More on ‘Not-quite VPEC-T’

[Updated to incorporate changes suggested by Nigel Green in the first comment in the comments-section below.]

A great conversation last night with Nigel Green, originator of the VPEC-T frame to elicit requirements and other concerns in enterprise-architecture and business-change design.

As described in my post ‘Not quite VPEC-T‘ back in November, the ‘service-flow content’ part of my Enterprise Canvas model-type draws heavily on VPEC-T and its underlying principles. There’s one explicit difference, in that I re-framed Nigel’s ‘Content’ dimension as ‘Completions’ – the reasoning there being that from the perspective of Enterprise Canvas, everything in a flow is ‘content’, but we also need an explicit ‘end-event’ to mark the end of the Process (production) phase. Yet beyond that visible change there are also more subtle differences in approach and usage, and it was those that Nigel wanted to clarify.

(I’ll have to paraphrase somewhat here, and ask Nigel to clarify in comments if I have anything fundamentally wrong. 🙂 )

To Nigel, the five dimensions of VPEC-T – Values, Policies, Events, Content, Trust – are lenses that can and should be used to explore anything in a business-change context. In that sense, my ‘completions’ in Enterprise Canvas service-flow content are just another kind of Event. These views are recursive, pervasive – there is no particular sequence or structure other than that all five lenses should be used in the review.

To me, a set of five not-quite-equivalent dimensions represent transitions between the Five Element phases:

By definition, in Enterprise Canvas, everything is or contains or represents ‘content’, so there is no need for a distinct ‘content’ dimension as such. (In Enterprise Canvas, we typically use the single-row version of the ‘extended-Zachman‘ as a checklist to assess content.) Instead, within the cycle of activities, there’s a need for something to mark the end of the main transaction-part of the activity – the equivalent of ‘end-event’ in BPMN, for example – and the transition to the post-action review (the Performance phase). Unlike VPEC-T, there is an explicit structure and sequence here:

  • The outcome of ruminating on strategic Purpose is a set of Values, representing something that will engage People in that purpose.
  • The outcome of the People phase is a set of actionable Policies to guide Preparation for action.
  • The outcome of Preparation is readiness for action-Events.
  • The activities of the Process are brought to an end by (preferably)-explicit Completions.
  • The outcome of the Performance review should be re-affirmed Trust and confirmed alignment with Purpose.

So the two approaches are not the same: they’re similar, with similar overall emphases, but they do have different functions in the assessment of the given context. Yet they’re certainly not incompatible: in fact in a sense they’re almost recursive with each other, in that we would typically use VPEC-T to assess every flow, every phase within the cycle, and the context and content of each of those transitions. We do need to take some care, though, to be clear as to which frame we’re using at any given time.

To summarise:

  • VPEC-T is a frame – a set of ‘lenses’ – to guide assessment of a context, in much the same way as SWOT or PESTLE or the like. This assessment is usually recursive and re-entrant: assessment in one dimension often implies further assessment in other dimensions. It does not imply any kind of sequence or cycle: Values, Policies, Event, Content, Trust are dimensions, not phases or transitions. For more details, see the book Lost In Translation – particularly Ch.3, ‘VPEC-T In Detail: A Common Language Explained’.
  • Enterprise Canvas is a model-type whose purpose is to assess the purpose, content, structure, activities, management and guidance of a single enterprise-service – whatever that might be – at any level, from an individual web-service or suchlike up to the entire organisation as ‘service’. Within the Enterprise Canvas, the Five Elements frame and its associated transitions provide a further means to assess the life-cycle both of the service and through the service, also recursively, including its interactions and flows with and between other services. For more details, see the book Mapping the Enterprise – particularly the chapters ‘Service content’ and ‘Services as systems’. (The post ‘Not quite VPEC-T’ referenced above includes most of the relevant extracts from the book.)
  • As described above, the description of the transitions between Five Element phases was strongly influenced by the thinking behind VPEC-T. In essence, the labelling of the transitions represents a particular emphasis that we would use in each case whilst – for example – applying a (recommended) VPEC-T assessment to the nature of that transition. (To put it the other way round, when doing a VPEC-T assessment of that part of the life-cycle, we would place particular emphasis on that VPEC-T dimension, including the Content within that transition.)
  • There is an orthogonal relationship between VPEC-T and the Five Element transitions: as with all the many other frames that we might use in enterprise-architecture or the like, they are alternative views or frames to look at or through each other, recursively, whilst assessing the overall ‘hologram‘ of a context. Because the two frames are orthogonal to each other, the transitions themselves are not VPEC-T as such, nor do they represent an alternate or substitute description for VPEC-T.

Hope this helps, anyway – and thanks again to Nigel for his advice and guidance on this.

2 Comments on “More on ‘Not-quite VPEC-T’

  1. Thanks for the conversation last night and the clarifying post above. I can now see how VPEC-T helped the thinking around expansion your ‘Five Element’ model to include Values, Policies, Events, and Completions and Trust ‘bridges’.

    I do, however, want to make it clear that, whilst VPEC-T helped inspire embellishment of your ‘Five Element’ framework, its purpose is quite different. It’s because of this difference, that I’m keen to preserve and encourage the original ‘C=Content’ meme. To explain what I mean, I need to step back from the specifics of ‘Life Cycle’ and BPMN-like perspective of your post and take the thinking up to a level akin to SWOT, PESTLE Analysis or similar, at this level these thinking frameworks help scope, shape, position and test-the-readiness of organisations for change. This is where VPEC-T belongs. However, VPEC-T (Values, Policies, Events, Content and Trust) can, like SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats), be applied recursively, from say, Strategic Market Positioning to IT Department Capability.
    With the above in mind, there are a couple of main reasons why I want to preserve and encourage the use of ‘C’ to mean Content within the VPEC-T framework.
    1. This provides a place for explicitly thinking about the dialogues and shared semantics (or not) between people regardless of whether or not such information exchanges are IT enabled.
    2. While I agree: ‘By definition, everything here is or contains or represents ‘content’, so there is no need for a distinct Content dimension as such’ – in the ‘Five Forces’ context described in your post. However, the risk of smudging the explicit focus on Content and explicitly merging Content with Event in ‘Completions’ is a no-no for VPEC-T analysis. The rationale for this is explained in Ch 3 of Lost In Translation: ‘Making a Clear Distinction Between Events and Content’.
    Can that you tweak your material with regard to referencing VPEC-T to make this clear? Else I’m concerned that people will think there are two competing definitions of the VPEC-T Framework. From our discussion, I don’t believe this is the case, but I just want to emphasise that you used VPEC-T to derive your thinking which resulted in an elaboration for your ‘Five Elements’ model rather than a new definition of VPEC-T. As ever, pleased collaborate.


  2. Many thanks for the clarification, Nigel.

    (I went straight away to my bookshelf for my copy of ‘Lost In Translation’, only to discover it’s not there – which means that it’s still back in Australia. 🙁 Any chance you could post a few comments here to summarise Ch.3 and why “merging Content with Event in ‘Completions’ is a no-no for VPEC-T analysis”? Thanks.)

    Yes, I do want to reiterate that this is not ‘another version of VPEC-T’. It draws heavily on much the same ideas – as we’ve discussed often – but it does have a different function. The Values and Policies part of the Five-Element transitions are probably more closely related to ISO9000, as the descent from Vision (expressed as values) to Policy to generic Procedure to context-specific Work-Instruction. The Events and Completions crosslink to BPMN and other process-modelling methods/notations, as wrappers around Process, but with extensions to deal with the other more subtle concerns that are elicited in VPEC-T assessment. And as in VPEC-T, Trust is actually the key to all of this: without repeatedly-reaffirmed trust (and the second-hand form of trust as reputation), the overall context has no real viability. Trust is the ultimate anchor for the Market Cycle, as also described in the original ‘Not quite VPEC-T’ post.

    I’ll change the wording above from “By definition, everything here is or contains…” to “By definition, in Enterprise Canvas, everything here is or contains…”. That should remove a possible implication that the ‘here’ is VPEC-T rather than Enterprise Canvas/Five Elements.

    I’ll also add a tail-piece above to include your point about VPEC-T assessment sitting in the same general space as SWOT/PESTLE etc rather than a life-cycle oriented view, as is this part of Enterprise Canvas.

Leave a Reply

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