Stable Foundation for Continuous Agility
Extracted from Business Knowledge Blueprints: Enabling Your Data to Speak the Language of the Business, by Ronald G. Ross, 2020.
In the Knowledge Age things change faster and faster all the time. Everyone seeks to be agile. You might think a blueprint to business knowledge would work against rapid change, but it doesn't work that way. Exactly the opposite is true.
I'm very sure about that. Let me explain why by means of a real-life story. It turned out to be a delightful experience — but admittedly a bit scary at first.
One of our very first clients some two decades ago was a worldwide maritime organization. We worked with them to re-engineer an entire line of business. Those were the early days of eliminating paper and going digital. We helped them develop a new comprehensive business solution with models we knew they could implement.
We fell out of touch with the client for over a dozen years. Then one day out of the blue they called and asked us to come visit right away to discuss the work. What could they want after so many years? I wasn't sure whether to be excited, curious, or nervous.
I needn't have worried. A very pleasant surprise awaited when I went in for a visit just a few days later.
Here's what I found out. Based on our work together over a dozen years earlier, they had built a completely new set of systems in a relatively short timeframe. Until just recently the systems had been running quite successfully to support worldwide business operations. (Ships can literally pop up anywhere in the world!) In the previous year or two though, the business had expanded both in volume and variety, and the existing system architecture had maxed out.
When I arrived in their corporate offices, there sitting on the conference room table in front of the assembled business managers was a large plot of the original concept model from more than a dozen years before! Here's what the manager said:
"The concept model is still about 90% accurate. We've determined it's really the only thing we can salvage from the legacy environment. It's our business blueprint for a next generation of software."
How cool is that! Although much had changed operationally in their business space during the intervening years, the foundation business concepts and their collective structure had remained 90% unchanged. The other 10% turned out to be about things that hadn't even been invented at the time of the original work. The new 10% merely expanded on, but did not change, the original concept model.
Yes, a properly designed concept model can stand the test of time. And yes, it can be created to permit easy expansion for truly new business things.
Because the business needs to change so rapidly these days, some people argue there's no point in defining business concepts. Being agile means sweeping things like terms and definitions under the rug. Nonsense! They're very wrong about that. Maybe you can muddle by in a small group on a focused project over a relatively short timeframe. (Maybe!) But not on any larger scale.
Your enterprise is in business because it has rich knowledge about its problem domain. Being truly agile means evolving business operations and developing new software solutions based on a stable foundation — exactly what a concept model provides.
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