How to Not Fail When Implementing Strategy

Jan 31, 2018
Written by
Marc Lankhorst
Marc Lankhorst

How to Not Fail When Implementing Strategy

Digital Transformations

Defining a good strategy is difficult, especially in this rapidly moving digital world. But realizing your strategy is even more complicated. After all, how do you ensure a strategy is implemented in a coordinated, coherent way? How do you manage all of the moving parts?

In my previous blog post on digital transformations, I quoted a McKinsey article about ten traps that can derail digital transformations. The McKinsey report cited factors such as ‘fear of the unknown,’ ‘lack of focus,’ ‘lack of discipline’ and ‘going too slowly’ as pitfalls to transformation. One crucial factor not mentioned in that article, however, is that many organizations have no idea how all the pieces are connected.

Organizations are able to define a strategy, but have no clue what implementing that strategy actually entails. 500+ participants in a 2016 strategic business survey, co-organized by BiZZdesign, The Open Group, BPTrends, the University of Twente and other partners, named the lack of strategic design insights as a key inhibitor in strategy implementation.

In my previous blog post, I described 5 key practices in implementing digital transformation:

  1. Define your strategic direction
  2. Align the organization
  3. Implement your strategy in an adaptive manner
  4. Stimulate local innovation, improvement and learning
  5. Stay compliant with applicable regulations

And, as my colleague Peter Matthijssen argued in his recent blog, organizations have to change the way they change, fostering “proactive, informed creation and collaboration between teams, at all levels of the organization, across IT and business operations.”

The need for coherence

An overarching concern of this cooperative, cross-cutting approach to change is that you need to ensure coherence. If you don’t know how the different parts of your enterprise and its environment influence each other, any attempt to define, realize and evaluate a strategy will surely fail.

Enterprise-wide coherence is typically the key responsibility of enterprise architects. They are uniquely positioned to provide the cross-cutting insights needed to provide a clear line-of-sight between strategic options and implementation. These insights usually incorporate capabilities, resources, business processes, digital infrastructure and other elements involved in the architecture and design of an enterprise.

But this does not mean that strategy implementation is just a top-down exercise. As I also mentioned in the post about digital transformation, bottom-up, emergent strategy is equally important. Agile ways of working, Lean process improvement and other local initiatives may also have a profound impact on the course of an organization. However, that impact may sometimes be unwanted or contradictory to other initiatives. To assess the opportunities and effects of top-down and bottom-up change, and to decide on a common direction, you need to have a shared and coherent view of your entire enterprise.

Architecture models to the rescue

Offering holistic views of an organization, architecture models bring together information on the relevant aspects of your enterprise. Models are not mere pictures; rather, they provide a precise, meaningful description that can be visualized in different ways for different stakeholders. Models can also be used to analyze the impact of changes, cost, risk, security, compliance and other relevant KPIs. The ArchiMate modeling language for enterprise architecture, an Open Group standard, is the key technique for expressing these models. If you have been following our blogs or other publications in the past, you will have noted that Bizzdesign is a leading contributor to this standard.

As described in our blog series about ArchiMate version 3 (released in 2016), the standard has evolved from merely describing the current and future business and IT operations of an enterprise. Today, the modeling standard is a language that captures stakeholders’ interests, motivations behind changes, strategic direction, requisite capabilities and resources, as well as the way changes are planned and implemented.

This makes architecture modeling a truly indispensable instrument in assessing the impact a change will have on the day-to-day operations of the enterprise and how it will evolve the various parts of the enterprise to meet the new strategic direction. Today’s modeling capabilities also ensure that local improvements and innovations are disseminated throughout an organization to offer maximum impact, and to ensure that everyone involved is kept abreast of current and future developments.



Strategy-on-a-page view based on ArchiMate models and using different notations, highlighting elements (in yellow) connected to one strategic outcome (in red)


These models can be visualized using the standard notation of the language, as in some of the views in the example above. This notation is aimed at the core user group of architects and is, therefore, somewhat technical in nature. You can also show the content of these models in many other ways, ranging from simple tables and matrices to various diagrams, charts and other graphical formats. Moreover, the language concepts can be used to underpin other techniques, like your Business Model Canvas, Balanced Scorecard or Customer Journey Map.

In future installments of this blog series, I will show a number of model-based analysis and visualization techniques that use ArchiMate features to facilitate strategy execution. I’ll also show how you can use various non-technical visualizations. Stay tuned!