How to Understand the Zachman Framework – With Example

As an IT or enterprise architect, there are a few frameworks that you need to know. TOGAF, ArchiMate, and SAFe are a few of those that are already well-known to most practitioners. The Zachman Framework is another one that is less known. Today´s article helps to understand the Zachman Framework and provides an example of how to apply it.

Who is John Zachman?

Later this year in 2022, John A. Zachman will celebrate his 88th birthday. Yet, the former IBM employee and today´s CEO of Zachman International played an important role in the development of today´s Enterprise Architecture framework landscape and is still relevant today. The American IT and business consultant worked for IBM between 1964 and 1990 and afterward co-founded the “Zachman Institute for Framework Advancement”, which was discontinued in 2008.

Nowadays, Zachman is particularly famous for developing the Zachman Framework and further establishing and promoting it until today.

What is the Zachman Framework?

In 1987, Zachman published an article called “A Framework for Information Systems Architecture”, in which the Zachman Framework was first described. Its basic idea is a 6×6 matrix, which helps to determine viewpoints that result when answering a particular question for a particular audience. The basic concept is so generic, that on Zachman.com, it not only claims the Zachman Framework to show the fundamental structure of Enterprise Architecture but even to inherit all descriptive representations that are relevant for describing anything, in particular any enterprise.

What is an IT Architecture Metamodel?

It is important to understand that the Zachman Framework is a metamodel. Therefore, its purpose is to provide a structure, a framework, to structure other frameworks and models. In particular, each of the 36 cells resulting from the 6×6 matrix represents a specific framework, architecture, or diagram type that is needed to answer the particular question for the particular audience. This concept is comparable to TOGAF´s enterprise continuum, which is another metamodel to provide a structure for TOGAF artifacts, such as descriptive documents, architecture blueprints, and diagrams.

Being metamodels, neither the Zachman Framework nor the TOGAF Enterprise Continuum provides an approach, processes, workflows, best practices, principles, or similar suggestions. All they do is provide a structure for the big picture. If you are looking for more detailed support, you should consider for example the TOGAF Architecture Development Method (ADM) or the ADMIT framework.

Understanding the Zachman Framework Wording

Especially for non-native English speakers, the wording used in the Zachman Framework can be confusing. This does not need to be the case, as the x-axis and y-axis can be simply understood:

According to the framework, the columns (x-axis) describe the interrogatives. The six values for this parameter are: What, How, Where, Who, When, and Why. I would call them questions or purposes.

The rows describe the so-called reification transformations. The six values for this parameter are Executive perspective, Business management perspective, Architect perspective, Engineer perspective, Technician perspective, and Enterprise perspective. I would call them different audiences or roles within an enterprise.

Zachman Framework Examples

The urging question is, what are examples of how to understand and use the Zachman Framework. Consider the Zachman Framework as shown below:

As an architect or business partner, you might already know that both, a business capability and a business process describe the business architecture of an organization. If you don´t, take a look at this explanation of business capabilities and business processes. The difference is that a business capability describes the “What”, while a business process describes the “How”. We can therefore be certain that any viewpoint or diagram that puts the business capabilities in the center, will be located somewhere in the column “What”. Similarly, any viewpoint or diagram that focuses on business processes will be located in the column “How”. I am saying “center” or “priority” because viewpoints or diagrams often show more than one element and might therefore have another main purpose, although including such capabilities or processes.

Similarly, an organizational chart, or org chart, describes who is in charge of what and who reports to whom. This type of diagram can usually be found in the column “Who”. A third example is a fishbone diagram, which looks at the cause and effects of something. It would therefore be located in the category “Why”.

Having understood the columns (x-axis) of the Zachman Framework, we take a look at the rows (y-axis). If you are familiar with the TOGAF architecture layers, you will notice a few parallels. If you are not familiar with it, take a look at this description and best practices of architecture layers. Similar to the TOGAF version, the Zachman Framework has different layers that help to structure answering a question by customizing it to the right audience. Those include:

  • a strategic or executive view that shows the strategic highlights and is easy to comprehend; for instance an IT Strategy document
  • a business management perspective that focuses on explaining IT-relevant aspects to business stakeholders
  • an architecture perspective, which focuses generally on architecture aspects, such as applications, interfaces, data flows, infrastructure, etc., such as an applications component diagram
  • an engineering perspective, with more detailed information, such as specifications, release versions etc.
  • a technical perspective, with more detailed information, such as configurations, etc., for instance, a blueprint of an organization’s infrastructure
  • an enterprise perspective, focusing on the enterprise-wide relevant information, such as different instances of an application

TOGAF or Zachman?

If you try to decide between following TOGAF or Zachman, do not worry. Both frameworks essentially describe different aspects of enterprise architecture and can be applied jointly. TOGAF and Zachman do not conflict with each other, but rather go hand in hand: The Zachman Framework is a high-level metamodel that provides a structure. TOGAF is a detailed framework that provides a structure, an approach to architecture, principles, and detailed guidance. It is much bigger than Zachman. Zachman compares to a small part of TOGAF, which is the Enterprise Continuum. Both are metamodels to provide structure for deliverables, artifacts, diagrams, or alike. However, each has its dimensions and criteria for structuring, so they neither conflict, but rather provide different ideas of how to structure and describe something.

Need more information about the Zachman Framework? Also, visit this older article in which I describe the Zachman Framework. Want to learn more about TOGAF and the TOGAF Enterprise Continuum? Consider this comprehensive article on “What is TOGAF?”.

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