Strategy to Reality
In this month’s profile, we have a very special interview with Whynde Kuehn with her insights and perspectives on technology, ‘big’ transformations, business architecture, strategy and reality.
Who are you? What is your current role?
Hello! I’m a long-time business architecture practitioner, pioneer, thought leader, educator, community builder, and most recently author of the soon-to-be-released book Strategy to Reality. I’ve practiced business architecture from about every angle you can imagine from having led enterprise-wide business transformations and my own team of business architects, to leveraging the discipline for startups and cross-sector transformation within an international development context.
Officially my role is Founder and Managing Director of S2E Transformation and Biz Arch Mastery, and Co-Founder of the not-for-profit association, the Business Architecture Guild. However, the way I look at it is that every day I wake up and serve a global community and a global vision for effective, cohesive strategy to execution from end-to-end, powered by business (and enterprise) architecture. I’m tremendously passionate about helping our organizations and societies work in new ways to move big ideas into action, design for value delivery and agility, and make fully informed decisions. Likewise, I’m as passionate about building capacity, accelerating, and connecting business and enterprise architecture professionals worldwide.
What is an interesting fact about you?
I love taking epic journeys. A coach once told me that my word was big. This is why I love big jobs like business transformation and reimagining strategy execution for organizations or formalizing the business architecture discipline worldwide.
I also love to experience journeys physically through mountaineering and ultramarathoning. A 100-mile ultramarathon is the longest I have run so far. I’ve also been to all seven continents and have run marathons on six of them. (I have Asia left.)
What sparked your interest in technology?
My interest in technology was really sparked when I saw how its power could be harnessed for human potential. I was working with a free newspaper in Mozambique and I was inspired by how they were using technology and social media in creative ways to educate, activate, and connect people, as well as facilitate access to objective information.
Since then, I have only come to embrace and appreciate technology more. I am fascinated with the endless options it provides to organizations strategically, to develop new business models and ways of working. I also appreciate the global connection that technology has created for us and its potential to be a great equalizer to lift people up everywhere.
What route did you take to get into the architecture and strategy space?
My formal education is in science and sustainability, so I am a big-picture and systemic thinker by nature. However, my journey into the architecture and strategy space has been very organic. By chance, I started out in a 3-month temporary business architect job, and one thing led to another where that job became a career, which then evolved into a life’s work for me. How I got here many years later as a global business architecture leader and educator, I can only attribute to following my bliss and doing what I thought was right and needed (and fun) next for my clients, students, fellow colleagues, and the discipline.
What are the key challenges you see within organisations today stopping them from achieving their strategy?
Organizations often formulate excellent strategies, but it is in the translation of those ideas across a large organization with many business units, products, and regions where the challenges occur.
I believe there are a few foundational challenges that contribute to this:
- Organizations do not always have a formalized, cohesive approach to strategy execution that knits together all the teams from end-to-end to develop strategies, architect changes, plan initiatives, execute solutions, and measure success. We may do this for parts of the process, but we do not necessarily look at the whole of strategy execution with the same criticality and accountability as we do with other functions such as sales, marketing, or finance – even though an organization’s ability to respond to change has never been more important than it is today in our digitally disruptive and globally connected world.
- Large organizations are still siloed in many ways, which shapes the behavior, thinking, and priorities of individuals. For example, when it comes to investments or problem solving, we may default to what is best for our business area versus thinking about what is best for the customer and the enterprise – especially when organizational structures, motivation mechanisms, and inertia enforce the status quo.
- Both challenges above are underpinned by a need to enhance business education to teach a more comprehensive approach to strategy execution, and normalize the idea of business and IT architecture to supplement strategic thinking and decision making. (Please see supporting research on Strategy Execution Education In Graduate Management Education.)
What are some of the common mistakes organisations make in trying to realise strategy?
While there is so much goodness in the agile approaches that have evolved, there can be a focus on delivery agility versus end-to-end organizational agility. Our strategy execution gaps often originate upstream and agile approaches haven’t addressed all of these gaps. So, a focus on delivery without a focus on the whole strategy to execution flow can sometimes lead to delivering on the wrong things faster – and often with a technology emphasis versus a holistic business perspective.
What are your top 3 tips to enable companies to better meet their strategies?
Achieving a strategy requires clear intent translated into organized effort. Here are my top tips to enable organizations to better realize their strategies:
- End-to-end strategy execution approach– Create a formalized and cohesive process to develop strategies, architect changes, plan initiatives, execute solutions, and measure success. Make it a priority. This will require integrating many different teams and creating end-to-end transparency and accountability for the results.
- Enterprise mindset – Instill a customer-first and enterprise-first mindset. This requires partnership across business silos, enterprise level optimization, and big picture thinking.
- Enterprise business blueprint – Invest in building an architecture knowledgebase. Start with a robust business architecture, connected to critical focal points in the IT architecture and other disciplines, and use it to create a shared business vocabulary and mental model across the organization. Leverage the architecture knowledgebase to inform and translate strategy by coordinating and orchestrating changes to people, processes, and technology through the lens of capabilities – and orient business ownership around overall capability investments, not just initiatives.
Sometimes regulated organisations lose control of their own business strategy as they struggle to keep up with the regulator needs, how can this be overcome?
In order for highly regulated organizations to not be entirely consumed by regulator needs, I believe they need to be as absolutely efficient as possible with their compliance activities to free up the time, mindshare, and investments to remain focused on the business strategy. Architecture can be of great help to create efficiency in compliance.
With a robust architecture knowledgebase in place, leaders, compliance, and other people involved can gain a shared understanding of what an entire organization does at a high level. This is ideally framed through the lens of business architecture, including the capabilities an organization performs and the value streams that put those capabilities together to deliver value to customers, partners, and employees. Regulations and internal policies can be reflected in the architecture through the policy domain, and connected to the capabilities they guide and other business architecture perspectives. This helps to:
- Analyze impact – If regulations/policies are associated to the capabilities they guide, the impact can readily be assessed for a new or changing regulation by tracing it through to the business units that have that capability, along with the impacted value streams, processes, system applications, and other business perspectives.
- Demonstrate compliance – Business architecture helps to bring compliance up a level so that we can first see the forest versus the trees. For example, instead of assessing potentially thousands of processes for compliance, we can follow start with value streams or capabilities first, and then selectively follow the traceability through to the detailed processes and systems.
- Design effective responses and solutions – Leveraging the architecture knowledgebase can help us to quickly and methodically understand who should be at the table to discuss regulatory responses and solutions. Tracing a regulation/policy through to its impacted capabilities and the business units that have those capabilities illuminates the right people to bring together. They can then discuss opportunities for reusable solutions and coordinated response.
- Institutionalize compliance – With regulations/policies associated to the capabilities they guide, anyone who delivers on a capability or plans to make changes to a capability can consult the architecture knowledgebase to first consider any regulatory considerations. This helps to make compliance everyone’s job, at least at a foundational level.
I’m not trying to suggest that architecture is the answer to everything, but this is another example where leveraging the architecture knowledgebase and architects can be an invaluable part of the solution for organizations. In fact, I’ve found some of the greatest advocates for architecture in legal, compliance, and audit because of the clarity and confidence it can bring to regulatory activities. Additionally, there is opportunity here: I have seen organizations with mature architecture practices actually leverage their compliance efficiency for competitive advantage (and to drive the regulatory agenda).
Should the strategy for the business-critical systems be in-house or can true continuity be ensured only via cloud services? What would you say to an organisation that insists on in-house data centre for critical services?
Rather than opine on my specific perspectives here, I think what is most important is that organizations build the capacity to make good architectural decisions on topics like these for today and tomorrow – and continually sense and respond to change. If I look at the architectures and technologies that we used in the beginning of my career to where we’ve evolved today, I’m reminded of how critical it is for organizations to strengthen their ability to work through these decisions holistically, methodically, and with pace.
First and foremost, these decisions require business involvement and the lens of business architecture to communicate business direction and needs, as well as to define the critical business capabilities which will in turn define the critical systems and services. Business choices and architectural best practices can also be reflected in an organization’s architecture principles, which help to guide and inform decisions and solutions towards the desired direction with consistency. The architecture knowledgebase can also be used to assess the readiness for and impacts of different strategies and migration approaches, so that options can be explored and decisions made with a full understanding of their implications to the business and technology environments. Finally, as technology continues to play an increasingly strategic role in organizations, I believe that having a strong command of technology and architectural thinking is important not only for architects and technologists, but also for business leaders and their teams so that we can truly work towards the best decisions together.
What excites you about the future of Architecture and what do you see as the biggest emerging trend?
Many things! I’m delighted to see the continued strategic positioning and leverage for business and enterprise architecture as well as its increasing relevance to other business critical scenarios such as making sustainability measurable and actionable. I’m also excited to see an increasing focus on diversity in architecture, such as through the Women In Architecture global initiative. I believe the role of architecture has never been more important than it is right now in our digital world, and we need every one of us and each of us to be at our best.
One of the things that excites me most – and is also the biggest emerging trend that I see – is the use of business and enterprise architecture to inform, translate, and underpin effective strategy execution. This concept has really started to take hold worldwide and is being explored or leveraged in a wide variety of organizations across industries and sectors. It is also being reflected through messaging in architecture professional associations and even in academia and some mainstream business literature.
What is something that could be done differently in Architecture that would have the biggest impact?
For architecture to have the greatest impact, I believe it requires a relentless focus on the business and delivering value through architecture. It’s not about the models – it’s about the business outcomes that we achieve with the architecture. Though it is important, architecture is a means to an end.
Architecture has the power to bring people together within and across organizations and to facilitate new ways of thinking and working. The more value we can demonstrate with it and the more we can democratize the use of it for decision making, the more we will help our organizations and societies – and the more relevant and adopted the architecture discipline will be.
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