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Agile Business Modeling – The Core Heuristic?

How many times have I heard that the real problem with Agile is getting to the start line?

How many times have I heard that the real problem with Agile is getting to the start line? There has to be some definition up front, but Agile methods don’t really help. Perhaps it’s a little secret for many organizations that they feel they must do more specification work up front because it makes it easier to control the Sprints. Oh dear!

To get to this starting gate we need to model the agile business in an Agile manner (YES!). Further we do not want to undertake complete or detailed business architecture (NO!!). We don’t have time, and anyway the core of the innovation and architecture should be done in the Agile Delivery project. But before we can fire up Agile projects we need to determine the scope and charter. If we use conventional scoping methods we may well deliver great functionality very quickly, but we probably won’t, unless we are very lucky, have delivered agile business capabilities that map to the business dynamics and can evolve along with the business.

Here’s a technique that may help.

In the first image below I show a functional decomposition for complaints management which I have clustered into “candidate capabilities” labelled 1, 2 and 3, process management, customer relationships and analysis respectively. This usefully shows that capabilities can be varying levels of abstraction; there’s absolutely no necessity to have elegant models!  The table below the decomposition shows various criteria I used to help me decide on the possible clusters. As you will see there’s variation in strategic classification; the partitioning – which may be key for deployment, some could be centralized others local; and the need for implementation independence and so on.

This analysis certainly helps me present some choices. But aside from the independence and scalability criteria and possibly standardization criteria, I feel I have not fully exhausted the analysis of the need for business agility. In the table below I develop this a little further. First I make an assessment of the potential requirement for future change in each function. I call this Agility Potential (AP) on a 1=Low and 5=High scale [1]. Not surprisingly Analysis and Skills are the capabilities that will probably be subject to considerable volatility. Second I look at the dependencies between the functions; note you have to read this as each row dependency upon a column. And low and behold, Skills and Analysis, and Analysis and Follow-up have high dependencies. This causes me to reconsider my initial cut of capability boundaries. I feel that Skills needs to be very close to Analysis as the investigatory function. And Follow-up should be similarly very close to Analysis. And what’s more these three functions score most highly on the AP scale. I feel Follow-up could easily be collapsed into Analysis, and a name change to Investigation would be perfect. I think a little more deeply about Skills. The degree to which the outcomes of Investigation need to be fed into Skills on a dynamic basis will vary depending on the type of business. If this was a safety critical business, I might recommend consolidating Skills and Investigation and renaming it Knowledge Management. But this really would depend on the business sector specific needs.


To recap, what I have done here is developed a sharper understanding of the capabilities, and I have attributed them with governance criteria (in the first table) – I know what I must have delivered, and I am communicating some really important information to the delivery team, without constraining them at all on the implementation and delivery method. Also I now know the dependencies between the capabilities, and we can very quickly resolve the services that will be required and the inter project dependencies. And it didn't take me very long at all.

More on Agile Business Modeling

[1] I first outlined the idea of Agility Potential in the CBDI Journal April, 2010. Let me know if you would like a copy.

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More Stories By David Sprott

David Sprott is a consultant, researcher and educator specializing in service oriented architecture, application modernization and cloud computing. Since 1997 David founded and led the well known think tank CBDI Forum providing unique research and guidance around loose coupled architecture, technologies and practices to F5000 companies and governments worldwide. As CEO of Everware-CBDI International a UK based corporation, he directs the global research and international consulting operations of the leading independent advisors on Service Oriented Application Modernization.