Business Architecture Rethought

The BA Poppy empowers you with an agile approach to innovate with speed, impact, and scale. “Speed” because you deliver value within just a few days, e.g. with a Business Innovation Sprint (Design Thinking). “Impact” because you drive strategic relevance with top executives and business leaders, e.g. with a Digital Journey Dashboard (1-page strategy). And “scale”, because you orchestrate a rich ecosystem of partners to deliver the targeted business outcomes, e.g. with a Business Architecture Roadmap.

The conductor of an orchestra doesn’t make a sound. He depends, for his power, on his ability to make other people powerful.

Benjamin Zander (1939-, English conductor, musical director of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra)

In its barebone expression, Business Architecture is about connecting two worlds that are still largely operating in isolation from each other: business & technology. Many enterprises perpetuate this organizational dichotomy, and when they do, they struggle, unavoidably. In today’s world, business is shaped by technology and technology is shaped by business — you simply can’t dissociate them, whichever the industry you are looking at: finance or education, retail or healthcare, manufacturing or government.

4 BA Skills to connect Business and Technology

Business architects are entrusted to bridge the gap between these two worlds. To succeed and drive innovation with speed, scale and impact, we need the right skills and the right tools. A few years ago, the typical frameworks in a business architect’s toolbox might have been limited to TOGAF, ITIL, IT4IT or COBIT. But, by now, most of us realized the risks of the old ways:

  • chaining ourselves to a particular framework or methodology;
  • spending days elaborating sophisticated models of what as-is/to-be realities look like;
  • isolating ourselves in an ivory tower of diagrams, tables, and rulebooks;
  • growing a reputation of a gatekeeper, hindering the progress of projects;

That’s not BA, at least not in 2021. Business architects are here to accelerate innovation!

Whatever the framework you’ve been trained on, the tools you like, the methodologies you learned to master, your job as a business architect is centered on 4 “skills of the future”: Strategist, Orchestrator, Innovator, Storyteller.

Continue reading “Business Architecture Rethought”

Business Architecture for IT (BA4IT)

The Next New Normal

As the world emerges from the COVID 19 pandemic, business leaders will be focused on “The Next New Normal” which will certainly include offering more ways to access products and services in a digital format. More than ever, businesses will want their IT departments to enable and deliver new innovative digital capabilities with agility.

For IT departments this presents a challenge and opportunity. The challenge is that IT leaders in the past have not always shown how their services are supporting their stakeholders business priorities. The opportunity is for IT leaders to start using new tools and techniques to align to their business’s priorities.

For most enterprises budgeting is an annual exercise. IT teams should seize the opportunity the annual budget cycle presents by using Business Architecture tools and techniques as part of their IT budget submission process. I’m calling this approach BA4IT.

I’d like to highlight an example of successfully using this BA4IT approach. I recently had the opportunity to work with the IT leadership of a Canadian enterprise regarding their annual IT budget. The IT leadership faced some familiar challenges:

  • The executives at the enterprise did not see IT as a strategic business partner.
  • The IT budget was not increasing.
  • The executives wanted “digitization” without understanding the investment required to embark on the journey.
  • Organization-wide skills shortages (especially in IT).

The IT leadership had already created a detailed technology invest plan so we had a great foundation to work with. We agreed that we needed to create an executive document to complement the detailed invest plan. We started by reviewing the enterprise’s business priorities and identifying SMART outcomes for each priority.

One example was collaboration, the business need to improve the way the internal and external teams worked together. We defined the SMART outcome to be achieving daily usage of collaboration tool within 12 months for the internal and external teams. We would measure this with by surveying the users at the end of the 12 month period. This linked the IT investment request to a measurable outcome for the business.

Once we had that completed, we focused on creating a story board that visually linked the business priorities and outcomes (the Why), the next generation IT services (the What) and the IT budget items (the How) to new innovations to improve business processes for the users (the Capabilities).

Storyboard example

Once we had that completed, we focused on creating a story board that visually linked the business priorities and outcomes (the Why), the next generation IT services (the What) and the IT budget items (the How) to new innovations to improve business processes for the users (the Capabilities).

Senior management liked the new approach of focusing on the business priorities and invited the IT leadership to present their IT business investment case to the corporate board. And… IT is also now a strategic partner with the executive team!

If you want to use the BA4IT approach in your own IT practice a great starting point is to get a clear understanding of the stakeholders and their concerns by doing some homework, review your enterprises org charts, annual reports and internal and external users of your services. Try to identify the top 4 or 5 business priorities and the outcomes the business wants.

In the future I’ll go into more detail on stakeholder management, business priorities, drivers and outcomes and some of the other topics in this blog.

15 Tips & Tricks for Consultants Interviewing their Customers

Interviewing the key stakeholders is a pivotal part of any digital transformation program. In this post, I share my tips & tricks to help you run a successful set of interviews, and extract those golden nuggets of insights from the person in front of you (either virtually or physically).

Let’s say, for the sake of this blog post, that you are working with one of your customers to create a Digital Journey Dashboard (or DJD) such as the one depicted below.

Use the DJD Lite as your interview guide
  1. Create an interview guide.  I recommend you use the draft DJD Lite as your interview guide. Your goal is to uncover the meaningful and relevant facts, initiatives, capabilities, etc. in order for you to complete the viewpoints you are in the process of forming. Look at it as the completion of a puzzle, piece by piece, interviewee after interviewee. At the beginning, you don’t know what you don’t know, so keep the conversations open. This is why you need an “interview guide”, rather than going through a list of predefined questions. This is not a survey. As the round of interviews progresses, you can and will start being more specific about the information you are looking for. Each interview will focus on different aspects and that’s fine.
  2. Interview 1 customer at a time. Don’t compromise here. Having 2 or more people interviewed at the same time seriously hampers the quality and depth of the information you’ll be able to retrieve, in particular if the topic is a touchy or emotional one. Indeed, people are a lot less inclined to share sensitive information when in the presence of a colleague. Also, if your interviewee is alone, s/he will feel more compelled to ensure that you really understand their viewpoint. It’s just human nature. So again: only 1 interviewee at a time – you’ve been warned!
  3. Make sure that you also interview the sponsor and the champions, ideally towards the end of the interview round. Even though you already talked to them (e.g. to secure the BA engagement in the first place), having a more intimate setting (i.e. 1:1) will allow you to uncover additional points, as well as test your understanding of the inputs you received in previous interviews. Interviewing the sponsor/champions towards the end will ensure that you are not totally off the mark when you produce the final draft of the DJD (or any other BA deliverable you’re working on). It’s important to confirm that your understanding of the big picture is correct, before you start spending hours on analysing the detailed information you received throughout all the interviews.
  4. Research the interviewee. Determine the person’s work role, his/her formal authority and specific expertise and use this information to estimate the likelihood s/he will have the knowledge/visibility necessary to clarify one area or the other of the DJD. Identify topics for which you must obtain answers or extra insights. An efficient way to do this is to ask your sponsor/champion to go through the list of interviewees and give a short explanation of their role/responsibility and why they were selected as a key stakeholder to digital transformation.
  5. Give some upfront notice to each interviewee, so that can mentally prepare themselves about what we’ll talk about during 60 minutes. This could/should be done through the sponsor, with something like: “There nothing specific for you to prepare. The only thing we’d like to understand are the challenges & opportunities that you see for the IT department to better support the business transformation moving forward. Please just give it some thought while you’re driving to the office before the interview”.
  6. At the start of each interview, introduce yourself and restate the goal of the conversation. Assume that the interview knows very little about what you are trying to achieve. The interviewee is about to spend 1 hour of their precious time to support this initiative, so it’s important that they understand how they will benefit personally and what they can expect to get out of it.
  7. Start the discussion with these 2 open questions:
    “​​​​​​​Could you please explain your role in the organisation and the key areas of transformation?”
    ​​​​​​​”In your mind, what is the role of IT (and technology in general) in driving Digital Transformation, and helping do your job in a better way?”

    By experience, these 2 questions are enough to kick-start a 60-minute, fruitful discussion. Remember that you don’t know what you don’t know. So make sure you let the interviewee tell you what is bothering them most — this can sometimes take a bit of time to unfold, so you need to let the person come it in a natural, gradual way. Oh… and assure your interviewee that the whole discussion will be anonymized, so as to ensure that no information remains concealed.
  8. Have an interview partner/scribe. Conduct interview with another person to help in taking notes and to ensure correct interpretation of answers. Another benefit is to let the interviewee know that his/her input are critical to the success of the initiative. The maximum number of people on your side is 3, as more would damage the intimacy that you are seeking to create to gather high-quality, relevant information.
  9. It’s important to leave silences in the conversation. This may be challenging if there are 2 or more interviewers. This is why you always need to nominate a “lead interviewer” who drives the discussions. From time to time, the lead interviewer will poll the other folks on the call/meeting to seek if they have additional questions. This is really important as some of the gold nuggets come when the interviewees is left with some thinking time: a 10-seconds silence has been proven to have a very powerful effect when used wisely in interviews. Use it to your advantage!
  10. If and only if the conversation gets stuck (e.g. after 30 minutes), feel free to show the draft DJD Lite that you are working on. This might inspire the interviewee to share more information about one topic or the other. This is also a great opportunity to test out how the DJD story plays out in the ears of one of the key stakeholders at the customer. Does it resonate? Or is a critical piece missing?
  11. On some rare occasions, an interviewee might be impatient or even aggressive, for whatever reason. Maybe there’s some internal politics involved. Maybe it’s just a bad day. In any case, you won’t get much out of someone who’s not inclined to share his/her thoughts. I recommend to propose him/her to cut the interview short. By experience, this will the exact opposite effect, i.e. the interviewee will calm down and try to explain and/or find more topics to talk about, because unconsciously, they feel the need to fill in the planned 60 minutes.
  12. After about 50 minutes, start wrapping-up the conversation. Summarize the key points you uncovered and the aha! discoveries you have made. Test your understanding and gather anecdotal evidence: this will be very handy when you’ll need to justify some of your more controversial findings/recommendations.
  13. For your own personal use, take a picture (screenshot) of the person you are interviewing. This is easy if the meeting is virtual, but a little bit more tricky (if not, awkward) if it’s physical — just play it by ear. A picture of you interviewee will be very useful after 2-3 weeks, when some of the discussions might be blurry in your memory. Seeing the face of the person you talked to will help you remember the context. And it’s a nice souvenir too!
  14. Ideally, leave a minimum of 1 hour between 2 interviews. Why? 1/ you’ll need some breathing time to rest your brain and/or take a bio break; 2/ you’ll need to clean up your notes before the next interview (otherwise you’ll start mixing things up); 3/ In the event your interviewee has more than 60 minutes and the discussion is going well, you can extend the discussion a little (of course, you should ask if your interviewee is ok with it — it is only being polite). If you are planning a full day of interviews, a good schedule might be: 9:00-10:00, 11:00-12:00, 13:00-14:00, 15:00-16:00, 17:00-18:00. 5 interviews in one day is the absolute maximum you should shoot for. Ideally, I prefer to keep it to 4. More gets difficult to process and remember.
  15. Time extension. Usually, 60 minutes will be enough to get through the main points, in particular towards the end of the interview round, when you have already gathered much of the information needed to build a DJD. But sometimes, you might run out of time and wish you had asked for 90 minutes. If you feel that you still have a lot of unanswered questions and that the person has critical information, feel free to either extend the call by 30 minutes, or organise another session with the interviewee. Often, they will be flattered and accept.
  16. Say thank you and explain what will happen next. You might conclude by saying something like this: 
    “Thank you so much for spending time with us and sharing your insights. This has been tremendously valuable. We’re now going to use this information to create a Digital Journey Dashboard. Rest assured that we’ll anonymize the controversial points you raised. When we are done, in 2-3 weeks, we’ll organise a read-out with the sponsor to present our findings, as well as drive a collaborative, virtual workshop to co-create the final infographic together.”
    Remember that your interviewee has just spent 1 hour of their precious time to support this initiative, so it’s important that they understand how they will benefit personally and what they can expect to get out of the 1-hour of their lives they just gave you.
  17. Don’t record the call/meeting. This would make the interviewee feel self-conscious and careful about the sensitive information they might like to share. This is why it’s important to have 2 interviewers (maximum 3), allowing you to take good notes without hindering the open and honest conversation.

Yes, this is more than “15” — consider the last 2 as bonuses !

Which profiles should you ask to interview?

Your sponsor/champion at the customer asked who they should line up for the interviews? 

Here’s a good template list of profiles to start with:

  1. Innovation Manager and/or Digital Transformation Officer
  2. Team leaders from the IT dept – Networking, Security, Collab & others.
  3. Someone in charge of developing the IT Strategy (could be an Architecture Management Office or an Enterprise Architect)
  4. Someone who cares about Data – either from the Architecture, Security or Governance side
  5. Someone from Financial/Procurement that helps procure new tech and investments
  6. Someone from Operations that helps run Daily Ops
  7. Someone from Product Development (Coding, Product etc)
  8. People representing the Lines of Business and the end users (could be “Business Relationship Managers”)
  9. Workplace and building management (/Real Estate)
  10. etc.

Careful: this list is not exclusive or nor definitive. It is a mere suggestion to help the sponsor/champion select the right people to interview. 

At the end, the people you are looking for are the influencers who have an opinion on things and are ready to openly share it with you. You are looking for the thought-leaders who have original ideas about what Digital Transformation means the organisation.

That’s it!

And remember: the most important is to enjoy the discussion. I have found I learned more during the customer interviews I conducted than any other moment in my entire career. Forget about trainings, certifications and books. During customer interviews, you get a mandate to ask ANY question and explore ANY topic. You get insights from professionals who share the viewpoints they have often developed over years. This is a HUGE opportunity to learn.

Likewise, I have found that the interviewees almost always enjoy the process as well. Why? Because they feel their opinion is valued and the organisation is listening to them, as one of the key stakeholders to Digital Transformation. So many of my interviews have ended with a very pleased interviewee, eager to participate to the next steps in the BA-led engagement.

So have fun!

Business Architect Leads Digital Transformation Opportunities in 2021

2020 has been a year like no other — a year marked by the incalculable loss of life; by the economic devastation of a pandemic that has disrupted people, families, governments, and economies around the world.   As enterprises have reacted to the pandemic, new business trends and priorities have emerged, in particular the acceleration of the digital transformation of key business processes, for internal as well as for external stakeholders – starting with the customers.  

The digitization of business processes has been underway for some time and has become a competitive advantage across many industry verticals.   The pandemic has accelerated this trend and there is no reason to believe that the trend will slow down once the pandemic ends.

“Digital Native” enterprises, i.e. those born with strong digital capabilities have leveraged this competitive advantage to expand, as more consumers moved to access services and products online.  Examples include: Amazon, Shopify, Facebook, Salesforce, Google, Etsy, and Netflix. 

But non-digital Native industry verticals (ex. Agriculture and Mining) are also investing in digital capabilities.  Two Canadian examples are Nutrien Ag Solutions and Teck Resources. 

Continue reading “Business Architect Leads Digital Transformation Opportunities in 2021”

BA Makers: Heroes of your Digital Transformation

In this post, I explain why the paradigm shift of low-code app development means BA takes center stage in Digital Transformation. I develop how Business Analysts and Business Architects are at the right place at the right time to solve the Innovation Equation through the BA Makers Movement.

Photo by Henry Be on Unsplash

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead (cultural anthropologist, 1901 – 1978)

I take every opportunity to listen to what people say and write about Digital Transformation: how they go about driving innovation, how they deal with the ever-shifting goalposts, how they break the invisible cultural barriers… With more or less verve, digital pundits enthusiastically advocate the virtues of embracing change, often with a commentary on the way Amazon institutionalized 2-pizza teams, Netflix implemented DevOps, Ocado used cutting-edge technology and automation to transform the online grocery space…

But rarely understood or recognized is the essential role played by Business Analysts and Business Architects, which I’ll collectively refer to as BAs, as I explain further below. In my experience, BAs are the unsung heroes of Digital Transformation. BAs are the change agents who connect, clarify, visualize, storify, orchestrate and transform. To reach their potential as a community, BAs must come together as a movement – the BA Makers.

Continue reading “BA Makers: Heroes of your Digital Transformation”

Quantum Transformation: Holistic, Concerted, Undetermined

“Digital transformation” is a buzzword brandished by executives and consultants as the axe to slay all evils. But as you well know, mere digitization (or “cloudification”) is far from enough: what is needed is a holistic, concerted, undetermined approach – let’s call it Quantum Transformation.

“I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.”

Richard P. Feynman (1918-1988)

Normality is just not in the cards anymore. Each crisis seems to hit individuals and societies harder than the previous one, and our resilience is strained to the brink. “New Normals” are melding into a continuous Never Normal. Yes, our comebacks too are occurring at increasing velocity, but we keep on answering each transition with tit-for-tat logic and makeshift fixes. Value models that proved their worth in the past are now hopelessly archaic and unsustainable. Businesses and governments know our fortune hinges on the ability to innovate with speed, impact, and scale – but complexity, fear of new technology, ill-defined executive strategies and shifting goalposts make it a delicate affair.

Don’t you find yourself, some days, better off ignoring the news, stay blissfully unaware of the slew of worrisome events, gloomy stories, and not-so-unexpected surprises — and focus your mind on tasks you comprehend and problem you can solve? To get down to business though, you need a big-picture perspective: how else otherwise, can you be sure you’re focusing on what matters?

But where should you start? No single human being, no single organization, no single country has the capacity to grasp, let alone manage, the sheer complexity of the entangled system we have created. Apart from a radical change in behavior and organizational models, little seems to stand in the way of our civilization spiraling out of control — should we just wait for AI to divinely clean up our mess? You’d rather not, I presume.

So, if politicians won’t miraculously turn the tide with Marshall plans and economic stimulus packages; if industry captains won’t hack our way out through some tech revolution; then who is going to ensure our children and theirs can enjoy a future that isn’t an ill-fated extrapolation of current affairs? Can we change our linear approaches to exponential movements? You’ve already heard Einstein’s famous quote: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it”. But this one, from Peter Drucker (1909 – 2005), may be new to you:

In the past, revolutions were won when the masses followed a leader, enthused by a shared ideal. But today’s remedy calls for a scale and multiplicity of change that humanity never had to envision. Salvation won’t come from the narrow top; it must necessarily come from the distributed, scalable groundswell. And we have something our predecessors didn’t: an ability to raise organized, global movements acting with purpose, clarity and intent. In the case of Business Architects (BA), it’s about helping organizations innovate with speed, impact, and scale.

“Digital transformation” is the bread and butter of Business Architects. But all too often, it’s brandished by executives and consultants as the axe to slay all evils. Unfortunately, as you know, mere digitization is far from enough – what is needed is a holistic, concerted, undetermined approach. Forget about digital transformation, let’s call it Quantum Transformation.

Continue reading “Quantum Transformation: Holistic, Concerted, Undetermined”