In theory, enterprise strategies are developed by senior executives and filtered down to create aligned action throughout the organization. But in
reality this process is often quite different—in most organizations executives establish high-level goals and leave the details to individual
business units. These goals continue to be pushed down the chain of command to staff who address these goals from their narrower point of view,
which can often cause gaps and conflicts. Ultimately, these gaps form the next set of strategic needs—what action the company must take in
order to successfully achieve overarching goals.
While most business architects might prefer a top-down approach to strategy development, guided by executives, in many cases this just isn’t
possible. In fact, many BAs have discovered that they can better align IT’s business and technical capabilities with larger company goals by identifying
specific strategic needs and organizing these into themes. To help guide this process, there are a few key steps to follow:
Task 1: Facilitate Focus-Group Sessions That Uncover Unmet Needs. Because high-level managers often lack the detailed working
knowledge needed to develop next-step strategies, non-executive focus groups can be effective in identifying the organizations concerns and
needs at a detailed level. These groups work best with six to twelve people, so they are small enough to be controlled, and large enough to
generate ideas. To create a productive focus groups make sure to find the right participants, and hold meetings in an environment conducive to
brainstorming. Pointed questions should be asked, not about strategy but about specific issues and challenges.
Task 2: Analyze The Data To Identify Themes. Look for the output of the focus group sessions to be 150 to 200 individual strategic
needs statements. These ideas should be grouped based on repeated ideas, and the remaining statements should be sorted for items that can be
directly connected to larger themes. Shoot for fewer, targeted themes rather than a long, undifferentiated list.
Task 3: Translate Themes Into Defined Strategic Imperatives. Once five to fifteen themes have been identified, each one should be given
a title and description without using technical terms. The goal here is to translate the list of strategic needs into business imperatives that describe
what the business needs to do to reach a solution. After validating themes with the focus group participants and incorporating feedback, executives
can be briefed in one-on-one meetings. They should be provided with a one-page summary of the process and a list of participants as well as an
explanation of the identified business imperatives. Key questions to get answered include: “Does this make sense?” “Do you agree?” and “Is it
Once business imperatives are identified, the same three tasks can be used to identify the capabilities IT needs to develop in order to support
the business, and to better understand the team’s role in the organization.
Traditional approaches are not always best. Because business architecture is still in its infancy and there is little proven methodology or concrete
best practices to follow, creativity and innovation must come into play. Although building strategy from the ground up may lack the appeal of
working with C-level executives, it can be very effective in both creating strategy, and developing interest in the strategy process. Once business
executives see effective strategic planning taking place, they will be more likely to get involved.
Jeff Scott is Principal Analyst at Forrester Research, serving enterprise architecture professionals. He will be presenting at Forrester’s IT Forum, May 25-27 in Las Vegas.