Friday, March 01, 2013

Arguing with Mendeleev

@JohnZachman insists that his classification scheme is fixed—it is not negotiable. Comparing his Zachman Framework with the periodic table originally developed by Dmitri Mendeleev, he says, "You can't argue with Mendeleev that he forgot a column in the periodic table".

Well, actually, you can. If you look at the Wikipedia article on the Periodic Table, you can see the difference between Mendeleev's original version and the modern version. Modern chemists now use a periodic table with 18 columns. As Wikipedia states, "Mendeleev's periodic table has since been expanded and refined with the discovery or synthesis of further new elements and the development of new theoretical models to explain chemical behavior."

That's what makes chemistry a true science - the fact that the periodic table is open to this kind of revision in the light of experimental discovery and improved theory. If the same isn't true for the Zachman Framework, then it can hardly claim to be a proper science.

Some observers have noted that early versions of the Zachman Framework had fewer columns, and see this as a sign that the number of columns may be variable and open to discovery. They also interpret the word "extending" in Zachman's 1992 paper (with John Sowa) as an acknowledgement that the framework has evolved. But the Zachmanites reject this: they say that the six columns have always existed, it was just that the early presentations didn't mention them all. "Humanity for the last 7,000 years has been able to work with what, how, who, where, when, and why." (This sounds like a Just-So-Story - "How the Enterprise Architect Got His Toolset".) Questions that require more than one word in the English language (such as How Much and For Whom) can be discounted. (Graeme Simsion made this point in 2004, and this promoted Scott Ambler to add a cost column to his extended framework.)
Mr Zachman has a degree in chemistry, so he ought to understand what makes the Periodic table different from his own framework. However, some of his followers are less cautious in their claims. I found an article by one Sunil Dutt Jha, whose "proof" of the scientific nature of EA seemed to rely on two key facts (1) that Mendeleev transformed alchemy into chemistry by creating the periodic table, and (2) that the Zachman framework looks a bit like the periodic table, therefore (3) EA must be a science too.

An earlier version of this comment was posted on Linked-In Is it true to say that “Enterprise Architecture” is a scientific basis for creating, maintaining and running an Enterprise?

Scott Ambler, Enterprise Agile: Extending the Zachman Framework (undated)

Philip Boxer, Modelling Structure-Determining Processes (19 December 2006)

Sunil Dutt Jha, Biggest myth – “Enterprise Architecture is a discipline aimed at creating models” (January 2013)

Graeme Simsion, What's wrong with the Zachman framework? (TDAN, January 2005)

John Sowa and John Zachman, Extending and formalizing the framework for information systems architecture (IBM Systems Journal Vol 31 No 3, 1992)

Ivo Velitchkov, Frameworks and Rigour (3 March 2013)

Alan Wall, Pattern Recognition and the Periodic Table (March 2013)

John P. Zachman, The Zachman Framework Evolution (2009-2011)

Erecting the Framework (Feb 2004) - John Zachman discussing his Zachman Framework for Enterprise Architecture in an interview with Dan Ruby

Related posts and presentations

For Whom (November 2006), The Kipling-Zachman lens (June 2009), Satiable curtiosity (September 2009), Evolving the Enterprise Architecture Body of Knowledge (October 2012), Enterprise Architecture as Science (August 2013), What is a Framework (February 2019)

eBook: Towards Next Generation Enterprise Architecture

Updated 04 May 2019


  1. I've heard it argued that, if Zachman had been French, there would have been another column labelled "Combien".

  2. I first encountered this argument in an excellent article by Graeme Simsion What's Wrong With The Zachman Framework? (TDAN Jan 2005). He writes

    "I am indebted to Canadian consultant Henry Feinman for reminding me that there are (at least) seven single-word interrogatives in French, including combien which translates as "how many" or "how much". These interrogatives have quite distinct meanings from the other six, and it seems a little harsh to exclude them only because they require two words in English. If the inventor of the framework had been Zachhomme, perhaps the framework might have been different."

  3. Richard,

    The comment I intended to submit grew into a post. Thank you for the inspiration!

    There is another interesting statement from the same interview:
    "If the engineer understands the difference between doing implementation and doing architecture, they can use any tool or any notation, such as UML, to do whatever they need to do". I guess, considering it's from 2004, this is a hint about what later will become the distinction between Enterprise Architecture and Solution Architecture. If there is big a difference between doing architecture and doing implementation, no wonder EA practice produces such a big amount of shelf-ware.