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Five Ways to Fail at Business Architecture

by Jeff Scott, on Jan 12, 2018 10:03:00 AM

Customer-Service-Officer.jpgMost business architecture analysts and pundits (including me) focus on how to succeed at business architecture. And indeed, most of what I have written has concentrated on how to succeed and sustain a business architecture practice. However, most of the clients I work with are either struggling to get their business architecture practice off the ground or attempting to move from startup to success. Here are five issues I consistently see in business architecture groups at any stage of development that hold them back. 

Focus on modeling – Yes, I understand that capability models, value stream models, strategy models, etc. are all core elements of “the business architecture”. However, these are just tools that business architects use to solve business problems. The focus needs to be the problem not the model. Here is a good thought experiment. If your CEO came to you with a problem that your models couldn’t help solve, would you pass on the opportunity, or would you jump in and solve the problem with some other tool or method? Unfortunately, I see many business architects who believe that good models are more important than good solutions.

Go it alone – Many architects are the do-it-yourself type. They like to solve puzzles (models, problems, etc.) and they don’t like hints or help. They fail to recognize that architecture is an enterprise endeavor not only in scope but also in participation. Architects who build partnerships with others are consistently more successful than those who don’t. Who do they partner with? They work with the project office, project managers, enterprise architects, process analysts, corporate strategy, business unit strategy, audit, and compliance among others.

Ignore culture and politics – Research shows that culture and politics present the biggest obstacles for business architects, yet architects largely ignore them. A large majority of business architects have models for capabilities, value streams, and strategies, yet I have never seen a culture model. (If YOU have one, I want to talk with you!) Business architects largely ignore culture and politics because they can’t affect them – which is true. But they miss the fact that they CAN leverage them, mitigate them, and circumvent them with just a little effort. It’s as if they see the problem before them and choose to totally ignore it.

Set a low bar – Most of the business architects I work with are relatively successful but I am amazed at how low they set the bar for themselves. Just getting a practice started is a major accomplishment. And keeping one going for five years is an even bigger feat. But part of what holds business architects back from being wildly successful is that they set somewhat low expectations for their team. This shows up strongly in teams that have been successful for a while but can’t articulate where they go next. Good business architects can have an incredible effect on their companies – they just need to set their sights higher.

Focus on cost savings – To get a business architecture practice off the ground, many business architects must promise some type of financial savings. And this is fine if that is what you need to do get the business architecture up and running. But in the long run, this is a game of diminishing returns. The more savings you find the less there remain to find. If you live in IT, all you hear is cut costs, cut costs! But for most of the organization it is sales, revenue, and margins that are important. Successful business architects move beyond cost savings and efficiencies and attack strategy, revenue, and growth.

The bottom line:_______________________________________________________________________________________________

Business architecture is a tough business. Everyone struggles, most fail, a few succeed, and a very few sustain for the long run. If you want to win at business architecture, you need to take a different path from the mainstream. You need to think carefully about what success really looks like and set YOUR course for the outcome you want.



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