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Capability Definition

Dragon1 Icon for Capability

Dragon1 Icon for Capability
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Dragon1 Definition for Capability: A capability is defined as a set of tasks that a system is potentially able to perform (acquired skills) at a certain performance level (available capacity). Often only with the use of external resources.

Capability Definition Summary

What is the definition of Capability?

What exactly is capability meaning?

A capability is defined as a set of tasks that a system is potentially able to perform (acquired skills) at a certain performance level (available capacity). Often only with the use of external resources.

A capability can become an ability (acquired skills) if it is done frequently. A capability is very pure when its name points to a high performance or extremes.

Talking for hours is an ability, talking for 48 hours in a row is a capability. You could train yourself to be able to do it after some practice, but normally you don't do these kind of things. Maybe only if you are challenged.

'Potentially' means that you can reach a certain level of performance if needed. For example: Google is capable of handling trillions of search request. Every day Google needs to be able to handle that and they can and do.

With resources we mean the support of something or someone else. For example, Google as organization needs certain knowledge and hardware it did not create or build itself.

Business Capability Definition

A business capability is the set of tasks or activities that a business function of an organization is potentially able to perform (acquired skills) at a certain level of performance (available capacity), but only when it is needed. Often not all by itself, but with required resources, like other persons and organizations, their services, knowledge and technologies. Strategy (objectives & initiatives) and ambitions require certain capabilities.

To put it in a formula: business capability = skills + capacity of a business function

What is an Ability?

Dragon1 defines an ability (being able) as what a person, system or organization can do, all by itself. An ability is a set of acquired skills (but without stating the capacity).

Business Capabilities

Organizations today identify business functions, business abilities, business capabilities and business disabilities via business capability studies.

For example, the business function Sales Management may need modernization. The strategy now requires online sales to be done. If the sales managers and the website are not capable of online sales, the sales managers need to be trained and the website needs to be turned into a webshop.

Once the sales managers are trained and the website is a webshop, online sales has turned from a business disability into a business capability. The moment online sales is actually done (executed), online sales has turned into a business ability.

In practice, a business capability will be formulated more ambitious than an everyday business function, process or ability. For example: 24 x 7 full automated online sales in 100+ countries. That is a capability. Even though you are not actually doing this, but if you ultimately could do this, it is a business capability.

The importance of doing a business capability study is:

  • 1. Identifying which business capabilities are needed because of the new strategy and new competition
  • 2. Identifying the gaps with the current business capabilities, in terms of skills and capacity
  • 3. Understanding what partners, suppliers, knowledge, technologies, systems and training you need in order to develop a business capability
  • 4. Understand what it takes to turn a business capability into a business ability, or how to upgrade business abilities with it

Examples of Real Business Capabilities

Here follow example business capabilities that fit the Dragon1 definition for business capability:

  • Google is capable of handling 300 trillion web searches every day
  • Netflix is capable of providing streaming content in a convenient and unique way to over a billion people
  • Microsoft and Amazon are capable of hosting a cloud for every living creature on earth
  • Nasa and Elon Musk are capable of setting up a colony on Mars (pretty soon)
  • Startup organizations are capable to compete with Fortune 500 corporations because of new technologies and investments. They need to be able to do this in order to have an entry onto a market. Fortune 500 corporations are in their turn able to acquire startups (as they actually do when size, complexity and age have turned innovation into a disability).

Business Capability Documentation Template

Dragon1 suggests the following template for documenting Business Capabilities:

  • Name:
  • Statement:
  • Rationale:
  • Required Skills:
  • Required Capacity:
  • Literature reference:
  • Internal Resources:
  • External Resources:
  • Owner:
  • Workflow Status:
  • Version:
  • Source:

Examples of Non Business Capabilities

Often the notion is that the business functions, business abilities, business processes or business activities are business capabilities, but that is not true. They are nothing special, any organization does them, so they do not at all uniquely define your organization.

Below you see business functions and business processes that are often mistaken for business capabilities.

  • Marketing
  • Customer contact
  • Outbound telemarketing
  • Strategic Management
  • HR

Many definitions for capability and business capability are vague or bad and accept business functions and business processes to be labeled as business capability.

Why would you call business functions business capabilities.? That would only create misunderstanding and confusion!

Example Business Capabilities Map

Below you see an example Business Capabilities Map.

Dragon1 Business Capabilities Map

In this diagram you see Business Functions containing business capabilities. Per business capability one can reveal the necessary skills and capacity.

This diagram can be used to score how well a capability is implemented, what time and budget it takes to implement it, what dependencies there are towards other organizations.

Definitions of Capability by other Methods, Frameworks and Modeling Languages

  • ArchiMate 3.1: A capability represents an ability that an active structure element, such as an organization, person, or system, possesses.
  • TOGAF 9.1: A capability is an ability that an organization, person, or system possesses. Capabilities are typically expressed in general and high-level terms and typically require a combination of organization, people, processes, and technology to achieve. For example, marketing, customer contact, or outbound telemarketing.
  • BIZBOK 4.1: A capability is a particular ability or capacity that a business may possess or exchange to achieve a specific purpose or outcome.
  • Bas van Gils (Strategy Alliance): CAPABILITY = CAPacity x ABILITY. - ABILITY refers to skills and proficiency in a certain area. It should be noted that ability is a relative term: one actor (human, machine, computer) may have higher levels of proficiency than others. The level of ability can be increased due to (formal) training, and practice. - CAPacity refers to the degree to which actors (human, machine, computer) are available to use their skills to achieve a goal. Capacity can be influenced by freeing up / adding resources to the available pool. More information on the Strategy Alliance Website.
  • Michael Poulin: - A business capability is an ability of an entity - person or organisation - to create or deliver certain Real world Effect (outcome) in particular business execution context. If the context changes, yesterday's capability can vanish. A fact that you did something yesterday does not mean (itself) that you can do this tomorrow. A capability exists only if there are all needed resources available for the capability realization. No resources - no capabilities; competencies/knowledge/skills are not enough for having the capability. You lose capability if you outsource it.
  • Richard Hillier - A business capability is the ability to perform a business activity which is recognized as being required for success and which needs to be specifically managed

Also Read

Read more about business capabilities in the resources section.



If you have comments or remarks about this Dragon1 term or definition, please mail to specs@dragon1.com.