Is it really “Zachman’s Fatal Flaw”?

by | July 12, 2010

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.

8 thoughts on “Is it really “Zachman’s Fatal Flaw”?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Is it really “Zachman’s Fatal Flaw”? | Enterprise Architecture in Higher Education --

  2. Ric Phillips

    Hi Leo,

    actually there may be a ‘fatal flaw’ but I don’t think it is an attribute of the framework itself. Rather there is a gap between how the Zachman framework is used and the purpose for which it was designed.

    A lot of EA frameworks intend to order the problem of building an implementing large software systems. They are engineering tools. Clive Finklestien’s “Enterprise Architecture for Integration” shows how well the Zachman framework works well to organise the abstractions involved in progressing from business strategy to a functioning system.

    The end product of all that activity is executable code.

    The application of EA is now considerable wider than systems architecture. But with Zachamn and TOGAF in particular we are using conceptual tools quite specifically designed by and for software engineers.

    It is unremarkable that the perspective as Nick puts it from the inside looking out.

    The question is whether these frameworks accrue unnecessary complexity through a process of accretion – of additional concepts, additional methods, additional uses – with each addition being a compensation that bridges the gap between the original focus of the framework and what the next enthusiastic adopter would like to do with it.

    We keep adding and extending the capabilities of these frameworks and, to my mind, they are starting to resemble the overly complicated and bloated systems we use them to analyse and remedy. They becomes maps whose complexity starts to match that of the terrain.

    I think the Zachman framework is well designed and effective within a specific scope. It defines a ‘translation matrix’ providing solution architects a means of formally reducing abstract and strategic objectives to the functions of the physical systems they are responsible for.

    The ‘fatal flaw’ may lie with practitioners who want it to do something else.

  3. Leo de Sousa Post author

    Ric, Excellent observations. I have always referred to Zachman’s Framework as a thinking model and have never tried to implement it at (as John Zachman would say) at “Excruciating levels of detail”.

    I think you are definitely onto something in regards to how we as practitioners use the various frameworks and then add modifications or additions of our own.

    Thanks for the contributions, Leo

  4. Nick Malik

    Hi Leo,
    Thanks for responding to my blog. I followed up, this time going further into the need for customer focus.

    You make an interesting point: that ZF is useful for immature EA organizations because they, by definition, must start somewhere and starting with an Inside-Out model is a reasonable starting position.

    I can make no counter-argument to that. ZF is not incorrect… it is simply incomplete.

    The problem I have is with the unwillingness of the ZF followers to accept the possibility of change. If a model is incomplete, we can complete it, or we can accept that it is incomplete… but it is wrong to STATE LOUDLY that the model is complete and then to resist any suggestion to change it.

    An immature EA organization is immature because the people in it are young in their position, figuring out how to make EA effective. What they learn should be accurate. When we teach a child, in elementary school, the basics of the solar system, we never state to the child that the thing they are learning is 100% accurate. In fact, as the father of high-school kids, I can tell you that the opposite is taught. Kids are actively taught that there is more to know, and if they are curious, they can explore further. Only a few will. But there is no attempt to label that which is incomplete as “complete.”

    And that is what is wrong with the Zachman framework… the people who use it are adamant that it is complete. It is not. And we are not talking about a minor flaw here. We are talking about missing one of the most important aspects of business: the factors that lead to success in the marketplace.

    By teaching that ZF is comprehensive, we teach that understanding the customer is not necessary for the role of Enterprise Architect to be effective. I could not disagree more.

    So, for all those new EA organizations starting out, if it were possible to learn to use the ZF without listening to the folks who believe it is perfect, I would agree with your recommendation. Unfortunately, I see no way to seperate the framework from the message of it’s “goodness.” We should toss both.

    The ZF is not necessary in any organization that has implemented a metamodel.

    In friendship and with respect,
    — Nick

  5. Marcela Gia Betiu

    Hi Leo,

    I also read the blog article of Nick. I cannot say that I agree with Nick’s comment, it is too tough. I like your objective view. And through your article you cover another very important aspect of a company: the maturity level.

    An Enterprise Architecture would still not be able to address all perspectives in a company and interactions with each other. That’s why once we have to work on strategic drivers and business processes the management will have to bring their specific approach and tools, like Balanced Score Cards. The new perspectives there will complete the business approach: Financial Perspective, Customer Perspective, Internal Perspective, Learning and Growth Perspective (see Balanced Score Cards, Norton-Kaplan).

    In other words, Zachman as you mentioned, as well as Balanced Score Cards and other are indeed thinking tools which address to specific levels in a company.

    Keep the good work!

    Marcela Gia Betiu

    1. Leo de Sousa Post author


      Thanks for the comment and observations. I have been thinking about a Balanced Scorecard Approach recently as we worked through our Institutional Strategic Plan. Some of the challenges, we face with bringing “thinking” models to our organizations, is how to introduce them to senior executive members. If you have some ideas you would like to share, I would really appreciate it.

      Thanks again,

  6. Marcela Gia Betiu

    Hi Leo,

    I understand your concern.

    The issue is that BSC is tool addressed to executives and high management and outside consultants would not be able to impose or even suggest the use of such a tool. And, even if it is a very good one, it is just a tool.

    Strategy maps and Balanced Scorecard are the linking pin between Mission, Values, Vision, Strategy and Targets, Initiatives, Outcomes. It is supposed that an executive will have a game plan (a strategy) defined, and therefore cover the above mentioned topics.

    The strategic information/as well as longer tactical ones you need to add in your Enterprise Architecture would have to come via interviews, targeted questions addressed to the management. An EA project would have in anyway involve senior executives, and therefore will better understand the need of those asnwers.

    I hope that my answer is of help to you.

    Marcela Gia


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.