In nine out of ten companies I worked as an EA, IT implementation projects were used as the key element used in strategic planning. Boards were used to budget and prioritize goals based on project status reports. They had to decide whether to invest in project ‘ABZ’ or ‘Leo New’ (both quite cryptic names for them) – not the best way to keep oversight over their strategic goals.
The Architectural Thinking Framework includes the concept of “Strategic Fields of Action” (SFAs) (introduced in our last blog post) that addresses this problem. SFAs connect the strategic goals of the company with the implementation projects. Thus, they are the link between the operational planning of projects and the architectural skeleton of the company.
SFAs can be formalized via standardized templates. They share some similarities with business case templates common in today’s PMOs, but include game-changing differences:
- Focus on strategic goals, not on projects
- Connection to business architecture/capability map
- An indicator that shows if implementation improves or degrades the overall enterprise architecture (“technical debt”)
Name: the name of the SFA should reflect what needs to be achieved from a business viewpoint
Description: describes the SFA from a business viewpoint in two or three sentences
Solutions: describes (business & IT) solutions that implement the SFA
Capabilities: defines which business capabilities of the company’s capability model are affected. This makes transparent which project is used to enhance which capability or value stream. It shifts strategic planning from prioritizing projects to prioritizing strategic enhancements of capabilities and value streams.
Projects: lists projects implementing the solutions and their estimated costs
Cost indication: defines the cost category of the SFA ($, $$, $$$, $$$$)
Technical Debt: Does the implementation of the SFA improve or degrade the overall enterprise architecture? Indication of the percentage of overall technical debt increase/decrease.
Locating and Categorizing SFAs on Capability Map
The capability map of the company is the perfect place to visualize the connection of the strategic goals of the enterprise to it’s business architecture. Thus, executives get the perfect basis for informed strategic decisions.
Strategic fields of action can fall into one out of five categories. This categorization helps to balance the various goals and initiatives of the company between the three poles ‘run’, ‘optimize’ and ‘innovate’.
Fields of action of this category must be implemented because they are mandatory to continue running the business, e.g. legal changes, technology components out of maintenance.
Optimize Application Landscape
Projects that fall into this category are performed to enhance the agility of the digital (i.e. business & IT) platform. They reduce technical debt and are the basis to increase the time-to-market of future business & IT solutions. Fields of action of this category must be implemented to create or enhance the digital plattform of the company. An effective governance model facilitates initiatives that reduce technical debt and will improve the platform’s capabilities.
Business process reengineering projects fall into this category. Such projects are performed to enhance the agility and efficiency of core operations which is often mandatory to create new customer experience / customer value or new business models.
Innovation pilots are performed to probe new technologies that look promising for leveraging customer value through new products/services. See chapter ‘Architecture & Innovation’ for more details.
Projects that fall into this category use the lessons learned in the innovation pilots to create new products/services, thus harvesting digital customer value.