Values, principles and value-trees

Danny Greefhorst of Netherlands enterprise-architecture consultancy ArchiXL emailed me with a query about my book Doing Enterprise Architecture:

I was especially interested in the part where you talk about architecture principles given that I am currently writing a book on that topic. You specifically mention the relationship between values and architecture principles. Do you have specific examples of these values and architecture principles that were derived from them?

The key distinction between values and principles is that values are about emotion – a feeling about something – whereas principles are expressions of thought – a rationalisation, followed by decisions about what to do about that something.

A value is often expressed as a single word, such as ‘safety’ or ‘trustworthiness’ or ‘fairness’.

A principle is usually expressed as a more considered structure: for example, the TOGAF section on Architecture Principles suggests the following:

  • an assertion or label such as ‘Business Continuity’
  • a descriptive statement (in that example, “Enterprise operations are maintained in spite of system interruptions”)
  • a more detailed rationale (e.g. see that TOGAF example)
  • a summary of architectural and design implications (ditto)

In thiscase, the principle of ‘Business Continuity’ devolves in part from the value ‘Trustworthiness’: to ensure that we can trust the business to deliver what it says it will deliver, one aspect is that we will need to plan and design for business continuity. The practical implications include concerns such as design for fail-safe and safe-fail (‘brown-out’), monitoring for failure, real-time or near-real-time failure impact-analysis, failover process-choreographies and so on.

(TOGAF v9 ch.23 asserts that “Architecture principles are a subset of IT principles”: this might make sense for IT-architecture, but makes no sense at all for a true whole-of-enterprise architecture. More accurately, architecture principles and IT principles are orthogonal sets which intersect in IT-architecture principles; courtesy of its unhelpful IT-centrism, TOGAF unfortunately treats higher-order architecture-principles and IT-architecture principles as if they’re at the same level in the values/principles hierarchy, which they’re not. This can be seen most clearly in the first principle in TOGAF’s example set, ‘Primacy of principles’: it should be immediately obvious that this would have a broader scope than solely IT.)

Note that there may be a many-to-many relationship between values and principles – for example, ‘Business Continuity’ also has some links to the value ‘safety’ as well as ‘trustworthiness’; the TOGAF principle ‘Compliance with law’ links to both ‘fairness’ and safety’; and so on. Some principles may also have only indirect links to values: the principle ‘Primacy of principles’ is one such example, which in effect applies more to the way in which all principles devolve from values.

Back in March I wrote a fairly lengthy post on ‘value-trees’ in enterprise-architecture‘, which includes this general theme. The example I gave there was a simplistic one about profit as a key value for a commercial organisation:

A suite of principles devolve from this value: for example:

  • the outcomes of value-chain processes shall be measured in monetary terms;
  • costs of all activities shall likewise be measured in monetary terms (hence techniques such as Activity Based Costing);
  • verifiable mechanisms shall be used to contrast these two sets of measurements, to derive a measurement of the value in its specified terms – i.e. profit, in this example.

To do this, we’ll need to:

  • aggregate (‘roll up’) all the outcomes and costs; and for management purposes
  • disaggregate (‘drill down’) through the business-units and groups and clusters, all the way back down to individual activities.

The connections and transforms for aggregation and disaggregation are the branches for the value-tree.

There’s more detail on this and how to work with value-trees in practice in the chapter on ‘pervasive’ services’ in my book The Service Oriented Enterprise. If anyone wants me to do a reference-sheet on this, please let me know?

Key point is that:

  • vision/purpose is the emotive (literal?) ‘wake-up call’ for the overall enterprise, the means by which we connect with or belong to the enterprise
  • values are what we feel about/from that purpose
  • principles are what we think about those values (i.e. what we think about what we feel); which in turn lead to
  • missions, goals and objectives, that describe what we intend to do to express what we think about what we feel.

Obviously, there is some interaction between those dimensions – what we do challenges what we think and feel, and so on – but there is a sort-of hierarchy here that’s best expressed in that sequence of ‘belong > feel > think > do’.

Hope this helps for now?

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