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.

  1. Strategist: to build and visualize the north star, connecting business drivers with the technology platform. A picture is worth a thousand words. A business architect creates a holistic, visual perspective integrating all relevant aspects for the scope in the visor.
  2. Orchestrator: to bring all stakeholders around the (virtual) table; to understand different people, different viewpoints, different dimensions; and to define/execute the technology roadmap. A business architect brings the most ambitious projects to success by engaging a complete ecosystem of partners committed to pushing the needle when and where it matters.
  3. Innovator: to run Design Thinking workshops, re-engineering the value chain and solving problems. A business architect is a relentless change agent, a users’ advocate, a maker.
  4. Storyteller: to expose insights/recommendations, show the math, persuade LoB & IT execs to invest. So much noise, ambiguities, beliefs, and opinions: a business architect develops a story everyone can respond to and remember, and are careful to craft a narrative that is both powerful and a faithful reflection of reality.

Over the last 20 years, I’ve had the privilege to work with many CIOs, IT leaders and business executives in almost every industry. Working with fellow business architects at Cisco, our partners, and customers, we gradually co-created a more effective approach to business architecture than what we initially saw. Looking back at some of the earlier BA deliverables we produced (a fragment of which are illustrated in the diagram below), I am amazed at how much progress we have made. But from the start, 4 skills have remained central to our mission as business architects: Strategist, Orchestrator, Innovator, Storyteller.

Along this journey, our ability to help organizations deliver innovative projects has improved along three key dimensions:

  • Speed: What would take 3 months through strenuous rounds of individual interviews, workshops and readouts, we can now deliver in a mere week, through the power of design thinking and visualization. Gradually, we’ve learned to focus on what makes the difference for each organization, while productizing and streamlining what was common.
  • Impact: Where innovation once was a hazardous adventure, led by techies for techies, we now have proven a simple, robust, and agile approach to co-create outcomes with business leaders and senior executives. Small, iterative steps, rather than long-winded, scope-creeping programs. The emphasis is on building shared understanding, delivering working solutions, and bridging the business-IT gap.
  • Scale: Studies show that movements engaging a threshold of 3.5% of the population have never failed to bring about change. 3.5% — that’s your target, but only to start with. So if you’re working in a 10,000-people company, how are you going to get over 350 change agents committed to Digital Transformation, and equipped with the skills and tools to make it happen? Business architects turn employees into musicians actively contributing to the symphony.

The result of our learning? A 4-petaled approach to innovation, which we sometimes refer to as the “BA Poppy”.

4 BA Skills, and the assorted BA Tools

The seasons are what a symphony ought to be: four perfect movements in harmony with each other.

Arthur Rubinstein (1887–1982, widely regarded as one of the greatest pianists of all time)

Each one of the 4 BA skills is assorted with its own, carefully crafted BA tool, which we developed in order achieve our goal of driving innovation with speed, scale and impact. Why did we do this? Well, if I tell you to develop your skills as a “strategist”, you might wonder how exactly you should go about. But if I show you how to develop a Digital Journey Dashboard; if I illustrate the concrete infographic that a strategist delivers; if I coach you on building your own 1-page strategy; then, you’ll experience directly what it means to indeed be a “strategist”.

That is the reason why we gradually developed 4 BA tools to accompany the 4 BA skills:

  1. Strategist >> Digital Journey Dashboard (DJD)… to envision the 1-page strategy, or north star, of where the business wants to go, how they’ll get there, and what technology platform they require
  2. Orchestrator >> Business Architecture Roadmap (BAR)… to prioritize the industry use cases that will propel the business into the future, and to shape the integrated plan (architecture, roadmap, partner ecosystem)
  3. Innovator >> Business Innovation Sprint (BIS)… to facilitate Design Thinking workshops with stakeholders from Business & IT, turning challenges into MVPs that developers can rapidly code into action
  4. Storyteller >> Executive Storyboard (STORRY)… to leverage a proven storytelling structure (Snapshot-Threat-Opportunity-Rethink-Run-Yield) and articulate the financial & functional benefits of change

Not that these are the only 4 tools a BA would ever want to use, certainly not. But these are 4 tools that will help you innovate with speed, impact, and scale, whether you are new to BA and are looking to grow your skills, or whether you are a BA veteran and need to accelerate your BA-led engagements and/or mentor aspiring BAs. In both case, you’ll benefit from having proven, documented, standardized tools at your disposal.

Let’s unpack and describe each of the 4 BA tools.

Digital Journey Dashboard (DJD)

… envision the 1-page strategy to picture where the business wants to go, how they’ll get there, and map out the strategic innovation domains for the years to come.

Digital Journey Dashboard (DJD): the 1-page strategy

The DJD is the north star that the company should aim for in the next 2-3 years. It’s the holistic storyline connecting the business drivers (WHY), the digital-era operating model (HOW), and technology capabilities required to accelerate business innovation (WHAT). The DJD is materialized as an A1-size infographic, and never fails to impress both by its content and its form.

One of the powers of the DJD lies in its ability to orchestrate a variety of concurrent initiatives and empower different teams/individuals with a clear picture of what success looks like. The DJD pulls everything and everyone together on a single sheet of paper: this is why so many DJDs are currently hanging in the offices of CIOs, ministers, and executives. It equips them with a story that is visual, relatable, and actionable; a story that is equally as valid for the Board of Directors, as it is for employees, and for the customers.

We recommend reviewing and updating the DJD once a year.

Business Architecture Roadmap (BAR)

… prioritize the use cases that will propel the business into the future, and shape up the integrated plan (architecture, roadmap and partner ecosystem) to bring them to life.

Business Architecture Roadmap (BAR): from top-of-mind concerns to solution roadmap

The BAR provides a lightning-speed methodology to craft a technology roadmap answering the customer’s key challenges. In twice two hours (2X2), the business architect can drive a highly interactive workshop entirely remotely, and run a group of 6 people through the following exercises:

  1. Headlines: What have we seen to-date? We build a shared understanding by looking at the achievement to date (DONE), the current challenges (NOW) and the upcoming opportunities (NEXT).
  2. Personas, Jobs to do, Pains & Gains: Who are we building solutions for? We identify the 5 key personas who most need help, and empathize with their jobs to do, pains & gains.
  3. Business Use Cases: How to solve Pains & Realize Gains? We map out the business use cases (i.e. business capabilities) that will solve the pains & realize the gains of the key personas, and sort them by context.
  4. Prioritization: Where do we focus? Using a NOW-HOW-WOW matrix (plotting the payoff against ease of implementation), we prioritize the most impactful use cases and low-hanging fruits.
  5. Top Business Challenges: So, what’s the problem exactly? We spell out the main business challenges: this is where IT should focus most of its resources.
  6. Architecture Platform: What platform will accelerate innovation? We represent the platform that will deliver the capabilities required to implement the next-generation use cases.
  7. Technology Roadmap: How do we phase investments to deliver recurring business outcomes? We map out the IT projects and initiatives that are critical to the success of Quantum Transformation.

This approach is the quickest and most effective way you can engineer value for your customer, identifying the top-of-mind concerns/opportunities, mapping the next-gen use cases that will solve the needs of the key stakeholders, and then shaping up the architecture and roadmap to deliver the expected business outcomes. And the best part: it’s also a fun, engaging and high-speed process to go through.

BAR Workshop Agenda

Business Innovation Sprint (BIS)

… run Design Thinking workshops with stakeholders from Business & IT, turning challenges into MVPs (Minimum Viable Products) that you can rapidly code and start generating business outcomes.

Business Innovation Sprint (BIS): Design Thinking in Action

A Business Innovation Sprint (BIS) is a 2×2-hour, remote workshop that follows a prescriptive, proven set of Design Thinking exercises. The objective is to solve a complex challenge with key stakeholders from the business and from IT, and create a production-ready MVP as quickly as possible. Design Thinking ensures that the solutions are co-created in an interactive & collaborative way, allowing a large organization to temporarily run with the speed of a startup, in small and iterative steps.

The BIS process is split in 3 phases:

  1. Discover the opportunity:
    a – The BAR provided us with a prioritized business challenge worth solving, and we start the BIS with a good old-fashioned open discussion on the matter at hand. This allows everyone to express their initial ideas and viewpoints and serves to build a non-judgmental, fun-oriented team spirit. At this phase, we consciously try not to jump into premature point solutions. This is the space to dream and think large.
    b – We then build a fishbone diagram to crystallize our shared understanding of the challenge along the 6 dimensions of Digital Transformation: People, Processes, Data, Places, Things, Apps.
  2. Define the problems to be solved:
    a – We shape a simplified empathy map for the top 3 personas that we are trying to help. Rather than the usual extended empathy map (which, due to lack of time, often restricts us to only cover one persona), we focus on 3 facets for each persona: jobs to do (what are the persona’s key drivers and motivation?), pains (what makes life difficult today?), and gains (what future solution could possibly make life better?). Pleasing these 3 personas is the sole focus of the MVP we are looking to create.
    b – We then engage in shaping the “epic” that the MVP will bring to life. In Agile speak, an epic is a large body of work that can be broken down into a number of smaller stories. So, first, we need to draw the large lines, which we do through a “How Might We…” exercise, looking at improving the lives of our 3 personas, and structuring/clustering the ideas along a timeline.
  3. Explore creative possibilities:
    a – Once the epic has taken shape, we drill down further (again with a “How Might We…” exercise) into the individual stories composing the epic. Using dot-voting, we identify the top stories that we will prioritize.
    b – Finally, we break down the top stories into sequence diagrams, which coders can use in order to create and develop the MVP. This is where we engage with the programmers at Cisco and at our partners.
Example of a typical Sequence Diagram, in this case, for a retailer

Importantly, each step feeds into one another and corrections are made iteratively as we go through the process. So, for example, it might be that, when creating the rough epic created at the end of the Define phase, the workshop participants make adjustments to their original challenge statement, to better reflect their evolved understanding of the issues at hand.

Executive Storyboard (STORRY)

… tell the relevant story and do the math to persuade Lob & IT executives to invest.

Executive Storyboard (STORRY): Storytelling made easy and replicable

A STORRY board is an A1-size infographic to visualize the impact of a specific solution or a strategic IT program in the context of the customer’s Digital Transformation Strategy. The STORRY board provides a structured, step-by-step structure and process to develop a powerful narrative, culminating with the executives agreeing on the investment requested. Why? Because they understand the objective and are confident that you have done the required due diligence before asking for resources.

The STORRY boards walks the audience through the following steps:

  • Snapshot. We take an honest look at the current situation, the “as-is”: what are our strengths, and what are our weaknesses?
  • Threats. We shift our attention to the future: if we keep the current course-to-steer, which potential pitfalls are going to come our way? Some of the early signs of downfall may already be nascent?
  • Opportunities. Putting our optimist hat on, what does a bright future look like? What would you read in a press release proudly announcing a major milestone? Let’s work backwards from this desired state, and build a plan of action.
  • Rethink. Let’s reimagine how we deliver value and shape the strategic direction for the years to come. To succeed (or survive?), we must change linear business logic with exponential 10x thinking. It’s scary, but exciting. And you probably don’t have a choice, quite frankly.
  • Racetrack (or Run). Dreaming is good, but acting is better: what sustainable and rapid course of action will bring us closer to the ideal picture we have painted. Rather than launching into any kind of mega-project, let’s proceed through quick, iterative sprints, delivering value on a continuous basis and calibrating the system on-the-go to fit our intent.
  • Yield. What does success look like? What are the key metrics that we are trying to improve? Can we quantify the soft benefits that the solution will deliver? At the end, it all does come down to measurable outcomes, for the planet, for the business, for the people.

On ruined Roman walls around
The poppy flaunted, for ’twas May;
And at my feet, with gentle sound,
Broke the light billows of the bay.

William Cullen Bryant, American romantic poet, journalist, editor.

This concludes my introduction to the BA Poppy. It presents a singularly agile approach to driving digital transformation. In future posts, I’ll provide details on each of the 4 petals, DJD, BAR, BIS and STORRY, and explain how you can integrate them in your work as a business architect.

Author: Patrick Bikar

I head Cisco's Global Business Architecture Center of Excellence with a strategy built on 3 pillars: [1] COMMUNITY: I build the organisational structures and internal/external partnerships for a tribe of 250+ Business Architects, empowering them to continuously hone their BA know-how and vertical expertise. It’s a movement, the BA Makers, skilled and tooled for helping our customer drive business innovation with speed, impact, and scale. More info on: [2] CAPABILITY: I co-created a powerful framework helping our customers deliver on the promise of Digital Transformation. We call it the BA Poppy, and we're now in the process of fully revamping a 4-stage Business Architecture training curriculum around it, so we can scale our approach to the whole of Cisco, our partners, and our customers. More info on: [3] CUSTOMERS: Every year, BA Makers support dozens of business-led customer engagements, interacting with CxOs, IT Leaders and business executives. We help them ensure that technology investments deliver the outcomes and benefits expected by users and the business, crystallizing a digital transformation strategy in a way that is holistic, concerted, undetermined. More info on:

4 thoughts on “Business Architecture Rethought”

  1. Wow Patrick, this is an impressive blog! To add to this and in my observation, the gap between technology/innovation and our “boards” is unprecedentedly big and therefore selling both to the business is though. Therefore, the job of the BA became even more interesting, now our innovation approach requires our business acumen more than ever.

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