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Describing both EA and ST as practices
A body of knowledge
A community of
A discourse (way of
A professional service
A tool or instrument
for achieving some
On the Unreliability of Labels
• Labels like EA and ST are almost impossible to pin down. People waste
much effort squabbling about definitions. Extreme precision doesn’t
always make any sense.
• In this talk, I shall refer to “Enterprise Architecture” and “Systems
Thinking” as if these were reasonably well-defined (but possibly
overlapping) regions of practice.
• There are many different schools of EA and ST, and the internet is
awash with squabbles between rival schools. (Especially on Linked-In).
• There is also a significant gap between what people think practitioners
OUGHT to be doing and what practitioners ACTUALLY DO.
• So please take my use of the labels “Enterprise Architecture” and
“Systems Thinking” with caution.
Schools of EA
• Modernist, Engineering
(James Martin, John
• Classical, NeoClassical
• Baroque, Complexity, H
ybrid (Nick Gall)
• Post-Modern (VPEC-T)
• Pragmatic (CapabilityLed Planning)
Schools of Systems Thinking
• Systems Dynamics
• Soft Systems
• Quality and Process
• Cybernetics (Beer)
with apologies to Kandinsky
Is that it?
“But that’s not what I call
“But that’s not what enterprise
architects really do!”
• What do EA and ST have in common?
– Common Goals?
– Common Ground?
– Shared Frustrations?
• What can EA and ST learn from each other?
• What opportunities are there for practical collaboration between EA
who is WE?
• We can clearly see some major
problems with the structure and
behaviour of large enterprises
and public sector ecosystems.
• We can also see why current
initiatives are likely to fail.
• But the people in charge of these
systems don’t appreciate the
valuable contribution we could
• We are often unable to get
access to working at “the
• We are forced to work on
fragments of the problem
rather than the whole.
• “We are better than
anyone else at
• “We are better than
anyone else at big
• Big picture thinking
Enterprise architecture and systems
thinking share some important
• Overlapping range of concepts and
techniques for tackling difficult
• Practitioners face similar challenges
when working with large and
complex business organizations and
• Similar difficulties and frustrations
in trying to engage stakeholders in
joined-up “big picture” thinking.
There are also some significant
differences, which create a real
opportunity for collaboration and
• Different techniques
• Different perspective
• Different strengths
Are EA and ST the same thing?
• We have a concept of “system”.
• We consider the whole enterprise “as a
• We consider human activity systems as
well as mechanical systems (such as
• We are good at abstraction and
• We are good at “big picture”, joined-up
A human icon
makes a system
into a human
What does “enterprise-as-a-system” mean?
• Enterprise as an open or
• Enterprise as a human
activity or sociotechnical
• Enterprise as a
adaptive or viable system?
What is an enterprise?
Are humans inside or
outside the system?
Which notion of
Which notion of
Different Notions of System?
• “System” is part of the problem • “System” is part of the solution
• We try to understand the
• We explore why the existing
structure and behaviour of
solutions aren’t performing
• We then intervene to improve
• We create blueprints for
their structure and behaviour.
improved solutions (TO-BE)
Both EA and ST practitioners should be
alert to the possibility that different people
may use words in different ways.
Different Notions of System Thinking?
And what about third-order
First Order Cybernetics
• Systems thinking gives us a
model of what is going on …
• … from the viewpoint of a
neutral and all-seeing observer.
What things should we be
looking at? (“Ontology”)
Second Order Cybernetics
• Systems thinking helps us to
make sense of what is going on
• … from the viewpoint of an
How we can know about these
Delegating a capability always introduces an additional capability –
Decomposing a capability into smaller capabilities always introduces
an additional capability – namely that of coordinating multiple
capabilities to produce coherent outcomes.
Simple Capability Dependency (Weak)
What is the nature of
Three Levels of Capability
Type of Risk
Type of Error
service will not
work as specified
Error of Execution
The failure of a
planned action to
be completed as
services will not
work together as a
whole as intended
Error of Planning
The use of a wrong
plan to achieve an
The proposition will
not work in its
Error of Intention
adopting an aim
that is unwanted by
Warning of the doorknob - escalation
Design a doorknob
Is a door the best
way of controlling
access to your
Do you really need a
traditional office with
Source J.P. Eberhard
Is a doorknob the
best way of opening
and closing a door?
democracy the best
way to organize our
Warning of the doorknob - regression
objects to hands.
Source J.P. Eberhard
Study the shape
of a man’s hand
(tongue in cheek)
Based on: Albert Hirschman
ST as realist, reactionary?
EA as progressive, visionary?
• Purposive action to improve some
feature of the political, social, or
economic order may only serve to
exacerbate the condition one wishes to
remedy. ("perversity thesis").
• Attempts at social transformation are
often unavailing, that they will simply
fail to "make a dent." ("futility thesis")
• The cost of the proposed change or
reform is often too high, especially if it
endangers some previous, precious
accomplishment. ("jeopardy thesis")
• Urgent action is necessary to avoid
imminent danger ("The Imminent
• All reforms work together and reinforce
each other, rather than being
competing ("The Synergy Illusion")
• History Is on Our Side.
Why New Systems Don’t Work
Errors of Execution
• Passive adoption
Errors of Planning
• System as designed
system in use
• Poor choice of
Errors of Intention
• Local global
• User customer
Why Old Systems Don’t Work
• Changing requirements
• Attempts to eliminate
• Hidden agenda
• Cybernetic Entropy
• Enterprise Ferality
– management controls
becoming less effective over
– POSIWID (Stafford Beer)
– “an autocatalytic
phenomenon that is selfperpetuating” (Steve Brewis)
• Ability of large teams to • Different people
address large and
working on different
– EA + ST
– One scale isn’t
automatically better than
any other scale
• Multiple viewpoints and • Interoperability
scales and viewpoints
– ISO 42010
Compare and contrast how EAs
work in teams with how STs work
• C. West Churchman, The Systems Approach and its Enemies (1979)
• J.P. Eberhard, “We Ought to Know the Difference” in Gary T. Moore (ed)
Emerging Methods in Environmental Design and Planning (MIT
Press, 1970) pp 364-365
• John Gøtze and Anders Jensen-Waud (eds), Beyond Alignment: Applying
Systems Thinking in Architecting Enterprises (College Publications 2013)
• Albert Hirschman, The Rhetoric of Reaction (1991)
• Richard Sennett, Together: The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of
• Richard Veryard, Towards Next Practice Enterprise Architecture
• Geoffrey Vickers, Human Systems are Different (1983)