Enterprise Architecture Stories

The need for capability-centric collaboration

The need for capability-centric collaboration

We all see it happening in our organisations: the formation of teams and working groups that pour their heart and soul into solving the next problem deemed important.

From different units, key players are brought together to take up the current challenge with all available hands and resources and make it a success.

It is logical that this is happening, as there apparently is a need to look at the organisational challenges from an overarching perspective, which is actually nothing more than a capability; an answer to the question what do we (need to) do in order to realise a certain outcome.

All these teams and working groups are looking for capability-centric collaboration.

The old-fashioned way of working

Why is it that the average organisation still stubbornly clings to an organisational structure in which business units are created on the basis of primary tasks applicable to the organisation? Is it really necessary to have a business unit responsible for creating policies for sector A and have another business unit do exactly the same, only their scope is sector B? Wouldn’t it be far more efficient to have one team perform tasks under a single capability Policy management

It is time for organisations to abandon the customary division into business units that are miles away from the capabilities they represent, or should represent. I advocate a capability-centric form of collaboration

By introducing capability-centric collaboration teams, an organisation becomes much more agile and flexible.

So, follow the organisation’s capability model and divide the business units and its employees accordingly. This ensures that the multidisciplinary teams that are now routinely created exist from the outset and are available to take up and deal with issues.

Capability-based thinking and acting

Capability-based thinking and acting needs to be better represented and secured in organisations. The desire for this is already abundantly clear in day-to-day practice, so why not also classify our organisation in a way that aligns with what we see happening?

Let’s look at the following scenario. With any luck, within an average organisation there is a department dealing with strategic challenges. You would then expect this department to be formed based on the Strategy management capability, and consist of all the necessary roles that make a valuable contribution to the Strategy management context. 

Nothing could be further from the truth. The role of the Enterprise Architect – essential in translating strategy into execution – is usually tucked away in the IT department. The Subject Matter Expert then, who is aware of developments in the market and maintains relationships with external parties? Also not part of the strategy department, but positioned within another business unit. 

And yet all these people come together in a collaborative effort to address strategic issues.

Why? Because they all interface with the capability Strategy management. They act in line with the idea of capability-centric collaboration.

Managing projects

Another recognisable example is the way projects and programmes are handled. Nine times out of ten, employees from various business units are brought together in a portfolio board to oversee the smooth running interplay of all the projects and programmes that an organisation has. In the same nine out of ten cases, the portfolio board will be involved only for initiatives with an IT component. In other words, all other projects and programmes fall outside the scope of centralised control and coordination.

Portfolio management is one of the strategic capabilities within an organisation and should be positioned accordingly to ensure organisation-wide management and coordination.

Using an organisational classification based on capabilities is helpful for the examples just described. 

So why doesn’t an average organisation choose a division based on capabilities? Why aren’t business units or departments created to handle strategic demand issues or oversee the smooth execution of the overall portfolio? Why are business units not aligned with the capabilities existing within the organisation?

Again, the old-fashioned way of working

The most apparent reason is that the average organisation is still led by management that is not, or at best not sufficiently, familiar with capability-based thinking and acting. 

People are used to process thinking. The average senior management thinks and acts from a process perspective. 

The field of architecture has been talking about the benefits of using capabilities for years now and has been struggling to penetrate an organisation’s management for just as long. 

Unfortunately, this is not something that will change in the next few years and so here awaits the next challenge for the field of architecture. Getting capability-based thinking and acting across the stage is the next bump to be taken within organisations. One more obstacle on a long, winding and especially bumpy road.

I fervently hope I can look back in ten years time and report that creating capability-centric collaboration has happened faster than I had initially anticipated.

Nevertheless, the quest to get the message across about capabilities and capability-centric collaboration continues unabated. And with more and more attention being paid to the architectural cause and the continuing growth of the profession, there will always be a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

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