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Innovation techniques to solve customer-centric business problems using architectural thinking (Design + ADM)

March 27, 2020

What does your perfect product/solution look like?

There isn’t one! Just as imagination has no limits neither does your perfect solution. Every time we design a solution, we design the most feasible one not the most perfect one, because in times like these the definition of “perfect” changes fast, mostly because of technology and people. Technology is advancing and customer demands are advancing with it.

So, how do you bring these two very different worlds together? Where does the sweet spot lie?

If you ask me, I always start with the customer/user experience. Technology comes later and the approach I take to find the sweet spot is a combination of design thinking and enterprise architecture.

At the last open group conference, I was glad to see that there are many people who take the same approach. The standardized format below was presented by Rolf Knoll from Novatech. I’ve just added some content based on my own experience.

Design thinking – General approach of Stanford University/HPI/dschool


Design thinking mainly consists of three components:

Multidisciplinary teams – Diverse, innovative ideas are best developed in strong and multidisciplinary teams.

Process – The path to innovative ideas is made up of series of steps (shown above) which are iteratively completed.

Space – Inventive development thrives in a culture of open collaboration and a flexible work environment.

The phases of the process:

Understand – The five “W” questions: who, what, where, when, and why?

Observe – Conduct observations and surveys in the customer environment.

Point of view – The phrase “How might we …” is often used to define a point of view, which is a statement of the user + need + insight.

Ideate – Create solution alternatives.

Prototype – Convey your idea quickly and further development of solution alternatives.

Test – The purpose of testing is to learn what works and what doesn’t, and then iterate.

Embedded design thinking – Approach of University of St. Gallen

Goals: Increase collaboration between business and IT. Move towards a customer-oriented innovation culture. Viewing design thinking as a cycle that is completed several times within a project.
Project can be divided into two phases: Diverging phase To generate as many different ideas as possible to capture the scope of the problem Converging phase Consolidate the best ideas of the first phase and generate the best solution.

Now let’s talk about the other crucial part, the architecture aspect, how do we handle that and embed design thinking in the process.

However, let me first give you an overview of the architectural development method (ADM) of TOGAF.

Preliminary phase:Define scope of the enterprise Define and establish an organization-specific EA framework
Phase A:Define the scope of architecture development cycle Create an architectural vision
Phase B, C & D:Domain specific definition of architecture
Phase E:Cross-domain consolidation of architecture Analysis of solution alternatives Initial planning of proposed realization
Phase F:Detailed planning of solution realization
Phase G:Governance of solution realization
Phase H:Continuous process improvement

“Lean ADM” – ADM reduced to essentials

The beauty of ADM is it can be customized. So, let’s do some modifications to embed a design-thinking approach in it.
Preliminary and Phase A specifics will remain same. They are renamed the “EA Capability” and “Architectural Vision” phase respectively.
Phases B, C, and D can be grouped under broader “Architecture Definition.”
Phases E & F can be named “Transformation Planning.”
Phase H and Requirement Management can be grouped into “Change and Requirement Management.” A concurrent process will be “Change and Requirement Management” and “Governance of the ADM & EA Capability.”

After customizing the TOGAF cycle (the standard representation by the Open Group), the tailored diagram will look something like this:

“Change and Requirement Management” are now cross-phase activities
The individual phases and cycles are governed by – “Change & Requirement Management.”

Further tailoring the ADM by design thinking as a technique

“Agile ADM” = agile, requirement-driven architecture development 1 of 3

Architecture vision phase: Define the scope of the architecture development cycle. Create architectural vision.
Embedded design thinking Design phase exploration – The problem area (design space) is scanned as comprehensively as possible to capture the central problem.
Focus on understanding the problem space from the customer’s point of view (helps in scoping development cycle)
Complete description of the problem area on a high level (architectural vision).

“Agile ADM” = agile requirement-driven architecture development 2 of 3

Architectural definition phase Domain-specific definition of architecture Cross-domain consolidation of architecture Embedded design thinking “Diverging Phase” Focus on deep understanding of the problem phase (“what”)

“Agile ADM” = agile requirement-driven architecture development 3 of 3

Transformation planning Analysis of solution alternatives Selection of proposed solution Initial planning of realization.
Embedded design thinking “Converging Phase” Focus on feasibility and customer acceptance of solution alternatives (“how”).

Summary and usage scenario of Lean ADM with embedded design thinking

The star in the above diagram is an indication of usage of design thinking in each phase.

According to “Long Live Design Thinking,” one of the most powerful things about design thinking is its ability to shift the way organizations fundamentally think and work – the way they conceive, design, and create solutions that people (actually) like.

So, when it comes to the overall experience of the product/service/solution, the design thinking approach will take care of it.

In other words, we add features as we move ahead. But what lays the very foundation which allows us to add features seamlessly? It is the Architecture or the solution design as we may like to call it.

Architectural thinking gives you a structured way to deliver end-user products/experience, using a customer-centric approach governed by ADM. This helps you address the ever-evolving product needs and technology advancements.

As an architect, you need to think about how to factor things in the digital age, when and how to use a particular technology. You must align both with the organization strategy as well as customer demands. Taking the approach explained in this blog would greatly help you in finding the right balance or the sweet spot as I mentioned earlier.

Feedback is appreciated; if you would like to discuss more, connect with me @