A blueprint for business architecture

Mar 29 2010 by James M. Kerr Print This Article

The Winchester House is a well-known California mansion that was under construction continuously for 38 years. The mansion is renowned for its size and utter lack of any master building plan. The cost for such constant building has been estimated at about $70 million in today's dollars.

There are about 160 rooms, including 40 bedrooms and two ballrooms, one completed and one under construction. The house also has 47 fireplaces, 10,000 window panes, 17 chimneys, two basements and three elevators. It has gold and silver chandeliers and hand inlaid parquet floors and trim. There are doors and stairways that lead nowhere and a vast array of colors and materials.

Roughly 20,500 gallons of paint were required to paint the house. Due to the sheer size of the house, by the time every section of the house was painted, the workers had to start repainting again.

The Winchester House is a classic example of what can happen when there is no unifying master plan and lack of a solid architectural design. But the same kind of muddled evolution can happen to a business that lacks a concrete vision and deliberately designed business architecture to support its achievement.

Let's examine how things should be done.

Exploring the Analogy

Winchester House aside, it's unlikely that one would commission an architect to design a building without first discussing thoughts about the building's intended use, desired characteristics, esthetics and costs to build and maintain. Similarly, an enterprise should never set out to redefine its Business Architecture without first gaining a comparable understanding.

Within a building construction context, work begins with the creation of an architect's drawing. The rendering is a representation of the client's wishes for what is to be built. It shows what the finished building will look like once completed. This visual image provides a target vision for the building project, be it a 2000 bed hospital or a four bedroom colonial-style home.

Business architecture work begins by painting a target vision, too. An enterprise's vision story paints a compelling picture through words of what the organization is to become. It describes its characteristics in vivid detail. It spells out external facets of organization including, target markets, products, services and distribution channels, as well as internal ones like, corporate culture, management style, staff attributes and communication infrastructure.

Once an architect's drawing is reviewed and accepted, a variety of blueprints are drawn including floor, electrical and plumbing plans. These plans provide the needed details required to realize the construction of the building. Together with the architect's rendering, these plans make up a building's architecture.

Likewise, an enterprise's vision story informs a variety of supporting plans and models that are needed to realize the business vision. These include organizational design charts, operating models and workflow designs. In fact, it is the amalgamation of an organization's vision, organizational design, operating model and workflow that together form its Business Architecture.

Indeed these artifacts must be constructed in a predictable and deliberate way or deep-rooted internal chaos is likely to result within the enterprise Ė and deep-rooted internal chaos does not translate well within the markets that a business intends to compete in. In fact, it is likely to manifest itself in sub-par productivity, weak execution and a diminished customer experience.

So, what can we do about it?

B>Make It a Program

The best way to address Business Architecture head-on is to make it a formal business program. By definition, a business program is ongoing in nature and is comprised of a series of specific projects that are staffed and funded at various points in time in order to deliver value to the organization. To ensure that a business program has staying power, it is important to fully document the projects that comprise the Business Architecture Program.

Each project within the Business Architecture Program, for example, should include a project brief which contains important information, including, a project name, description, objectives, a list of work products to be produced, resource estimates and a project timeline. These briefs can be simple and to the point, as long as they adequately describe the intention of the initiative.

To round out the program plan be sure that a project brief is developed for each initiative and that the projects are plotted on a program timeline. Projects aimed at developing the Vision Story, Reexamining the Organizational Design, Recasting the firm's Operational Model and Workflow Modeling and Documentation are the core rudiments of a Business Architecture Program.

Once established, the Business Architecture Program should be maintained in a deliberate way. Subsequent projects aimed at quality, performance measurement, staff improvement and work setting enhancements are likely to fall out of the initial business architecture efforts. Similarly, these projects will spawn additional initiatives.

Consequently, organizations should make Business Architecture administration a priority Ė and the best way to do that is to designate a member of the senior management team to oversee the administration of the Business Architecture Program. In this way, administration becomes someone's job and remains on the corporate "radar screen".

To Close

While certainly an interesting architectural oddity, the Winchester House exemplifies what can result when there is no clear end defined and no master plan identified to get there.

Senior leaders should heed the message that the Winchester House represents. After all, they are ultimately responsible for providing an engaging vision (that serves to inspire and unify their staff members) and to oversee the intentional creation of a formal business architecture that will bring the vision to fruition.

In closing, this obligation can be best met by making Business Architecture development and administration a priority Ė one that is done with sincere enthusiasm, unabashed discipline and great rigor.

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About The Author

James M. Kerr
James M. Kerr

James M. Kerr is a long-time author, management consultant, vision maker and coach to some of today's best leaders. His latest book, Indispensable: Build and Lead A Company Customers Canít Live Without was published in February 2021.