Making Sense of the Enterprise Continuum, Part I

There is that famous proverb by George E. P.Box:

All models are wrong but some are useful.

If there is one model that fits that criterion, it must be Cynefin.

Cynefin regularly receives criticism, grounded and ungrounded, for example by academics for its “oversimplification” as formulated in Key Issues in the New Knowledge Management.

But is’t that what models are? An oversimplification of reality? Anyhow the simplification proves to be awfully useful in conceivably explaining that not everything can be ordered upfront and maybe should be ordered at all.

In fact Cynefin creates the awareness that a perspective well beyond the oversimplification that today is predominantly being maintained, is key in better dealing with reality. Paradoxically enough, Cynefin is even a model that demonstrates when models aren’t useful!

Now, what is Cynefin?  Cynefin is in fact what is called a sense-making model, actually referred to as a framework rather than a model. Instead of explaining further details myself, I’ll leave that to the prime author, David J. Snowden (@snowded), as there is no way that I can equal David’s canny explanation.

Found that interesting? Unfortunately, understanding of Cynefin often ends here. A consequence is that many fail to grasp its full usefulness. Real understanding requires additional insight in the associated “dynamics”. And gaining familiarity with the dynamics will require an extra effort through the reading of a paper: The new dynamics of strategy: Sense-making in a complex and complicated world. Be aware that the paper predates the video and is still using “known” and “knowable” for what today is labeled as “simple” and “complicated” respectively.

Now, how can Cynefin be useful?  As the title suggests, I will shed light on how Cynefin is in making sense of the enterprise continuum. But before going there, some reviewing and rereading might be necessary to fully comprehend Cynefin.

Business Model and Business Architecture: Synonymous or Dissimilar?

When I read Tom Graves’ (@tetradian) post Who is the customer? published on July 14th, 2011, it was not the first time that I thought: “Hey, wait a minute. Using business model and business architecture interchangeably is not right.”  But did I expect Tom to do so?  No, not at all.

So when I noticed Chris Potts’ tweet (@chrisdpotts) the next Friday:

@chrisdpotts @tetradian Let’s not confuse business model with business architecture. Our business vs how we are structured to achieve it. #entarch

I could only join him in surprise.

I was even more surprised with what followed. Many reactions on twitter and blogs, most asking for further clarification.  What two characters, a ‘+’ and a ‘1’ can cause on a Friday…

Tom’s response with What do we mean by ‘business-architecture’? was one of disappointment, but also a lot of curiosity about what  –  the hell? :-)  –  we were thinking:

@tetradian @chrisdpotts @krismeukens to me it sounds like you’re mixing BA with EA? – expand/explain, please, perhaps with blog-post?

With that last tweet, Tom has brought a fundamental question to the surface, one that I believe is long overdue and that I am really excited about.  So I was not disappointed at all by his response to our criticism but a bit surprised by his thinking because he has been driving so much debate with regard to other fundamental questions.  For example, I just love the debate that he has set in motion about the distinction between the organization and the enterprise, and admire him for his persistence in defending his stance.  His thinking is far from mainstream yet. But with his passion for enterprise architecture, which is second to none, there is no doubt that his voice has become influential.  But I also believe that the distinction is far from fully clarified yet and that it is root to our ongoing “business model versus business architecture” disagreement.

Maybe I am missing details.  I am not fully aware of all that Tom has ever written. To be honest, I do not read all his posts and rarely completely.  Tom just writes way too much for the time I have available.  Sorry Tom.

Anyhow, whatever my following responses, I do not expect that Tom will have to say: “So that nailed it.  I was totally wrong.”  I am not seeking any truth but have developed a perspective that I think is worthwhile to share.

Of course, Tom is right.  A business model is business structure. Moreover it is significant structure, hence even by my own small attempt to more definition of architecture described in Architecture and the Remainder of Design, business architecture.  But does that make the terms interchangeable?  I believe it does not.  It are key nuances that get lost that way.

I was quick in starting to draft an answer but I quickly found out that a full response would take a very very long post. In fact the more I thought about it, the more I began to see as relevant for clarification of my perspective. The conclusion is that my answer will not arrive quickly. Instead I will explore answers to more fundamental questions first.

At the core of this dispute, I do consider the continuing fuzziness in what not only makes the enterprise and the organization distinct, but the business as well.

The opening sentence of the “business” entry Wikipedia says it all:

“A business (also known as enterprise or firm) is an organization engaged…”

If there is so much confusion between what is the business, the enterprise and the organisation, how then can we meaningfully distinguish between what are their respective architectures?

I cannot count the times that I have people heard trying to clarify the relationship between these concepts, also myself, each time different, not a single time without a lot of fuzziness.

So a first will be my attempt in exploring what I will call the enterprise continuum, in Making Sense of the Enterprise Continuum.  The post will kick off a renewed attempt to write more regularly.