There is no question that businesses need Business Architects.  There is no question that business architecture in an important set of activities.  The question is, really, where do we get them?

I’ve seen no lack of interest in this field.  If anything, there is a steady supply of willing folks in IT who would love to fill the role of Business Architect and perform those services, if they had the position, training, and tools to pull it off.  These people are smart and capable, and most of them can do the work if given the time and training (not all, of course.  This is not work that everyone can do).

Recently, Sy Blank, a friend of mine, asked for my opinion: why a Solution Manager (IT Program Manager) cannot simply be promoted to a Business Architect, and learn on the job… Here was my response.  (Please note: In editing my response for the blog , I inserted the term “program director” to refer to the people who manage the Solution Managers.  My assumption is that a person who is “promoted” in this way would continue to work for their existing manager).

Hi Sy,

Thanks for asking.  You asked why not just promote Solution Managers (SMs) into the position of Business Architect (BA) and let them learn?

I can assure you that the transition from SM to BA is quite difficult.

  1. There are new skills involved.  New tools.  New concepts.
  2. Being effective at business architecture requires a  paradigm shift around the role of IT and the role of SD. 
  3. Most program directors have no experience with the role of Business Architect, and may have a difficult time supporting their work.
  4. Existing relationships with customers can actually GET IN THE WAY because customers will look at an SM, who they’ve worked with in the past, and assume that they should be handling project and program-level issues.  That gets in the way of effective BA efforts.
  5. SM training programs can actually cause role confusion.  

If we were to follow the suggested approach, the training model would look like this:

  1. New BA is anointed by a program director without substantial support.
  2. New BA is assigned to BA team.  If they are lucky, they take a one-day course within four months of starting.
  3. New BA is held accountable to doing work that they do not understand, that most of the “customers” don’t know what to do with, and that their managers cannot discern the quality, difficulty, or effectiveness of.

The odds of success are so low that we would be sabotaging the entire effort.  Nearly every new BA that goes through that model will fail.  The only ones that will succeed have found a way to supplement with mentoring from an existing BA or someone who has performed BA duties in the past. 

IMHO, an effective training model for Business Architecture would look like this:

  1. We have a clear idea of what it means to be a proven effective BA and we have reviewed every BA according to that rubric.  All are aware of where they stand.
  2. Proven effective BA team members are given the title of “Red Belt” Business Architects.
  3. A new BA is specifically hired for the skills of Business Architecture: business acumen, visual thinking, relationship skills, political awareness, personal awareness, trust-building instincts, sales skills, data collection and refinement, business modeling, business model analysis, negotiation, etc.  (just off the top of my head).
  4. A new BA undergoes two weeks of intensive training.  After which they are a “Green Belt” Business Architect.
  5. Each Green Belt BA is assigned to work under a Red Belt BA in the Red-belt BA’s own governance body as a direct report.  (No dotted lines.  No extended oversight.  Direct report.  Period.)
  6. A green belt has to meet the bar for “proven effective” to gain their own Red Belt. 

 

Note that I did not indicate what would be the criteria for going from Red Belt to Black Belt… I would answer that by saying that it is more than simple technical skill.  A BA would have to prove himself to be measurably effective in at least three (my number) of Red-Belt-Level BA projects before he or she can call himself a Black Belt.  Ultimately, the measure of whether an engagement was “effective” would come from an existing Black Belt, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Assuming it takes six months of intensive training to “make” a Solution Manager into a Business Architect, and assuming we have about five folks who could qualify as a Red Belt, then we can effectively go from five to twenty Business Architects in a year without hiring outside the company.  Not a very fast clip.

This begs another question.  Before you set out on a plan to train up a long list of business architects, ask yourself How Many Business Architects Do We Need?

I hope that I’ve provided a clear and useful opinion.

— Nick