Forrester: Building Capability Maps For Business-IT Alignment

Many architects are initiating their business architecture (BA) programs by developing business capability maps. While the finalized maps themselves are fairly simple, the process to create them isn't. Business capability map development requires detailed planning. Architects building capability maps in isolation quickly run into hurdles as they try to engage the business. Successful business architects are taking a more structured approach to engage stakeholders and build business support by including business players from the beginning of the process. Creating a formalized plan for capability development provides architects with the vehicle they need to secure critical resources and lay the foundation for business support.


Building a good capability map isn't technically challenging. Building a capability map that the organization values, however, is. A build-it-and-they-will-come approach most often results in business executives seeing the capability map as an "IT thing" that is of minimal value to them. (see endnote 1) Focusing capability mapping on specific problems, garnering stakeholder participation, and using an iterative process create an approach that leads to success. But this can't be done without a well-thought-out, comprehensive plan. Forrester's six-step process provides the foundation of such a plan to successfully build and apply capability maps.

Task One: Identify The Problems Your Capability Map Will Address

The first step of any significant effort is to clearly establish the goal. (see endnote 2) The goal for this task is to gain agreement on business-IT alignment issues that a capability map approach can potentially address. At the end of this task, architects will have a clear picture of the problem they are going to solve and will have broad agreement that a solution to that problem will produce value for both IT and business leaders (see Figure 1). One hundred percent consensus is often unattainable. If a large majority of the stakeholders are in agreement on the issues and challenges, move on to the next task. If minor disagreements remain, park them to be addressed at a later date and move on. If major disagreements remain at the end of this task, repeat the process. If agreement can't be reached by the end of a second iteration, consider narrowing the scope to just the aspects of business-IT alignment that the majority of stakeholders agree on. The major steps for this task are:

  • Interview IT and business stakeholders to gain their perspective. Interview stakeholders individually to get as many perspectives as possible. Start with IT stakeholders and use the results of those interviews to refine the interview process before moving on to the business stakeholders.
  • Identify the problem themes. Review the interview data and analyze it for response patterns and themes that identify common problem areas. Create a list of problems and differentiate them by adding more detailed descriptions.
  • Validate findings with stakeholders. Ensure that the identified problems accurately reflect the stakeholders' concerns and interests. Validate that the process has captured all of the problems, described them correctly, and presented them in a way that is actionable.

Task Two: Define Your Approach

The goal of the second task is to define a high-level conceptual solution set for a selected set of issues identified in task one. Map alignment issues to solution options and focus on the issues that can be best resolved or significantly improved using a capability map approach to provide insight or to guide decision-making. A key success factor for this task is to further refine the problem space and scope the solution set to a realistic size. At the end of this task, stakeholders should be in agreement on a conceptual approach to using a capability map to improve business-IT alignment. (see endnote 3) The primary steps for this task are:

  • Create current- and future-state views. Create a current-state view that is a composite of the issue set validated in step one. Then create a future-state composite view that describes how business and IT interactions will look after implementing a capability map approach. Contrast the current and future states by describing the changes the organizations will see as they transition from the current-state situation to the future-state solution.
  • Identify required resources. Carefully select the roles needed to make the initiative successful. Think through all the roles and pick the players needed regardless of the likelihood they will participate. Identify all resources, including internal and external consultants. Filling out a RACI chart will let everyone know how they fit in and will give them some rough idea of the amount of time they will be expected to apply to the initiative.
  • Develop a high-level road map. Use the current- and future-state views to create a high-level road map. Identify the major milestones along the path from current state to future state. Lay them out in the proper sequence on a general road map. Do not include dates at this point. The road map will be refined in a later step.

Task Three: Develop The Business Case

The goal of task three is to secure funding and resource commitments. Complete funding and resource commitment should be the target, but less is acceptable — as long as it provides enough value to demonstrate that more funding is in order. Keep in mind that some earlier supporters of the effort will become more reticent once they understand the cost in dollars and staff time. A key success factor for this task is to connect with stakeholders to demonstrate how capability maps will help them directly. At the end of this task, stakeholders should be in agreement on an acceptable level of financial funding and staff commitment. Promoting and selling often need to continue long after funding is approved in order to ensure that everyone remains committed to the outcome. Take the following steps to secure funding and resource commitments:

  • Create a detailed funding model. Create a staffing ramp model that identifies the amount of time each resource will need to apply to the initiative and when each player needs to engage. Identify tools and technologies that can be used to raise the initiative's effectiveness. A typical toolbox might include modeling tools, mind-mapping tools, collaboration tools, and a document repository. Develop a cost estimate that includes when the funding will be needed.
  • Clarify challenges. Identify potential challenges and roadblocks that could slow or derail the initiative — such as resource availability or commitment to the project. Assign a probability to each one. Don't avoid politically sensitive issues. Now is the time to get them on the table. Divide the challenges into two groups: those the BA team can deal with, and those that will need stakeholder support to overcome. Develop mitigation approaches for challenges the team will tackle.
  • Make a great pitch. Make your best pitch to your stakeholders. Think about the presentation from the stakeholders' viewpoint. What are they going to want to hear? Make sure you practice, practice, practice. Be clear, concise, and confident. The goal is to get the project totally funded, but if you can't — get as much as you can. Don't lose everything by pushing too hard, but argue strongly for enough resources to get to a value delivery point. Review the road map, resource list, challenges, and funding request.

Task Four: Build The Capability Map

Now it's time to develop the organization's capability map and gain consensus from business leaders that it accurately and meaningfully represents their interests. The process is iterative and concludes when the business stakeholders are satisfied with what they have (see Figure 2). It isn't important to include a lot of detail or to describe each capability to the same level. Details can be added at the time a specific capability is used in a problem-solving or planning process. It is important to have a widely accepted model that can become the basis for more detailed strategic discussions. At the end of this task, you should have a very clear capability map documented, validated, and ready to apply to the business-IT alignment issues identified. Capability maps can be built iteratively with the following three steps: (see endnote 4)

  • Select organizing elements. Capability maps of any complexity generally organize capabilities into logical groupings. Typical organizing principles are value streams, business functions, and services to clients. Pick the method most aligned to business thinking. Most structures include five to 10 elements; some are a little larger. Once the method is established, the capability framework can be defined. Before moving on to more formal work, validate the organizing framework with business leaders.
  • Populate elements with capabilities. Pick one area of the framework to focus on in order to validate that the structure is at the right level. Begin by ranking each of the organizing elements based on business complexity and the level of engagement expected from the business participants. Pick an area with medium complexity and high engagement. This will create a meaningful example to take forward. Iteratively build out each part of the framework and validate with business leaders at each step.
  • Apply attribute descriptors to flesh out capability details. Each capability now needs to be defined in more detail. Choose details based on management's focus. Typical details include capability description (usually a paragraph or two), people, process, technology, information, and business goals, metrics, and gaps. Select details that make the most sense for your organization and spend some time thinking about the level of detail that needs to be created.

Task Five: Apply The Capability Map To Identified Problems

Once established, capability maps can be applied to a wide array of problems. Some typical problems where capability maps can prove valuable are:

  • Investment prioritization. Business and IT planners can create a capability map view to help focus investment decisions on the most effective areas. First, identify the core capabilities that provide significant market differentiation and competitive leadership. Overlay this map with a performance analysis of those core capabilities. The resulting map illuminates where capabilities that are core to business success need additional investment. (see endnote 5)
  • Project portfolio management. Creating project portfolios around capability enhancement ensures that both business and IT projects are focusing on a common outcome. Creating capability project portfolios also creates a holistic view of investments that can be compared to the expected business return.
  • Identifying efficiency opportunities. Most IT consolidation and commonization efforts work from the bottom up. Capability maps provide a way to more easily engage business leaders in the discussion and to work the process from the top down, consolidating business functions first and technology second.

Task Six: Assess Progress And Refine The Approach

The goal of this final task is to step back and take a critical look at the work to date and make course corrections as needed. By this point, most teams will have gained significant knowledge and can identify a set of lessons learned that can be applied to a subsequent iteration through one or more of the previous tasks to create a better overall outcome. At the end of this task, the BA team should have a clear understanding of where additional value lies and whether enough has been accomplished to bring the initiative to a close. To identify the best next steps, architects should:

  • Assess progress to date. Assess progress against the original road map. Identify misses as well as excels. Re-examine interim deliverables to determine whether they need to be refined in light of new information gained along the way. Identify changes in strategy as well as unforeseen issues that affected progress. Estimate how future events might slow or accelerate progress.
  • Assess overall impact. Document both quantitative and anecdotal evidence. Identify where capability maps have added bottom-line value. Gather data through stakeholder interviews. List decisions facilitated using capability maps, how often they are referenced, and who is using them.
  • Identify additional opportunities. Evaluate new opportunities to improve or leverage your capability map in new ways. Evaluate each opportunity to determine if the added work is worth the investment in time and energy. Validate the identified opportunities for investment with IT and business stakeholders. Be intentional. Don't just drift into minor updates and changes.



Taking a well-structured approach to business architecture initiatives is key to success. Building BA artifacts and then casting around for a problem to apply them to is not a viable approach. It typically takes two or more years to restart a failed architecture initiative, so it is imperative to get it right the first time. Many architecture programs are doomed from day one when EAs jump into the details without establishing a clear goal, identifying how value will be created, and engaging the organization. The antidote can be found in a well-thought-out plan that secures broad stakeholder buy-in.

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