LEGO as an enterprise-architecture modelling tool?

One of those happily-bizarre conversations about enterprise-architecture that happens on Twitter from time to time.

It started with a Tweet from Jörgen Dalhberg (@greblhad), to which I duly threw in a lighthearted reply:

  • greblhad: If your #entarch can not be illustrated in 3D using LEGO then you have a problem.
  • tetradian: RT @greblhad: If your #entarch can not be illustrated in 3D using LEGO then you have a problem <does that include LEGO ‘people-figures’? 🙂

I’d presumed that Jörgen was being reasonably serious about it – as in fact he was, as will become clear later. But I was also fairly serious about it too, because a couple of years back the CTO at one of my clients had done a beautiful physical ‘demonstrator’ for her overall infrastructure/applications-architecture, built as a three-layer wooden jigsaw-puzzle, which she’d presented to the organisation’s executive. By making all the trade-offs and dependencies visible – and literally tangible – in this way, she’d finally given them a means to understand what was going in their systems, and what they needed to do to help her bring it into a more sustainable state.

So I’d seen how such models really do work in practice – and was a lot more inclined to take Jörgen at his word. But for various reasons, others perhaps weren’t, as the following Twitter-conversation shows:

  • oscarberg: RT @greblhad: If your #entarch can not be illustrated in 3D using LEGO then you have a problem > Static view only. How show interactions?
  • oscarberg: @tetradian @greblhad 3D LEGO is better suited to describe a physical architecture than for #entarch
  • richardveryard: @oscarberg @tetradian @greblhad LEGO (even with people figures) shows momentary instantiation of an architecture, wrong level of abstraction
  • tetradian: @richardveryard @oscarberg @greblhad yeah, true, but playing with those little LEGO-people is *fun*! 🙂
  • oscarberg: @tetradian @richardveryard @greblhad  I play a lot with LEGO with my kids, but it doesn’t make it suited for describing #entarch 🙂
  • greblhad: @tetradian @richardveryard @oscarberg you should all check out http://www.seriousplay.com/ that’s part of what has inspired me #entarch
  • greblhad: @richardveryard @oscarberg @tetradian LEGO … wrong level of abstraction < all illustrations are momentary, still useful though
  • oscarberg: @greblhad @richardveryard @tetradian  would agree 3D Lego can be used to describe certain aspects of an #entarch, but not complete
  • greblhad: @oscarberg @richardveryard @tetradian  Oscar what aspects of an #entarch are you referring to as not possible to model with Lego?
  • oscarberg: @greblhad @richardveryard @tetradian perhaps “not possible” is not what i mean, but rather “not usable” // a model is a communication tool. We need different ways to communicate different things
  • greblhad: I am so sure any #entarch in production today could be expressed perfectly well in a Lego model, I’d probably bet a 100.000 GBP on it.
  • jenshoffmann: @oscarberg @tetradian @greblhad we have succesfuly used LEGO #entarch modells in early stages to dev. a shared view of the stakeholders // you wouldn’t document/manage an #entarch with Lego, but as a tool for critical discussions.
  • oscarberg: @greblhad @hypergogue original discussion was about describing entire #entarch with Lego. Lego as a comm tool is another question
  • greblhad: @oscarberg @hypergogue original discussion was about describing  #entarch with Lego. < which is a one way of communicating intention
  • oscarberg: @greblhad @hypergogue yes, but using one tool to communicate every aspect of an #entarch is unlikely to be effective
  • greblhad: @oscarberg  @hypergogue yes, but using one tool to communicate every aspect of an #entarch is unlikely to be effective < I agree

There the conversation seemed to languish for a while, so whilst writing this I tossed in a request for more information:

  • tetradian: .@greblhad would love to see some LEGO models of #entarch – even just for communication purposes – a blog-post w photo examples, please? 🙂

What I hadn’t realised, until following up the Serious Play link, is that this really is a serious part of the Lego domain, with serious registered-trademarks and all. Via a network of licensed facilitators they’ve in fact been running Serious Play workshops for the past five years or so – I remember now that I’d once heard of it somewhen, but had long since forgotten about it. But they’ve now (as of June 2010) opened it up as a kind of ‘open source’ toolset: take a look at the LEGO® Serious Play® Open Source page, for a download document describing the principles, and then perhaps take a wander round the website itself. Will admit I’m surprised, and impressed: ‘serious play’ indeed.

No further information as yet from Jörgen or any of the others in that conversation – will post an update here if any comes past. Watch This Space?

Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,
7 comments on “LEGO as an enterprise-architecture modelling tool?
  1. As long as each lego piece is really a rubics cube. LOL

  2. Pat, almost so! The number of combination’s you can build are practically endless. With just six standard 8-stud LEGO bricks you can build over 102 million combination’s! With LEGO Serious Play the bricks metaphorically represent ideas or concepts so you don’t have to model your concept, just represent it and explain it. Our brains are designed to work in 3D interpreting real physical things rather than in 2D (e.g.a drawing or a map). Think of the difficulties most people have in interpreting architect drawings versus the models they build to illustrate the design. So with the bricks you get unlimited possibilities! I have never used it for enterprise architecture but it is very suitable for any complex domain.

  3. Hans Voss says:

    The problem with using LEGO to describe an EA is that the LEGO blocks will always fit nicely together. Whereas in a real world IT Architecture things usually don’t fit that well.

    Unless (usually) when al your modules come from a single vendor (ie Microsoft or IBM or …) as is (was) the case with the LEGO blocks.

  4. Hi, I’m the @hypergogue in the discussion above and I also Tweeted a few (uninvited) bits to the conversation. My point (which I failed to make adequately in <140) was about the words 'description' and 'illustration' – both too vague to be meaningful in the discussion about the usefulness of Lego (full disclosure, I'm a Lego fanboy and have had dinner/many chats with Jens Hoffman and the Strategic Play people).

    Lego's unlikely to be that useful in an asynchronous/archive setting, or as the one-map-to-bind-them-all.

    But, in synchronous, critical, co-creating, discursive (etc) settings I can't think of a better medium.

    I'd be interested in hearing some of the Lego-skeptics (there's a phrase I never thought I'd type) talk about the alternatives. If Lego is the wrong level of abstraction and unable to describe #entarch in a 'complete' sense, how do other media achieve this?

  5. Hi Tom,This is actually a nice game to warm up in the beginning of a workshop. Just give everyone 20 Lego bricks and let them make a construction. Then look at how different they are and explain how this relates back to synchronization issues for EA. 😉 BTW Love your blog…great stuff here!

  6. Hans Voss :
    The problem with using LEGO to describe an EA is that the LEGO blocks will always fit nicely together. Whereas in a real world IT Architecture things usually don’t fit that well.

    Is that really a problem given the EA context? Seems to me it would be very interesting to see how different stakeholders try to fit pieces together. It ought to make for an interesting discussion about both existing and to-be processes and systems.

    Bit sad really that most of the discussion (on Twitter) revolved around whether Lego was capable of expressing an enterprise architecture or not. Would have been much more interesting to discuss how it would be different, better and/or worse.

  7. milan says:

    I want to see that in pictures please 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*