these are often the root causes of many of their ills.

This latter message of course is often not a popular one. It frequently doesn’t sit well with some of the larger ego’s involved in running an organisation; i.e. it couldn’t possibly be as simple as that, could it?....we’re on top of that sort of basic thing, aren’t we? (N.B. for the typical employee in many organisations, if you value your job/promotion/raise, at this point you should know to be nodding in the correct way at these and other rhetorical questions!)

Our own experiences in this department have too often left us with these old adages ringing loudly in our ears: “never time to do it right, always time to do it twice”; and “a definition of insanity is doing the same things again and expecting different outcomes”.

So, let’s try and be crystal clear, for the avoidance of doubt, about our own considered view on this point. Put simply, in the context of most sizable organisations, and most of the time:

If you do not follow up a vision and strategy statement with some sort of practical and more detailed translation layer  –  e.g. a well constructed business architecture (N.B. this need NOT be overly onerous or time consuming…. just fit-for-purpose)  –  then you are extremely likely to repeat the experiences we have just outlined above. End of, full stop, period!

Sorry to be so abrupt, but we do feel strongly about this issue, and we wouldn’t want to pull our punches or be seen as wishy-washy on a matter where clarity is warranted and needed. The key lesson we would like to leave you with is that history will, and often does, repeat itself if you don’t learn from it.

Let’s examine why this might be so for a moment. We would assert that a brief, and not too specific or quantifiable, vision and strategy statement typically:

* Gives only limited clues, in concrete terms, as to how radical the changes should be, or need to be, and what areas should be prioritised for action in which order?
* Usually doesn’t make clear who has authority to make decisions about key changes, who owns what parts of those changes or how the inevitable overlaps in the spans of control of those affected by the changes might be deconflicted?
* Commonly omits coverage of what the sacred cows, stakes in the ground, ‘real’ budgetary limitations or other key (but unstated) assumptions and constraints there are…..you know, the sorts of ones that it might be important to be aware of when trying to set realistic programme and project scopes, budgets and timelines?
* By default makes the easiest and least risky way forward the one where the status quo is largely maintained in all but name, and essentially the same projects, just renamed and slightly re-jigged in scope, are continued?
* Is sufficiently vague such that those who are so inclined, and in a position to do so, can too easily make interpretations that suit their own professional and personal agendas and interests rather than those of the organisation?

We could go on at length adding to this list, and we’re equally certain you could add a few points of your own, but we trust our point has already been adequately made. A business architecture, which addresses all of the above failure points and much more, is a step we believe you simply CANNOT afford to omit from any (typically, by definition) large and complex business transformation and change management initiative.

Today the cost of getting it wrong in terms of money, time, customer satisfaction and reputation is simply too great to contemplate.

In our opinion to skip the essential and unifying step represented by a robust business architecture is to be penny-wise and pound-foolish!

To understand more about the benefits of Business Architecture and how it may relate to the challenges you are facing get in touch with us for a free, confidential, no-obligation discussion either by visiting our website at www.kz-a.net or dropping me an email at steve@kz-a.net.  We look forward to hearing from you!

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Steve Kerzman
04.05.2012