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Business Architects within an Agile Setting

Updated: Mar 10, 2020

Several of my recent enterprise Agile Transformation clients have recognized the importance of sound and timely enterprise level data and awareness in order to mentally shift from business unit investments in IT to enterprise level investments in IT. This data also enables executives to become more Agile and make decisions based on the information at hand. As a result, the role of Business Architect is becoming more prominent, in addition to and separate from the Business Analysts working with individual Agile teams.


In this article I will share my insights from these front lines experience and provide my understanding of this emerging role of Business Architect within an Agile setting.


What is Business Architecture?


Business Architecture is a blueprint of the Enterprise that provides a common understanding of the organization and is used to align strategic objectives and tactical demands.

The blueprint provides several perspectives including but not limited to business processes, business rules, data, systems and organizational structure at numerous levels of fidelity for both business and technical audiences. It is critical to ensure at all times, a blue print of the current state of the enterprise is maintained, updated as initiatives deliver solutions and present a new, revised current state of the enterprise.


These blueprints open up an entirely new level of transparency are used in several ways to:

1) Respond to new tactical demands with proactive, upfront impact analysis,

2) Proactively provide insight into business capabilities, value streams and heath assessments to identify opportunities for IT investments at the enterprise level,

3) Ensure the business value of investments is clear and easy to demonstrate,

4) Guide business functions to adjust their projects to be more enterprise-focused while still meeting the needs of the individual functional area, and

5) Clarify the alignment of proposed IT investments to strategic themes to assist in the relative prioritization and funding of the investments.


This transparency is possible because the blueprints stem from a common vocabulary, standardized model framework, and a shared knowledge base. As a result, all users of the blueprints can view the business through a common lens, eliminating much of the traditional confusion.


What is the role of Business Architect?


The Business Architect designs the structure of the business as a whole by looking

broadly at systems design and requirements. Their aim is to improve the business operations in line with enterprise goals and strategy. Architects do this by theorizing and testing the components of a system (the technology, the flow of work, the data, the deliverables) and overseeing the implementation of the systems by someone in a Business Analyst role.


The Business Architect role interprets and contextualizes strategy for operational needs, develops specific artifacts such as business capability models and value streams to help bridge the gap between strategy and implementation, while streamlining and rationalizing the IT enablement process.


The Business Architect plays a key role in structuring the enterprise in terms of its governance structure, business processes, and business information. This person aligns strategic goals and objectives with decisions regarding products and services; partners and suppliers; organization; capabilities; and key business and IT initiatives. The primary focus is the business motivations, business operations and business analysis frameworks and related networks that link these aspects of the enterprise together. The Business Architect works to develop an integrated view of the enterprise using a repeatable approach, a cohesive framework, and available industry standard techniques.


The Business Architect reports into business management and works closely with a counterpart in IT to align technical solutions with business needs. The Business Architect may have supervisory responsibility, possibly acting as coach and mentor to junior members and to Business Analysts. In addition, the Business Architect works collaboratively with others at every level of the organization soliciting strategic imperatives from senior leaders and executives and supporting business unit managers as they leverage business architecture artifacts to support their business plans.


This role typically performs the following activities:

  • Assess business impacts relative to value streams, capabilities, information, business units, products, business architecture through defining alternative business scenarios.

  • Architect and re-engineer business solutions by visualizing target states, designing alternative business processes, enabling business-driven IT architectures, providing analysis of current state / target state transformations, and target state option selection.

  • Identify the data shared across the enterprise and the relationships between those data elements.

  • Develop a business architecture strategy based on a situational awareness of various business scenarios and motivations.

  • Apply a structured business architecture approach and methodology for capturing the key views of the enterprise.

  • Capture the tactical and strategic enterprise goals that provide traceability through the organization and are mapped to metrics that provide ongoing governance.

  • Describe the primary business functions of the enterprise and distinguish between customer-facing, supplier-related, business execution and business management functions.

  • Define the set of strategic, core and support processes that transcend functional and organizational boundaries; identify and describe external entities such as customers, suppliers, and external systems that interact with the business; and describe which people, resources and controls are involved in the processes.

  • Capture the relationships among roles, capabilities and business units.


The skills and experience required to be a success Business Architect are many; they key ones are:

  • A broad, enterprise-wide view of the business and varying degrees of appreciation for strategy, processes and capabilities, enabling technologies, and governance.

  • The ability to recognize structural issues within the organization, functional interdependencies and cross-silo redundancies.

  • The ability to apply architectural principles to business solutions.

  • The ability to assimilate and correlate disconnected documentation and drawings; articulating their collective relevance to the organization and to high-priority business issues.

  • Experience using model-based representations that can be adjusted as required to collect, aggregate or disaggregate complex and conflicting information about the business.

  • The ability to visualize and create high-level models that can be used in future analysis to extend and mature the business architecture.

  • Extensive experience planning and deploying both business and IT initiatives.

  • Experience modeling business processes using a variety of tools and techniques.

  • Exceptional communication skills and the ability to communicate appropriately at all levels of the organization; this includes written and verbal communications as well as visualizations.

  • The ability to act as liaison conveying information needs of the business to IT and data constraints to the business; applies a balance regarding business strategy and IT strategy, business processes and work flow automation, business initiatives and IT initiatives, and benefit realization and service delivery.

  • Team player able to work effectively at all levels of an organization with the ability to influence others to move toward consensus.

  • Strong situational analysis and decision-making abilities.

  • Often the Business Architect is confronted with overlapping or disconnected business processes, armloads of spreadsheets, endless numbers of Visio drawings and rambling narratives. They must be able to assimilate and correlate this information, discard irrelevant details, represent conflicting structures and tie it all back to the most pressing issues driving the analysis.

  • In addition, the Business Architect must be able to visualize and create high-level models that can be used to assess not just the one-off problem but also serve as a foundation for future analysis on other initiatives. Every business architecture endeavor provides more depth and breadth to the previously established blueprint and brings more insights into the vast workings of the business.


Business Architect is a relatively new role in the industry. Typically, this role may be filled from other more traditional roles as shown below. It is a natural career progression from Business Analyst because the roles are two sides of the same coin; one side comes up with the strategy, the other works out the fine details. Once you understand how systems work at a low level, you are more qualified to implement them from the top down while understanding how it works in practice.



How does the Business Architect role differ from the Business Analyst role?


The Business Architect operates at a broader and more strategic level than a Business Analyst whose primary focus is on the implementation of solutions, as shown in the following figure.


Similar to an Enterprise Architect guiding a Solution Architect, the Business Architect also provides oversight of the implementation to ensure convergence between the future, intentional architecture and the design that emerges from the Agile Dev Teams supported by the Business Analyst.


Business Architects can be considered a senior version of Business Analysts, with the Architect designing the ‘broad strokes’ of a strategy which the Analyst will implement in fine detail. This is most likely the only universally recognized difference is that Analysts work more closely with the implementation team they’re a part of, implementing the components of systems with direction from Architects rather than building end-to-end systems on their own from scratch.


Going to the next level in comparison, the following table provides additional insight into the differences between the two roles.



What is the impact of Agile on the Business Architect?


Within an Agile setting, several challenges are posed to the Business Architect role.

1) There is a need to avoid big upfront designs and unlimited, highly detailed models, as well as to identify the minimal set of artifacts required. This is helped if the enterprise takes a feature-centric approach rather than a large program-centric approach.


2) If the Business Architect is presented with logical groupings of features that provide a compelling benefit, then it is easier and quicker to perform the impact analysis incrementally rather than all up front prior to implementation. This emergence of an “architectural runway” which provides just enough artifacts just in time to support feature implementation allows the Business Architect the autonomy to spread this effort over several sprints, staying a few sprints ahead of the Agile Dev Teams. This also provides a quicker start to implementation, which translates to faster feedback from users.


3) The handoff of features and supporting models from the Business Architect to the Product Owner and Business Analyst for implementation needs to be well defined, since this will happen frequently in a scaled Agile environment. Often, pairing with assigned Business Analysts early is the best way to ensure alignment as implementation begins.


References


The following are my top 10 references from the most insightful authors on this new emerging role. Much of the information presented above has been refined from these sources based on my own experience within an Agile setting.


1. Business Architect Job Description by Geoffrey Balmes. https://www.bainstitute.org/resources/articles/business-architect-job-description-0

2. How to Move from Business Analyst to Business Architect by Benjamin Brandall, April 2018. https://www.process.st/business-analyst-business-architect/

3. The Transition to Business Architect by Geoffrey Balmes. https://www.bainstitute.org/resources/articles/transition-business-architect

4. The Business Architect Must See the Forest for the Trees by William Ulrich. https://www.bainstitute.org/resources/articles/business-architect-must-see-forest-trees

5. Making the Leap from Business Analyst to Business Architect by Jeff Scott. https://www.slideshare.net/IIBA-UK/jeff-scott-making-the-leap-from-business-analyst-to-business-architect

6. The overview of Business Architecture found on the OMG Business Architecture Working Group’s web site (http://bawg.omg.org/).

7. Driving your BA Career - from Business Analyst to Business Architect, by Craig Martin and IIBA, 2014. https://www.slideshare.net/TheDesignOfBusiness/driving-your-ba-career-from-business-analyst-to-business-architect

8. Business Architecture Guild and their Body of Knowledge. www.businessarchitectureguild.org

9. Business Analysts and Business Architecture, by Daniel Lambert, 2015.

10. Winners of the 2019 Forrester and InfoWorld EA awards contest show strengths in business architecture, realizing a vision for digital transformation, and architecture governance, Forrester blog by Gene Leganza, 2019.

11. The Business Architecture Quick Guide, by the Business Architecture Guild, January 2018. Available on Amazon.com.


Call to Action


So, the call to action is to investigate the potential of leveraging Business Architects to provide increased transparency into how your enterprise operates, while ensuring alignment between the enterprise and numerous individual business functions. Also, distinguishing this role from the traditional Business Analyst role provides each role more focus and less mental context switching.

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