Apr 072015

Process and Content Approach
A curious thing happens when an EA team adopts a particular framework — it takes on the preconceptions of that framework. This broadly means that companies adopting TOGAF assume a process-driven approach to EA, while those using the Zachman Framework embrace a more content-driven style.

Does this matter? From my observations of EA teams that I work with, this does matter because it has a significant impact on how you architect! More than that, it is my belief that this preconception toward a process- or content-driven tactic imposes a one-sided approach, resulting in less-effective EA outcomes.

  • When EA follows a process it often becomes reactive, prescriptive, and inflexible — rather than proactive, supportive, and adaptable. To be truly aligned with strategic needs, EA must be value- or outcome-driven, which avoids the common pitfalls in the EA process.
  • When EA is based around a content framework, with less emphasis on process, it often delivers too many unnecessary artifacts rather than providing handy, practical, and useful deliverables. To address this problem, each artifact must be needed for the EA team to understand or explain the architecture, or it must be used in key communications with the most relevant stakeholders.

The first step to avoid these pitfalls is simply to establish an EA that is both content- and process-driven. The TOGAF documentation has always said that it should be adapted to meet the specific needs of your enterprise, although it doesn’t provide much in the way of practical advice on how this should be done. The Zachman framework is presented as “the most descriptive Framework graphic ever produced” (see “The Zachman Framework Evolution“) — and many architects feel that they should not tamper with its taxonomy or graphic. But to be truly effective, any predefined source material for your EA process or EA frameworks needs to be adapted to your needs. It is inconceivable to think of applying a single architectural style or template to a building design; and for similar reasons, every enterprise is unique, and therefore requires a tailored EA process and frameworks.

The second point is to note that when you adapt a process or framework to your needs, it is important that they work together. The process should complement the framework by delivering content, and content should be germane to the process. The best way to do this is to build a consistent EA ontology — described using a hierarchical schema or taxonomy — that ensures a consistent use of language and labels across the process and content. (This ontology also gives consistency across all factors that are required to manage an effective EA practice [see “Eight Factors in All Enterprise Architectures“].)

Next consider the pitfalls that are implicit with a single or separate focus on either process or content. For example, many companies adopting the TOGAF Architecture Development Method (ADM) use the process as a waterfall, where each phase and task follows in a sequential manner, with architecture vision and development coming before solutions and implementation. TOGAF does include guidelines for adapting the ADM to make it more flexible and less prescriptive. In most EA teams, the process is much more random and ad hoc. It needs to accommodate many concurrent initiatives; an overall strategic long-range planning cycle in parallel with short-term delivery of transition architectures in localized segments; architectural development that is separated from solution, implementation, and operational issues; translation of business and IT concerns into architectural language; and the governance and evolution of architectures across a wide range of diverse domains. With so much going on at the same time, it can be very difficult to track everything. The answer is to complement the process with a good content framework, which ensures that all of the necessary deliverables and artifacts are produced or available at the right times. A content framework makes it easier to build a good architectural knowledge base and turn this into a useful and reusable resource. Focusing on content, deliverables, and outcomes makes it easier to manage highly dynamic EA processes.

A remarkable thing happens when an EA team adopts an approach that embraces process and content as two pivotal factors in its practice: the process becomes more dynamic — more proactive, supportive, and adaptable to needs — while the content framework produces handy, practical, and useful deliverables.

Photo credit: opensource.com via cc license.


Roger Evernden

Roger Evernden is a Senior Consultant with Cutter Consortium's Business & Enterprise Architecture practice. He specializes in the highly practical use of EA to manage organizational transformation.


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