On The Zachman Framework

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Warning: If you are very fond of the Zachman Framework, you are better off not reading further. The opinions are mine and mine alone of course, like anything else is, in this blog. I attended a Zachman conference recently to know all about the proclaimed Periodic table of Enterprise Architecture. As a practicing enterprise architect (if that is the right way of saying it) , I have always been curious to make my system more accessible to a wider audience. So my expectations were one of the following:


John: That why it is called a “framework”… Your disappointment is a lesson for EAs. You have to clearly understand the semantics of a description/document, etc. If you missed the fact that it is a “framework” or that word didn’t initially hit home - then, you have learned a valuable semantic lesson.

raja: @John Thanks for your comment. My whole point was that the Zachman framework is not a framework for architecture but a framework that can be used to create a template to describe architecture which is a different thing altogether. Calling it as a periodic table for architecture is in my view,exaggerating its importance. A periodic table gives a prescription to a discovered element’s behavior and has predictive abilities for undiscovered elements. I don’t see this framework as anything close to that. Anyways, different pills for different people.

John: I think you are still missing the point. If you research the history of the periodic table, you’ll notice that by organizing elements by their atomic weights Mendeleyev and others could anticipate the future discovery of elements. The framework is just giving you a heads-up on things that you’ll need to discover in the due course of descriptive work around a functioning enterprise. Enterprises tend to pick and choose how they want to approach the development of a functioning system. Most enterprises and most EAs are not interested in making formal descriptions of each cell relative to the functioning system. That’s okay and the framework helps organize what you formally know and don’t know as well as what you informally know and don’t know. That helps you manage risk. But understanding how much risk you are willing to take to you make decisions. The framework doesn’t prescribe to the fact that if you miss something out that the whole world stops. The framework is inert. Therefore, it doesn’t do anything. It is just a guide. And a damn good one at that. I obviously took the “believer” pill !!! The one piece of advice that I would give you is to let it sink in over time. It’s like the game backgammon… it’s very simple to play and to a beginner can seem like a skilless game. But with practice and learning you’ll find there is more to it. One the surface Zachman is a waste of time. But if you have the time… give it time!

raja: John That was a great elucidation. I quite understand why it can be useful. Again, I am going to maintain that if you found the correct way of filling the table, it is a feather in your cap rather than that of the framework. But I do recognize that there is a small value in telling you what to look for. I guess I am more frustrated with the hype attached to what I would call, a paltry template, than anything else. Anyways, great points! I will keep an open mind and look to see how I can fill it. On a side note, it might be a good thing to document what kind of diagrams can be used to fill the table. Diagramming , it looks like, is a lost art. I am an agile practitioner myself but do find some amount of drawings help. After all, the old cliche about a picture speaking a 1000 words still holds. Like the Zachman framework, diagrams are profound truths known to humankind from times immemorial. just kidding :-)

John: You can find metamodels of the diagrams - both primitive and composite - that complete the framework. The framework is not a methodology, so it is indifferent to agile or any other type of approach. So, there’s nothing wrong with following agile disciplines and using the framework. Let’s say you don’t diagram a single model, but you do have discussions around each cell… that’s fine, the framework supports that. The risk element that I spoke of before is that if you do not have a record of the disucssions, is that a problem that could come back and bite you? Not all risks need to be proactively addressed… ultimately, you can decide what’s appropriate for your needs… it’s not a right or wrong. The framework doesn’t care! Something that is inert has no feelings.

Duncan: Interesting discussion. I have always thought there are two types of research work: one to create a table and one to fill the table with details. There is a need to find a tool to better serve the latter purpose in enterprise architecting. In the current project I am involved, I found that the software tool developed and we are using for modelling business process changes and documentation may provide the need and help to extend this framework into a convenient practice for the enterprise. The main features I used from this tool are: Graphic representation of the framework Ability to drill-in the cells Ability to export to web site easily to share the outcome within the corporate Although it is still at WIP, I am pleased with the outcome so far and more than happy to share more on this approach is anyone is interested.

raja shankar kolluru: @Duncan , thanks for the comment. Yes, that is precisely what I was talking about. It is one thing to prescribe a table and quite another thing to fill it with details. Because, the devil is indeed in the details. Unless, you are an established practitioner of enterprise architecture, it is not possible to come up with a prescription of what kind of diagrams you need to fill the table. And as you do get more detailed, you would find that your prescriptions do vary a little bit to better suit the kind of project that you are doing. For instance, what constitutes my “physical model” may be different depending on whether I am writing a web application or designing a database layer. That is the kind of prescription I was looking for. I do admit that there is some value in telling me that there is a table that I need to fill up. But pointing the table out to me alone is not tangible enough for an architect like me with my feet firmly grounded in reality. The software that you are alluding to, looks very interesting. I would definitely love to see it if I can access it somewhere. Thanks