Is it really “Zachman’s Fatal Flaw”?

My friend Nick Malik wrote a post – Zachman’s Fatal Flaw: No Row for Customer.  Here is my response …

Do I believe that Zachman’s Framework is fatally flawed?  No. It all depends on your perspective and that to me is defined by your EA maturity.  How we view and evaluate models and frameworks depends on how much time we have spent working on Enterprise Architecture.

Here is a simplistic example of what I mean. Think of our understanding of astronomy that we have at various stages of our education.  As an elementary school student, we learned about the solar system and the main celestial bodies.  As we progressed to secondary school, we learned about gravity and its influence on the solar system.  At a university level, even more depth and understanding of the physics adds to our understanding (and perspective) of the universe.  Would a graduate student use the grade school model to understand the solar system? No, but does that invalidate the elementary model used to introduce astronomy to grade schoolers? No it does not.

What Nick observes is that our view of  the Zachman Framework has changed, due to the growth in our EA maturity.  Most organizations that embarked on establishing Enterprise Architecture practices focused internally first.  We did this to understand what we had and what it cost to deliver the technology services required by our companies.  EA also started primarily in the IT departments and slowly began to grow outwards to assist in business and strategic planning. If we start with an internal view focused on IT what would you expect? An internal focus – think of it as getting our house in order.  This is a very “Inside-Out” perspective and the Zachman Framework served may organizations well over the past decade. That is why so much EA writing uses the “IT” and its relationship to “the Business”  model. Here is Nick’s quote about the flaw:

What is the fatal flaw?  As you can tell from the title of the post, the flaw is an “Inside-Out” perspective on the enterprise.

We are maturing our EA profession from being focused on our internal processes and complexity and moving to a customer centric focus. Now that we have a better handle on our internal house using an EA approach, the next logical place for EA to focus and show value is in strategic planning.  Nick’s quote about the customer is particularly important here:

A business that does not provide value to a customer is doomed.  Therefore, it is critical to develop models of the enterprise that reflect the viewpoint and perspective that is of critical importance.

So back to the original question, Is the Zachman Framework flawed?

  • No, if you are new or early in your EA maturity development focusing on internal processes.  The Zachman Framework can be an extremely powerful thinking tool to help you frame the discussion about how to use architecture to “Do the Right Things” and to “Do Things Right” internally in your company
  • Yes, if your EA practice has matured enough that your company actively manages complexity and costs of your internal processes.  The next maturity step is that EA can help with strategic planning and if you don’t have a customer focus your are doomed; as Nick so correctly points out.  We need to add “Outside-In” perspectives to our EA models to enable a customer focus. Which model you pick is still dependent on your maturity and company.