Viewpoint: 'enterprise architecture principles hugely overrated'

Enterprise architecture proponent argues many EA principles, even those from certification groups such as TOGAF, 'fail to provide a sound basis for collective decision-making and governance.'

Richard Veryard once again takes on the conventional wisdom, arguing that enterprise architecture statements of principles are hugely overrated. They "are usually ill-conceived and generally fail to provide a sound basis for collective decision-making and governance."

EA principles 'fail to provide a sound basis for collective decision-making and governance'

And this is a problem because...?

Too many enterprises attempt to based their architectural; decisions on principles that are based on casual suggestions and slogans, Richard says. Rather, they should be based on concrete, empirical evidence "that they actually work." Costs/benefits and downstream effects need to be accounted for.

Too many EA statements are based on "vague wishful thinking and motherhood statements," he adds.

Example:  A principle may be "achieving long term loyalty" in customer relationships. However, there may be factors involving short-term loyalty that eventually translate into long-term loyalty. Or "reducing the efforts of compliance" may be a principle.  However, "you probably wouldn't want to reduce the effort of compliance if this had the effect of doubling the downstream costs of legal action and compensation," Richard points out.

Even TOGAF and Pragmatic Enterprise Architecture Framework (PeaF) principles -- widely accepted guidelines for today's enterprise architects -- are rife with mixtures of "assertions, commands, preferences and goals," Richard illustrates in a previous, related post. For example, he says, TOGAF includes a command ("Requirements-based change; only in response to business needs are changes to applications and technology made"), followed by a preference ("Common use applications; development of applications used across the enterprise is preferred over the development of similar or duplicative applications which are only provided to a particular organization") followed by wishful thinking ("Maximize benefit to the enterprise; information management decisions are made to provide maximum benefit to the enterprise as a whole.")

The bottom line, he says, don't go overboard trying to adhere EA efforts to principles. "They are not universal truths," he points out.

Hmm. From my perspective, principles -- or mission statements on other levels -- have always served to solidify and provide a common purpose to keep everyone moving in the same direction. It almost acts like the rudder on a ship -- without it, everyone pursues what they think is needed, then end up running circles around each other. Then again, as pointed out by Patrick Gray, IT (and we'll include enterprise architects here) shouldn't have its own strategy -- the strategy should be one in the same as the business. Is this what Richard means?

Or maybe the lesson here is... you shouldn't try to sweet-talk enterprise architecture...  or architects.