Business Transformation and Architecture – Through the Lens of a Home Transformation
Business transformation is about making significant, perhaps even radical change to a business. Most companies look at this from a digital transformation perspective, but it doesn’t always need to be about digitisation. Transformation centres around introducing significant change across the people, process and systems landscape in a business to achieve the target end state as per the strategy. I want to also call out that when we talk about architecture for a business, it includes people, process and technology. Architecture is not all about technology.
In this article, I want to discuss the crucial dependencies and relationship between architecture, including some architectural concepts, and business transformation. I will use my favourite analogy for this and explore how architecture plays a crucial role in a business transformation. For example, let’s start by assuming you are planning a major renovation for your house. This could mean adding a new upstairs floor, remodelling the floor plan, knocking down a few walls to make it more open plan, a new bathroom or kitchen etc. Essentially a major Home Transformation.
We could take two different approaches to drive this home transformation. One approach we could take is skipping the architecture focus and going straight to hiring a team of builders to take on the transformation. A construction project manager could manage the changes as the building transformation gets underway. However, without a clear architecture blue print guiding the end vision, the likelihood of ordering the wrong material, rework to ensure fit and misalignment is very high as each person in this transformation (including yourself) has no clear vision of what the end state will look like. Every problem or challenge you encounter due to misalignment or not having the big picture will lead to more time and cost to rectify.
Most people do not take this approach when it comes to a significant transformation of their home. Instead, they will hire an architect or an architecture firm to ensure:
1. The house is structurally sound and engineering best practices are leveraged.
2. Ensure the house is designed well to provide functional as well as design aesthetics.
3. Ensure building codes and safety standards are compliant.
4. Ensure the networking, plumbing, electrical and other key services are integrated well.
5. Ensure future design decisions are made with future extensions or renovations in mind.
6. Ensure house maintenance and repairs can be easily performed and design the house with it in mind.
However, when it comes to a Business Transformation, we seem to forget this logic and not spend enough time and effort to get the architecture correct to support a fundamental shift in the business.
Strategy and End State Vision
One of the key requirements for an effective transformation is a clearly defined strategy. A good business strategy outlines a clear set of choices that define what the company is going to do and what it’s not going to do, not just a vision or a goal. This clear definition will allow a transformation to be driven effectively and allow extracting a decision-making framework so that the architects can focus on the success factors of the transformation.
In our home transformation example, the strategy and end vision for the house is crucial. For example, if you are transforming the house to maximise the market value for a sale, the decision-making process will be different to if you are expanding to support you growing family for the next 20 years.
Once a view of the target end state to support the vision of the business is defined, the architect can evaluate the current state architecture and define the end state architecture appropriately. In some cases, the architect may define transition state architectures to support business constraints if the journey is a long and complex one.
Transformation Guiding Principles and Standards
The next crucial element we recommend is defining a set of guiding principles and standards to support an effective transformation. These will underpin the decision-making framework, allowing all other choices to be correctly influenced to reach the end goal.
In our home example, if the end vision is to sell, one of the architecture principles will be around maximising the property desirability by keeping all colour schemes neutral and inline to market trends. This will then potentially stop you painting the feature wall with your favourite colour to ensure it doesn’t impede the property sale.
If the end vision for the property is it will be the family home for the foreseeable future, principles around minimising operational costs or total cost of ownership, could see you installing more expensive gas ovens rather than cheaper electric ones to minimise total cost of running the appliance over the years.
In a business transformation, these principles will guide the business process design, employee roles and responsibilities, the org structure, product selection, vendor selection and a range of other architecture decisions within multiple streams and projects, to ensure the transformation goals are always front of mind.
Managing Architecture Debt Effectively
When organisations go through transformations, they must face the reality that during the transformation process, the business will continue to operate, be relevant, be profitable and cater for the immediate business needs. Not many organisations have the luxury of parking day to day changes that need to be made to keep the business operating, while working through the strategic transformation changes. This is where the architecture debt concept comes into play. Some business leaders treat architecture debt as a bad thing, but that’s not always the case. It is something that is needed in modern organisations to strategically manage change and the key is to effectively manage it.
Let’s look at architecture debt through our analogy. Imagine as part of the big renovation, you have to knock down some of the bedrooms. You have a couple of options; you can convert the garage to be a temporary granny flat to support the home transformation. In this case, you would not spend significant time and money to convert the garage as it is temporary, but you need a place to sleep, so it is a must have need. The other option is to find temporary accommodation with a short-term rental lease. Depending on the cost and duration, you will have to make temporary changes to the overall architecture of your home to support your day to day immediate needs.
Similarly in a business transformation scenario, you will have to make tactical non-strategic decisions to support the business needs, however you will need to manage these architecture deviations or debt and efficiently and get back to the original architecture and target state of the business.
Getting the Right Architects on the Right Side of the Fence
One of the key items I want to highlight, especially from my own experience, is how crucial it is to have the right architect on the right side of the fence. Let me explain this with what happened when I was looking to add air conditioning to my newly purchased property many years back. My neighbour had an all in one cooling and heating unit installed throughout the whole house. Not wanting to install split systems in every room, I explored this option but soon discovered the ducted heating piping installed in my house was the smaller diameter and did not support the cooling option. Either I had to now replace all the piping (which was a big job) or install split systems.
My property was designed by one of Australia’s largest builders with good architects involved in the decision making. The difference was the architect involved was from the developer’s side, so they made architectural decisions that was cost-cutting and beneficial to the developer rather than the homeowners.
This applies to business transformations, especially if you have vendors providing the architecture advice and guidance. Are you sure they are making your transformation goals the priority or are they making decisions favourable to the vendor to deliver on time and on budget? Are some of the vendor product affiliations and associations clouding their judgement? Not all architects are made equal, so ensure that you get the right independent architects to support your key business transformation.
In summary, engagement of good architecture will help to increase the success of your business transformation. Similar to your home transformation, which is a significant investment for you, business transformations are a big investment. Therefore, when you invest in significant business change, it pays to get the right architects to support your transformation process to ensure costly mistakes are avoided and the business transformation delivers the right outcomes.