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.

The 4Rs Cycle for COVID-19 business recovery

Firms can make use of the 4Rs Cycle to plan and execute their COVID-19 business recovery. As uncertainty continues, cycle through the steps:

  1. RE-STABILISE: Return to revenue by developing a cutdown operation and offerings.
  2. RELATIONSHIPS: To regain customers’ confidence, firms must demonstrate they’re taking extra measures at every touchpoint. Create goodwill & build lasting partnerships across the supply-chain.
  3. RESILIENCE: The world has changed, so reshape the firm through rapid experimentation of new products and services.
  4. RESTRUCTURE: Firms should restructure based on an assessment of their experiences and survival strategies.

Contact me ( to learn how to organise and adapt your business recovery plan.

Download and share a 4Rs Cycle infographic

Organisational Resilience – Creating opportunities through crisis and change

In this talk, I propose an organisational resilience mindset can enable enterprises to strengthen their resilience to unforeseen circumstances.

I will explain how organisational resilience can enable organisations to survive, thrive and create opportunities through crisis and change. The talk covers:

  • Why organisational resilience is critically relevant to your team and organisation
  • How agile and lean can enable your organisation to prepare and adapt to a crisis
  • How we, as practitioners, can develop and apply this thinking to our teams and organisations

To learn more about Organisational Resilience with my Organisational Resilience mini-series of articles.

Talk Dates

Workshop: Wardley Mapping

This workshop introduces Wardley Mapping as a technique to understand the chain of components an organisation needs to serve user needs. It creates situational awareness by mapping the maturity of each component, and the visibility of the component to the user. It allowing organisations to better strategise and improve their effectiveness and competitiveness.

The workshop can be delivered in 60 to 120 minutes. It’s team-based and can be run for any number of teams.


photos from workshops

Thank you

Thank you to Philippe Guenet for working with me in developing the workshop.

Wardley Mapping is conceived by and is kindly shared by Simon Wardley.