There are different ways to do automation projects. The Macro Design phase, as the IBM Cloud Services team calls this approach, typically best fits for medium to large IBM Business Process Manager (BPM) projects. On the other hand, IBM Operational Decision Manager (ODM) projects and smaller scale BPM projects could be executed under the Iterative Model with incremental scope build and implementation.

For qualified projects, Macro Design is an indispensable part of IBM’s delivery approach and one of the key activities to define high-level scope, detailed estimates, plan, and architecture. Macro Design has been refined and polished by the IBM Cloud Services team on production delivery projects for the IBM Business Automation Workflow (IBM Workflow) platform.

Figure 1: The Macro Design phase is used to define the high-level scope, plan, and architecture.

This article is an introduction into a series of three articles focused on the Macro Design phase for IBM Workflow projects. Part 2 of this series will describe how the Macro Design phase is executed, including schedule, roles, and activities. Part 3 of this series will describe the deliverables that are created during the Macro Design phase.

The main target audience for this article is considered to be business-oriented roles, such as project executives, project managers, and business analysts, as well as technical roles, including solution architects, integration architects, and technical leads from the project delivery organization. In addition, subject matter experts from an enterprise’s business lines of service, who are typically involved in software development projects, could also vastly benefit from reading this series.

In addition to IBM Business Process Manager, the IBM Workflow platform includes IBM Case Manager. In its turn IBM Workflow is a part of a larger IBM Automation Platform for Digital Business suite of products, including, but not limited to, IBM Robotic Process Automation with Automation Anywhere, IBM Datacap, IBM FileNet Content Manager, IBM Operational Decision Manager, and IBM Blueworks Live.

The content of this article, while focused on the IBM Workflow platform, could also be relevant to the entire suite. This also includes their respective Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings, such as IBM Business Process Manager on Cloud and IBM Operational Decision Manager on Cloud.

If you are new to the IBM Automation Platform for Digital Business platform, visit the IBM site for a brief introduction: Gain efficiencies and agility with business process management. For IBM Workflow related methodology publications, please see the Related Materials appendix at the end of this article.

Why do Macro Design?

One characteristic of BPM projects is their unique position as a nexus of multiple business-centered activities as well as IT centered systems. This greatly complicates the execution of two exercises that are (or at least should be) mandatory during the project inception: creating an accurate budgetary estimate and collecting a list of project risks and their possible mitigation. By requiring the project team to carefully and systematically investigate a list of often overlooked or underestimated areas, the Macro Design phase reduces project uncertainty. It also delivers other valuable outcomes, and puts the project in a state where:

  • The business solution has been outlined.
  • The To-Be processes and architectural landscape have been defined.
  • The details of the integration landscape have been identified.
  • The project roadmap has been outlined and the different work streams have been identified and planned.

In the following sections, we provide more details on some of the important benefits of running a Macro Design phase.

The majority of the listed items will no doubt be familiar to the reader, and it may not be clear why we would advocate Macro Design, if these activities, all or in part, may already take place during the course of a project. The simple answer is that there is a chance that some of these activities may not be conducted during the project at the right time and to their full extent if they are not part of a dedicated phase.

Here are a few examples. The project team might define To-Be processes but skip As-Is process capturing to save some time. As a result, existing pain points will not be identified so the value of the To-Be processes for the business users and stakeholders will be difficult to articulate. If business value is not clearly articulated to the business owners, the project has a high risk of being rejected or the solution may be abandoned later by the business users.

Another example, during initial discovery a number of integrated systems and corresponding integration services are identified and are taken into consideration to deliver the estimates. What may not have been uncovered at the time is that individual integration points were not accessible in a development environment, some of the operations did not have service specifications, or that the team who implemented these services is no longer accessible. The delivery team discovers this during the construction phase and spends additional time on trial-and-error, determining how to use the services, and building mock-up services and test data to simulate execution in the development environment. As a result, the project timeline and project economics are severely impacted.

At the end of the day, businesses want to build a solution that meets both their near-term and long-term needs. The solution must provide a foundation for future extension and growth. Conducting methodical and extensive fact gathering and analysis, focused on the most critical and challenging aspects of the solution implementation, allows the team to capture the most accurate picture of the overall requirements and the systems integration landscape. Macro Design produces deliverables that the business can use as a basis for the implementation projects. Macro Design collects enough information to produce accurate work estimates. The detailed estimates are based on user stories identified and captured during Macro Design and considered to be of much higher accuracy compared to other estimate models employed in pre-project activities. The project team, armed with such a strong estimate, has a much better chance of successfully delivering the business solution to their users.

Let us look closer at another factor, significant by its impact on the project outcome, addressed by Macro Design. A number of deliverables produced during the Macro Design result in reducing and mitigating various risks and uncertainties.

Typically, the initial focus of Macro Design is placed on process discovery and definition. One of the intricate parts of this discovery is the identification of what constitutes a process instance in the business domain. In some businesses, it is a straightforward answer, in others – it is not so. In the latter cases, it becomes a first priority to identify and make a decision on the process scope. If the process scope is not properly defined in the beginning, all process flows and the entire set of operational data could become invalid later in the implementation.

As another area of project risk, consider those associated with the system integration work stream. System integration is viewed as one of the key factors that can negatively impact the project timeline and overall result. During the Macro Design, you create a high-level architecture landscape picture taking into account both near-term and long-term goals. As a part of this picture, you collect detailed information about your systems to be integrated into the solution. This includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • A list of integration services and corresponding service operations.
  • An indication of transport protocols and payload data format.
  • Services specification.
  • Services availability and testability in non-production environments.

Another important, though often underestimated, area of any business project is reporting. Businesses typically have requirements for management and operational reporting. These requirements are usually expressed in business terms, as you would expect, e.g. report layout, reports frequency, data to be available on various reports to various business users, etc. These requirements are an important input to the overall solution design. There are also a number of non-functional, i.e. system solution level, requirements that in many cases are not explicitly identified. During Macro Design, you include reporting requirements into the conversation about the overall architectural design of the proposed solution. Here are just a few items to be considered on this subject:

  • Reporting data location for short-term and long-term purposes.
  • The frequency of and type of access to the reporting data.
  • Type of reporting.
  • User access to the reporting data.
  • Regulatory requirements for the reporting data retention.
  • Long-term maintenance of the reporting data.

All of the areas above, along with others identified during the Macro Design, become input to the estimation model. Depending on the project delivery method, some businesses consider the accuracy of the budgetary estimates to be around 90%. In our experience, though, working across industries of various sizes of enterprises under different project delivery models, the typical accuracy of the budgetary estimates is about 55-65%. Figure 2 shows a typically expected accuracy of various estimation models used in our IBM Workflow practice, highlighting the Detailed User Story based Estimates that are produced during the Macro Design.

Figure 2: Estimation methods with accuracy produced by various engagement activities.

Risks and uncertainty narrow as the estimates mature with added process knowledge and refinement in detail during implementation. The four different types of estimates used during the lifecycle of a process include the following types:

  • Assess Business Impact and Overall Effort.
  • This estimate happens during process identification as you build your process inventory during initial steps of process discovery.

  • Rough Order Magnitude (ROM).
  • A low precision and accuracy (40%) estimate used to build a business case for further process documentation and analysis. This estimate can be used in a business case to justify a project charter for process implementation.

  • Procure Funds with Budgetary Estimate.
  • With added precision and accuracy (55 – 65%), this estimate is used for initial planning (cost, resources, and schedule) and is based on the outcome of process discovery and analysis.

  • Plan Project with Detailed Estimate.
  • With refined precision and accuracy (60 – 80%), this estimate first appears during the first development iteration. This estimate is based on story points, used to bucket work to iterations, and commit assignments to developers, and should anticipate change as a percentage.

  • Commit Schedule with Revised Estimate.
  • An updated detailed estimates based on actual story point velocity from multiple iterations. By Playback 3, the accuracy is as high as 90%.

    For more detailed explanation of individual estimation models see the IBM Redbooks publication Scaling BPM Adoption from Project to Program, section 4.3.2 Planning for Implementation Requires Accuracy Scaling BPM Adoption: From Project to Program with IBM Business Process Manager.

    As some might expect higher numbers for the Detailed Estimates, our experience shows that up to the 65%-80% is a realistic range, especially at its upper bound. We have to remember that there are other factors that come into play only after the project starts. These factors may introduce more challenges and risks, such as internal corporate and team environment, business subject matter experts’ level of expertise and degree of understanding of both functional and non-functional requirements, and existing practices for decision-making, e.g. following approval chain or administrative requests escalation.

    Granted, these factors are secondary in nature and should be taken into account on a case-by-case basis during estimation. But when present, you will find that every one of them in its own way can in fact potentially negatively impact the project timeline. This, in turn, will result in the initial estimates being farther away from the actual result.

    On the plus side, enterprises with an established development cycle discipline and strong management practices can expect higher accuracy from the detailed estimates produced by Macro Design.

    How to do Macro Design

    Let us look at some of the decisions that lead to Macro Design.

    Figure 3: High-level approaches to requirements and scope discovery.

    At the very beginning of the engagement, we learn the established and/or preferred project execution model. This aspect determines how we approach and structure the initial requirement and scope discovery. As depicted in Figure 3, for customers who prefer learning more or everything, known at that point, about the requirements and having a complete scope upfront we recommend executing Macro Design.

    Macro Design always precedes any medium to large process solution implementation based on the IBM Workflow implementation methodology. In fact, Macro Design is an integral part of the IBM Workflow production project implementation. Macro Design can be viewed as an extended Iteration Zero phase, following the Agile terminology. Iteration Zero is, in turn, a required part of any IBM Workflow process solution implementation project, including both small-scale production implementations and Quick Win Pilot enablement projects.

    One of the reasons for Macro Design to be a separate activity, i.e. an activity outside of project boundaries, is to reflect and accentuate its value as a dedicated phase. Is a stand-alone Macro Design worth the investment? We strongly believe the answer to this question is “yes”. The user story-based detailed estimates, one of many Macro Design key deliverables, in our opinion significantly increases chances for success of the follow-up project.

    As a dedicated activity, Macro Design allows enterprises to analyze and assess the findings and results before committing to the full production implementation. Experience delivering BPM projects across industries and markets has shown that it is highly beneficial having more accurate estimates and uncovering potential issues and risks as early in the project lifecycle as possible.

    Our recommended approach is to conduct Macro Design as soon as the opportunity has been qualified for a medium or large process implementation. As Macro Design duration typically ranges from 4 to 8 weeks, you need to determine how long Macro Design should be. The duration of Macro Design is assessed based on the information provided by the business or jointly collected through the initial interviews. If this determination did not happen during initial pre-qualification meetings with the business due to limited information available, conduct a short Discovery Workshop to define its duration.

    For example, due to the complexity of system integrations or process flows, it may be difficult to assess the Macro Design duration without taking a deeper look into the business requirements and system landscape. In such cases, a Discovery Workshop session will collect information sufficient to estimate the duration of the Macro Design activity.

    As shown, Macro Design covers aspects of the production-delivery project that has the most profound impact on the success of the project. These aspects were identified and selected based on a large number of production implementation projects. Again, the following topics are typically included in Macro Design as below:

    • Business processes discovery.
    • To-be architectural landscape outline.
    • Business requirements in a user story format.
    • Business domain object model discovery.
    • Non-functional requirements, Key Performance Indicators, and Service Level Agreements.
    • Integration systems / points specification.
    • Project risks and architectural decisions.
    • Workstreams planning.
    • User story-based detailed estimates.

    What is Macro Design?

    Macro Design is a variant of the Inception phase in Disciplined Agile Delivery, as defined by the Disciplined Agile Consortium: Disciplined Agile Delivery.

    The objectives of the Macro Design phase are to capture the solution requirements as user stories, to design the solution for the to-be processes, and to plan the solution implementation roadmap.

    The Macro Design phase encompasses more than a traditional high-level design, as it gathers comprehensive requirements in the form of user stories, used to estimate implementation effort, and it also details out the design to the point of enabling implementation. The design of the to-be processes includes not only the process activities, flow, and participants, but also inventories of both the user interfaces (coaches) and the integration points, as well as process monitoring and the business entity model. The content of the design ensures there is sufficient guidance for developers to start on the implementation immediately following the Macro Design phase.

    Before starting the Macro Design phase, ensure that you can meet the following critical business pre-requisites:

    • Business sponsor for the project, or program, has been identified – The business sponsor is the most important role to fill before starting Macro Design. The sponsor will be involved with the project from start to finish and must be willing and able to take key decisions and approve the Playbacks throughout the project.
    • Business case for the project, or program, has been approved – Do not proceed with a Macro Design without the business sponsorship of the business case. A viable business case should be identified before the Business Improvement Analysis and validated during those workshops as an input to the Macro Design.
    • List of candidate processes identified – Start the Macro Design after identifying the business processes for improvement. This identification usually involves a few days in the Business Improvement Analysis to understand the goals, propose a solution approach, and define the implementation cost at a rough order of magnitude level. The outcome of the workshops will determine whether a Macro Design phase is necessary or not, prior to starting implementation, given the level of complexity or unknowns of the proposed solution.
    • Subject matter experts (SMEs) and general stakeholders are available – SMEs to provide input to and validation of the proposed solution are essential. It is crucial to involve end-user SMEs with good knowledge of the existing application and the requirements for the future solution during the entire Macro Design, to ensure the solution meets the user requirements, thereby reducing significant rework during the implementation.

    Figure 4: Process Transformation Implementation Approach

    Perform the Macro Design to help the business sponsor answer the following questions:

    • What is the detailed scope of the project?
    • What is the high-level design, so developers are pointed in the right direction?
    • What are the architectural challenges and decisions?
    • What are the expected benefits?
    • What is the project cost?
    • What are the main risks?
    • What is the product backlog?

    Once you have completed a Macro Design project, your design and project management decisions will be in place for the solution implementation to start immediately.

    A Macro Design project typically spans multiple weeks to capture the requirements and build, refine, and present the solution design and roadmap.

    Figure 5: Macro Design Timeline

    The duration of the Macro Design, usually 4-8 weeks, is determined based on the preliminary Rough Order of Magnitude (ROM) estimate from one of the Business Improvement Analysis workshops, such as a Discovery Workshop or a Design Workshop.

    You will need to assemble a team combining both methodology and tool experts working with the subject matter experts (SMEs) representing the business and technology needs for the project to perform a successful Macro Design.

    You will typically staff the methodology and tool experts from a central Information Technology (IT) organization, or if it exists, a Process Center of Excellence (CoE) organization. These experts lead the Macro Design project and are responsible for producing the final deliverables, with input from the project SMEs. The core methodology and tool experts are full-time members of the project. Additional specialist resources will join the project for shorter durations, as required.

    The subject matter experts (SMEs) and business sponsor representing business and technology needs for the project come from the Line(s) of Business (LoB) sponsoring the project. The SMEs need to dedicate approximately half of their time to the Macro Design project and are responsible for providing input to and validation of the final deliverables. The business sponsor is the person who is ultimately accountable for the overall project and provides the business direction and decisions.

    Within a Macro Design project, you typically break up the activities into four distinct phases:

    • Requirements – 1-2 weeks – Understand current processes and business needs.
    • Design – 1-4 weeks – Design selected processes and refine requirements.
    • Validation – 1-3 weeks – Validate and refine the design, including user interfaces, integrations, and reports, prepare initial user story based estimates.
    • Planning – 1 week – Finalize estimates and roadmap. Present final design and processes, as well as roadmap.

    Within these four phases, there are three key milestones which end in a formal Playback. A Playback is a focused business driven demonstration of the processes for discussion, consensus-building, and approval.

    • As-Is Playback – Playback the discovered As-Is processes at the end of the Requirements phase. This is the baseline Playback.
    • Draft Playback – Playback the draft design of the To-Be processes at the end of the Design Phase. This is the interim Playback, where feedback on the design is expected and encouraged.
    • Final Playback – Playback the validated and finalized the design of the To-Be processes at the end of the Presentation Phase. This is the final Playback of the final deliverables.

    The activities within each phase are described in more detail in Part 2: How to do Macro Design.

    The deliverables that your team will produce for a Macro Design are comprised of both the design documentation and the project management documentation. The design documentation includes a record of the architecture decisions taken during the Macro Design, as well as comprehensive documentation of the overall solution architecture. The project management documentation includes the product backlog, consisting of the user stories, and a release plan with a detailed estimate for the solution implementation.

    During the four phases, the following deliverables are developed, validated, and presented in Playbacks:


    • As-Is Processes in IBM BlueworksLive.
    • User Stories.


    • To-Be Processes in IBM BlueworksLive.
    • System context.
    • Interface catalog.
    • Coach inventory.
    • Business Domain entity model.
    • Reference data access.
    • Reporting.

    Architecture Decisions:

    • Solution topology.
    • System(s) of record (new and/or existing).
    • Components view.
    • Technology choices.

    Project Management:

    • Release plan.
    • User stories-based estimate.
    • Top 10 risks.

    The deliverables are described in more detail in Part 3: Macro Design Deliverables.


    The core objective of this article has been to describe the Macro Design phase as an essential part of a medium to large IBM Workflow production implementation projects.

    Whether executed as an Iteration Zero or in a stand-alone manner, Macro Design will lay out the initial foundation, including high-level architecture, design, and immediate scope to proceed with confidence into the production project.
    When executed as a stand-alone activity, it delivers, among other things, detailed user story based estimates for the follow-on project. Most businesses find tremendous value in having the detailed estimates before committing to the entire scope. These estimates will be further refined during the Construction phase, starting Iteration 1 and continuing through the rest of the project. Although there will still be these refinements, having more accurate detailed estimates up front prove to be the difference between getting project funds allocated in time and having no project at all.

    As you start, or you continue, your own journey with the IBM Automation Platform for Digital Business, approaching your next production delivery project, please share your feedback and/or questions on how Macro Design may help to make your project successful by adding comments to this article.


    This article was written by Slava Zheltonogov and Genevieve van der Boer. The authors would like to thank Jean Pommier and Pierre Berlandier for their reviews and comments.

    Related Materials

    IBM Redbooks Publications:
    Scaling BPM Adoption: From Project to Program with IBM Business Process Manager
    Business Process Management Design Guide: Using IBM Business Process Manager
    Process Discovery Best Practices Using IBM Blueworks Live
    Discovering the Decisions within Your Business Processes using IBM Blueworks Live

    IBM developerWorks Articles:
    Part 1: Capturing integration complexity for BPM and SOA solutions
    Part 2: Reference guide to integration characteristic

    Disciplined Agile Consortium:
    The Disciplined Agile Framework, Introduction to Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD)

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