A good Zachman question

The Zachman Framework (link to a full Wikipedia article) has been around for almost two decades now. It is an approach to enterprise system architecture that involves asking a series of questions (who, what, when, where, why, and how) for stage/aspect of a project. Because the framework is usually displayed as a table with the questions along the top and the stages/aspects down the left side, the Zachman-heads generally refer to the project stages/aspects as rows:

  1. scope;
  2. business model;
  3. system model;
  4. technology model;
  5. components; and
  6. working system.

An enterprise system architect will toss around the phrase “that’s a row-four question” just as easily as a network specialist will toss around the phrase “that’s a layer-four protocol”. The framework requires asking 6 questions 6 times to 5 stakeholder groups, for a total of 180 questions.

Not very agile, and maybe anglo-centric

This mountain of paperwork is pretty-much the antithesis of the agile software design that many of us are now practicing with great success — as the current version of the Wikipedia article linked at the top of this posting wrying notes, Zachman “is popular within IT architecture departments but has little hold of either the developer or user communities.” In other words, we tend not to use the stuff even if someone shoves it in our faces. I’m not going to bother rehashing the standard agile arguments against this kind of heavily formalized design, because most of you already know them (and those who do not can follow the link to the Wikipedia article at the start of this paragraph).

Today, I stumbled upon a different kind of criticism of Zachman: Graeme Simsion, writing from inside the system architecture community, notes that language bias has likely severely restricted the framework’s usefulness. He points out that, while who, what, when, where, why, and how are the six common single-word interrogative English pronouns, a French speaker would almost certainly have added “combien”. There are two common translations of combien — “how much?” and “how many?”. Obviously, these are critical questions to ask about any project. “How much will it cost?” “How many users will it support?” “How much bandwidth will it need?” “How many services will it offer?” Why are these questions missing from Zachman? Simsion suggests that Zachman left them out because they require two words in English, making them seem less natural, and because they’re missing from Kipling’s little poem:

I keep six honest serving-men
  (They taught me all I knew)
Their names are What and Why and When
  And How and Where and Who

He goes on to write, half tongue-in-cheek, that if Zachman had been Zachhomme, the framework would have had eight columns rather than six. Nice catch!

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3 Responses to A good Zachman question

  1. Dave Pawson says:

    I’d very much appreciate it if you
    could find a clearer font David.
    I like reading your blog.

    For those with weak eyesight,
    the merging verticals of this font
    aren’t very clear.
    Arial class comes out clearer IMHO.

    Regards DaveP

    body {
    background: #fff;
    border: solid 2px #565;
    border-bottom: solid 1px #565;
    border-top: solid 3px #565;
    color: #000;
    font-family: ‘Lucida Grande’, ‘Lucida Sans Unicode’, Verdana, sans-serif;
    margin: 0;
    padding: 0;

  2. Sander says:

    I have to chime in with quite disliking the readability of Lucida (though I think it’s mostly the letter-spacing for me). However, if David would rather not change the style, there’s a solution anyway if you happen to use a recent Mozilla or Firefox build. You can create a userContent.css file in the chrome/ directory of your profile and just apply your own styles to make things more legible on a per-site basis. This is what I have:

    @-moz-document domain(“www.megginson.com”) {
    p, li, .feedback { font-family: Verdana !important; line-height: 130% !important; letter-spacing: 0 !important; }
    div.post { max-width: 55em; }

    and I know that Opera has a similar mechanism.

  3. david says:

    I started using WordPress because I was lazy and didn’t want to do any custom design or coding. I’ve been sticking with the new default style, because the old default style hard-coded the width, which looked pretty ridiculous in browsers on high-resolution displays.

    That said, I agree that the font isn’t very readable, so I’ve started modifying the class theme for my own use. Step one is getting rid of Lucida, as requested. I’ll try to do more later, when I get the chance.

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