Reflections on The Art of Business Value

The Situation

Often teams and leaders don’t work from a common understanding of business value. Without aligning to what is valuable, individuals will have an impaired ability to make trade-off decisions such as “Where should we focus our finite resources and attention”, and “What does good look like? And for whom?”.

Too often we don’t think in business value terms. We’re simply here to get the job done and move onto the next assignment or project. There’s a keenness to show output – the busy work which demonstrates effort and speed.

However, it’s important to pause and ask “Why is this project more important than these other projects? Who is it for? What’s the source of our confidence that it’ll benefit them?”

Business Value is elusive

The Art of Business Value. A 2016 book by Mark Schwartz

The Art of Business Value, by Mark Schwartz, helps overcome the lack of understanding of what business value is. With refreshing wit and insight, Schwartz challenges the assumptions of many, such as those in leadership, financial accounting and within the agile community. He offers sound guidance that’ll help many determine the elusive meaning of business value that’s contextual to their organisation.

The book explains that when we consider business value we often turn to financial accounting measures such as Return On Investment or Net Present Value. Schwartz states such measures tie poorly to strategies and don’t sufficiently factor-in risk and uncertainty. Neither do these short-term measures do well at accounting for the inherent value locked-up in enterprise infrastructure and the business agility that such assets should enable.

Schwartz says that business value can be hidden in an organisation’s rules and processes. So rather than disregard bureaucracy, we should examine it to discover the values held within an organisation. If we consider bureaucracy as a product of institutional memory, its rules and processes can become a rich source to discover what an organisation values.

If we consider bureaucracy as a product of institutional memory, its rules and processes can become a rich source to discover what an organisation values.

The book also unpicks the thorny issue of who should be charged with establishing business value versus those who execute and deliver that value.

What is Business Value

Schwartz defines business value as a hypothesis held by the organization’s leadership as to what will best accomplish the organization’s ultimate goals or desired outcomes.

This definition recognises firstly that business value is not the same for all organisations, secondly that it cannot be boiled down to one measure, and thirdly determining business value necessitates a journey of discovery, dialogue and collaboration across many business areas.

Introducing Business Value thinking

With my support, many of my clients have taken such a journey. This has often started with a leadership envisioning workshop – an approach which sets out the organisation’s vision and which creates an open debate about the worthiness of strategic initiatives.

With such approaches leaders create a mindset and process which shifts the conversation away from endless horse-trading and towards organisational learning through iterative execution and review.

In a dynamic and uncertain world, the approaches I’ve shared and the thinking conveyed in The Art of Business Value will create a common understanding of business value. Doing so enables teams and leaders to align on what’s valuable and create a responsive organisation.


With The Art of Business Value, in a little over a hundred pages, Mark Schwartz has done a fantastic job to help challenge convention and offer guidance that’ll help our organisations and clients define what it values and achieve success.

Thoughts on Team Topologies

Team Topologies is a 2019 book written by Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais

I include myself amongst those who have longed for a way to better articulate how firms can enable more outcome-focused teams.

So it’s been rewarding to have Team Topologies help me order my thinking to enable organisations to better support customer-facing teams. Such thinking will help those teams better serve their customers and deliver their organisation’s mission.

What Team Topologies says

Pardon the lockdown hair style!

We need to design our organisation around team-first principles. Chiefly we should design around teams’ cognitive load. Cognitive load meaning the mental effort being used at any one time.

Invariably the products & services an organisation creates is determined by its structure and its internal communication lines. This follows Conway’s Law. In a consultative manner, we should work with the law by altering team dynamics, structure and communication lines to create the desired products and services.

We should work with Conway’s Law by altering team dynamics, structure and communication lines to create the desired products and services.

Team Topologies offers a sophisticated mechanism to examine, design and improve team and organisation design.

There are four team topologies (i.e. types of team)

This is achieved through close attention to team topologies (i.e. types of team), team responsibilities and collaboration modes. Ultimately this is to orientate the organisation to support teams to deliver a continuous flow of value.

There are four team types. Two of which are stream-aligned teams (i.e customer-facing teams) and Platform teams whose raison d’être is to support stream-aligned teams with reusable services with minimal friction.

My Take-Aways

Counter-intuitively, where appropriate, we need to reduce collaboration. For example, a platform team needs to provide an easy-to-consume service for customer-facing teams; this shouldn’t necessitate in-depth collaboration. This will allow the customer-facing team to focus more on their customer mission.

To help organisations realise their mission, Team Topologies helps standardise the ingredients for team and organisation design. Metaphorically speaking, these ingredients are not for a standard meal plan, but more for a test kitchen. A test kitchen where organisations can continuously discover how customer-facing teams should be supported by other team types and the leadership team.

Metaphorically speaking, the ingredients described in Team Topologies are not for a standard meal plan, but more for a test kitchen. A test kitchen where organisations can continuously discover how to support customer-facing teams.

Dean Latchana

Closing thoughts

Team Topologies will help foster the right mindset and means to help organisations re-orientate to support customer-facing teams become more outcome-focused, better serve customers and deliver the organisation’s mission.

It’s given me the language, ingredients and confidence to better articulate my own experiences to help my clients achieve success.

Kudos to Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais (Team Topologies) for authoring Team Topologies.

My latest read: Mik Kersten’s Project to Product

Project to Product starts with a fascinating look back on how, from the industrial revolutions, technology innovation relates to the current Age of Software.

This helps explain why many incumbent organisations are well suited to the previous age of mass production and consumption but are challenged to adapt to the age of networks, platforms and rapid change.

With his Flow Framework, Mik provides some thought-provoking insights and guidance to help organisations transition.

These opportunities are also areas I help organisations address.

This is not necessarily a technological challenge. It will necessitate situational awareness and an appetite to re-examine one’s mission, values, vision, strategies and ways of working

Sounds huge. It is. But as Barry O’Reilly advocates, organisations can think big, start small and learn fast.