Answers to questions on SEMPER

A useful email correspondence about SEMPER with enterprise architect Sally Bean brought up a couple of questions which others are likely to ask, so I thought I’d put the answers up here:

1: “are the labels always meaningful?”

I hope so 🙂 but reality is that the best label is one that’s been derived by narrative techniques from within the enterprise itself (cf. Cynefin again). The real ‘label’ for each cell is the domain/effectiveness pairing – e.g. ‘Preparation/Appropriate’ or ‘Vision and Values/Reliable’ – but that’s way too abstract for most people, hence the text-label that’s somewhat closer to the business context.

In the online version, all of the labels can be changed – it’s part of what’s called the ‘model’ specification. More on that later, if anyone wants it – I presume you don’t want the blow-by-blow description right now!

2: “is the list rather long – do some of the questions overlap?”

It’s naturally going to be somewhat long because it’s a 5×5 or 11×5 matrix (SEMPER-5 or SEMPER-11 respectively). Does depend what you mean by ‘long’, too: a typical SEMPER-5 takes around 10-15 minutes to do, and 25 cue-phrases with a pick-list of 5 ‘word-pictures’ each is a heck of a lot shorter than, say, Marlies van Steenbergen’s (excellent) “DyA Enterprise Architecture Maturity Matrix”, which weighs in at over 130 questions for a much smaller context!

And yes, there will be what at first appears to be quite a bit of overlap, because the whole point of it is that it’s recursive, reflexive and so on. We look at the same issues from opposite directions: in SEMPER-5, there’s the simple cross-mapping between the workflow/asset-domains (Purpose, People, etc) and effectiveness-dimensions (Efficient, Reliable, etc), whilst in SEMPER-11 we also look at the workflow/assets domains (here labelled ‘physical’, ‘conceptual’ etc) from either end of their respective link-themes (vision and values, skills and leadership, etc).

(A reminder too that the link-theme labels are themselves only examples of the kind of things that we meet in those links: the real ‘label’ is the linking of the two domains – e.g. ‘Physical<->Relational’ rather than my somewhat arbitrary ‘Skills and Leadership’. Once again, the ‘real’ label is too abstract to make sense to most people, so we make do with something that’s closer to the business-world – but it is only a suggestion in each case, so recommendations for better alternatives would be gratefully received!)

Multiple intersecting views are valuable for this purpose because they highlight different aspects of the same issues – giving us a much more reliable overview, especially if there are ‘undiscussables’ knocking around in the context. When we come to interventions, the matrix between workflow/asset-domains and effectiveness-dimensions provides us with alternatives that, again, tackle the same issues from opposite directions – which again can be extremely important when we need to resolve seriously dysfunctional contexts, because it usually means we can usually avoid having to tackle the dysfunctionality head-on.

Remember too that the real parameter we’re measuring in SEMPER is ‘ability to do work’, particularly in a human context. It’s a lead-indicator – a measure of capability, not past performance. This is quite a long way from the usual lag-indicators that proliferate in the typical business context. And it’s also consistent in its description across the entire context – which again is a long way from the usual dissociated mess of point-metrics (or, worse, complex-result metrics such as ‘shareholder value’ – the most useless measure of anything, in terms of identifying what to do to improve it… :wrygrin: ). So yeah, the list might well seem long; it might well seem a little odd at first; but it does work, and darn well, once you get your head around what it’s showing about the enterprise. The problem all the way along has been to bring it down out of the abstraction that works, to something closer to the kind of world that people generally understand. The book is simply one iteration of ‘getting the ideas out there’ – I don’t in any way expect it to be the ‘last word’ on the subject! 🙂

I’m currently nibbling away at selection of material for a full accreditation-course a la Cynefin (for which see Cognitive Edge), but to be honest it’s probably a few months away: the book will have to do for now. The aim here was, as above, just to get the ideas out there for now so that people can start to play with them in practice.

Hope that makes sense, anyways.

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