Helping others make sense of my work

Have been struggling hard for the past few days with a truly brilliant challenge from Bulgarian enterprise-architect Ivo Velitchkov, when he dropped by for a visit near here over the weekend. And I’d have to admit I’m no nearer solving it as yet. Hmm…

His point is this: there’s a huge body of knowledge – or something like that, I guess? – that’s scattered throughout this website, in my books, on the Slideshare account, and various other places too. But there’s so much of it, spread across so many different themes and topics, with ideas developing and changing over the years: so how on earth can anyone make sense of it all? How does it all tie together? What links with what? What’s changed, what hasn’t changed? And how do we use it all, anyway?

Looking around, fact is that he’s right: I need to apply a bit more enterprise-architecture to my own enterprise-architecture here. Rather than just churning out the work, day after day, more and more new ideas, new concepts, new connections, I need to do more to help people make sense of those ideas in context, and to put them to practical use.

So I’ll make a quick start here, with a brief summary of how the various sources fit together. But for the rest, I’ll need you to help me to help you – if you see what I mean? πŸ™‚

This weblog is where most of the visible action happens. Its main role is to present ‘work in progress’, and to ask for comment and feedback to guide that work-in-progress.Β The good part is that this is where you’ll find whatever I’m working on at the moment – always pushing the boundaries, which I hope is significant for a fair few people at least. The catch is that, almost by definition, what you’ll see here isn’t likely to be in ‘finished’ form. It also covers a huge scope: for example, that ‘no-plan Plan‘ for an extended view of enterprise-architecture is just one small part of it. So it’s very fragmentary, and there’s a lot of it – more than 500 distinct articles so far, excluding background admin items and the regular collections of ‘A week in Tweets’. And I’ll admit the search-tools here aren’t good: a small set of categories, a subset of tags, and a very simple text-search field. Making sense of what’s going on here isn’t easy, especially for someone who’s just dropped in for the first time: so yes, I need to do more to make it easier. Yet what do I need to do?

The books are ‘finished work’, of course. Each book addresses a single issue or theme, and can be used as a standalone item in its own right. Yet other than the barest set of categories, there’s not much there to show how they all link together – which they do, even across the categories. For example, the main purpose of the screenplays and stories is to illustrate ideas that are often too abstract – or, in some cases, too challenging – to explain other than through some form of fiction: yet in essence they’re still the same ideas as in the overall theme of enterprise-architecture. Likewise the books on dowsing: although some people don’t like the fact, they do actually describe the process and practice of sensemaking in some of its most extreme and most concrete forms. But again, making sense of those cross-connections isn’t easy or obvious: I need to do more to make it easier for it to make sense. Yet what would that be?

I probably don’t make enough use of theΒ Sidewise weblog. It’s sort of halfway between this blog and the books: complete standalone articles that address a single theme. More like aΒ story-bank, I guess – or anΒ idea-bank, perhaps? It’s there, anyway: though I do need to explain more about how it links in with everything else. Yet how?

The slidedecks are likewise ‘finished’ – though without the context of the respective conference or whatever, they often seem a bit incomplete. It’s probable I ought to record a sound-track for each: perhaps you might let me know if that would help?

Then there’s the two ‘official’ websites, the Tetradian website and Tom Graves website. Both of these are literally years out of date: at present they’re useful as historical archives, but not much more than that. It’s obvious I need to update them both, and urgently: but what would be the best approach? What do those sites need? More to the point, what do you need from those two websites?

And there’s also the SEMPER Metrics website. Its purpose is to showcase the SEMPER diagnostic, that assesses organisational ‘ability to do work’, and indicates appropriate tools, techniques and tactics to address any identified problem-areas. It even includes a fully-functional implementation of the diagnostic; but since the access-permissions mechanism still doesn’t work properly at present, I’d have to admit that there’s not much point… But it’s there, and usable, sort-of, and potentially useful to quite a lot of people, too: yet what should I do to bring it up to date, and link it in to everything else?

So I’ve spent a lot of time and effort over the past few days trying to find any tools that would help me bring all of this together into a more meaningful, accessible, usable form. Fact is that I can’t find anything that would actually work. There’s CMapTools, of course, or Compendium or Cohere; yet none of them will read in a website or weblog and help me to build an automated, self-maintaining set of concept-maps across all of the articles and other items, which is what seems to be most needed here. Any suggestions, anyone?

The key item that would seem to make sense for this kind of sensemaking would be a glossary/thesaurus, coupled with annotated links to articles and other items. Would that work?

I do have a sort of ‘wiki-engine’ that I wrote some years back that I can re-use for this purpose, though it’ll take some significant hacking to get it closer to self-updating from this weblog. Would that be worth the effort?

And what else would help you to make sense of all of this body of work? And help you to put it into practice in your own context?

Anyone have any advice / comments / suggestions for me here, please?

Many thanks, anyway.

17 Comments on “Helping others make sense of my work

  1. @Roger Sessions – Really good point, Roger, though an elevator-pitch for what?

    You know me well enough to know I’m not being sarcastic here. The point is that there’s so much material, and so many darn topics I could choose from, that it really is “where do I start?”

    You asked the question, so I guess you get first choice: What topic for an elevator-pitch would be useful for you?

    Help? πŸ™‚

    Many thanks, anyway!

  2. Tom,

    If you don’t find Compendium and Cmaps suitable, have a look at Zim, if you what to go wiki-way (great tool, as easy as a notebook and as powerful as a wiki-engine) or at Virtuoso (suggested by my colleague Eddy), if you want to go ontology-way.

    In any case I don’t expect you could find something self-maintained. When you launch a new ship (post, book), you’ll need to manually updated what’s in the port.

  3. Needless to say, you can go both ways, making a wiki using semantic technologies, the way Wikipedia is done, for example. But I imagine that’s too much to ask for.

  4. @Peter T

    The first thing I’d do is install some form of analytics (Google’s is fine) into the blog. This will, at the very least, give you insight into what people are actually reading on the site, how their finding you and, to a lesser extent, what causes them to leave.

    You’ll absolutely need to know this information if you’re going to make any judgements about which direction to take.

    I notice you have lots of web pages linking back to your blog (about 4,500 to be more precise). A major reshuffle of your site will render these invalid so you’d want to be smart about any reorganisation.

    Purpose is all-important & how you leverage tools and apply elbow-grease needs to be considered in advance.

    A good “related articles” plugin for WordPress will improve navigability. Tom, you make good use of tagging for it to make extracting relationships easier.

    I can’t really tell if there’s any commercial intent behind the blog. At this stage it doesn’t really look like it so I won’t comment on what can be done to increase income or to encourage visitors to your other sites. (Tom, feel free to contact me if you’re interested in more about this.)

    As far as providing a structured is concerned, you may consider one of the wordpress wiki themes or plugins. There’s a few out there (a simple search in Google) should uncover a few options. This will retain your current content repository whilst allowing you to extend with the additional features a wiki offers.

    Hope this helps…


  5. A good suggestion from Luce. Perhaps a move to a WordPress theme and the use of visual graphics? I have seen a number of people move to WordPress lately, because of the high quality presentation.

    The graphics could be used as a sort of ‘metaphor’ for the content of the article and help break the text up a bit. Don’t be affraid to re-write or edit articles, if it appears later that the message could be more succinct.

    If you had a series of articles, then they could be transformed into a book or series of mini-guides e.g. ‘The little book on Enterprise Transformation’, ‘Writings on Enterprise Architecture’, 10 critical success factors for an EA Programme’ etc.

    Perhaps improve the use of Categories, e.g. you could have categories within EA etc.

  6. @Ivo, @Peter T, @Luce Chandon, @Stephen – Many thanks all, very helpful indeed.

    Unfortunately I’ve spent most of last night and today having, uh, intense conversations with the White Porcelain Telephone (as Australians would put it), and I’m in no fit state to reply… πŸ™ There’s a lot I want to follow through on this: with luck I’ll be able to do so tomorrow.

    Thanks for your patience? – and I do greatly appreciate the effort you’ve all put into this: thanks again.

  7. @Luce Chandon – Luce, many thanks for all of this.

    1. Analytics (eg. Google Analytics) – yes, definitely. At the moment I don’t even have a hit-counter on pages – the only analytics I have at present are the relatively short-term pickup from links, which is pretty useless in terms of broader picture.

    Obviously I can search the web for instructions, but to save me some of the effort, any quick advice on how to do this?

    2. Breaking existing links through reshuffle: yeah, well aware of that one – is why I’m wary about any change at all, to be honest.

    I’m assuming that what I need to do is to add new functionality without actually changing any of the existing underlying structures or URL-structures. The only practical difficulty for me is that although I know PHP quite well, I don’t know enough about WordPress internals, so I’m a bit loath to go digging around in case I break something important… 😐

    3. ‘Related posts’ plugin: very good point, an obvious need that I haven’t yet addressed. Will do so as quickly as possible: any recommendations as to which plugin to use?

    4. Commercial intent: uh… one of my weak points, I must admit… 😐 Best to assume that I’m a total ignoramus as far as monetisation is concerned: I know how to create ideas (and sometimes even useful ideas), but no idea at all as to how to make any money off it. So yes, would greatly appreciate some concrete advice on this.

    5. Wiki etc: thanks for the pointer – have done a quick follow-up on that. I think what I need is not so much a wiki as a kind of variant on a glossary: will need to think a lot more that (including, I fear, having to write a new WordPress plugin… oh well.)

    Many thanks again, anyway, and will keep in touch with you on this, if I may?

  8. @Stephen – Thanks for the suggestions.

    The two weblogs (Sidewise and this one) are both WordPress: I’ve used different themes for each, but they’re both pretty basic. Any recommendations for alternate themes that might work better – particularly any that won’t break the current URL-structure.

    All of the others are based on my own custom-wiki, which isn’t actually used as a wiki at all, but gives me a platform for ‘hackable’ extensions (as on the SEMPERMetrics site, which includes all the code to run the online-diagnostic). The wiki-engine is, bluntly, a pig’s-breakfast (not least because originally it had to run on PHP3), but it works (sort-of), and I’m loath to change it to anything else because doing so would, again, almost certainly break the URL-structure. There’s a lot of content on all of those sites – particularly on – but it definitely does need updating: any suggestions of how to update this without losing everything in the process?

    Graphics: yes, very good point. Might be a good idea to get some smallish icons to indicate the overall emphasis or theme or category of each blog-post: will look into how I could do that. Thanks.

    “Don’t be afraid to rewrite”: uh, that’s perhaps the problem already… πŸ™‚ It’s often quicker to write anew than it is to edit… The practical problem is that there are so many posts, and so many of them that sort-of come back at a theme from another direction: it’s keeping track of what-connects-with-what and what-updates-what that is beginning to be the nightmare.

    Converting articles to book: I’ve tried this a few times, and each time (e.g. ‘Mapping the Enterprise’) ended up having to rewrite from scratch – the articles are too fragmented to make sense at book level. The other option is just to publish sets of articles as stand-alone ebooks: I’ve used the WordPress ‘Anthologise’ plugin to extract to EPUB format, but I’ll admit I haven’t gotten much further than that at present. Not sure if there’s even a market for it that would make it worth the effort, to be honest: any comments on that?

    Categories: yes, good point, I need to add at least a couple more categories such as for RBPEA (Really-Big-Picture EA – i.e. applying EA principles at a societal/global scale). I’m wary of drowning in categories, though – I tend to try to use tags instead, though it doesn’t help that the tag-display on this theme only shows a subset of the overall set of tags.

    Thanks again, anyway – more ideas that I need to follow through!

  9. @Ivo – Many thanks for those suggestions: I’ve had a quick look at each, though it’ll be a while before I get my head clear on what I need to do.

    Thanks again for starting me off on doing this: it’s really important, because there’s not much point in my doing all of this idea-development work if no-one can use it… 😐 πŸ™‚

  10. @Tom G

    Hey Tom,

    1. Google Analytics should be pretty straightforward. Simply register for an account and you’ll get a piece of javascript that you can insert into header.php. That should get things started.

    2. YARPP is a good plugin. Install it and you can add it to the widgets if you choose. It gives you lots of configuration options so you can customise to suit.

    3. You can easily re-theme your WordPress installation without breaking links. Suggest you do this on a test site first because “where” & “how” articles get displayed is something that needs to be customised. Once you’re happy, you can then copy across the entire (modified) theme to your main site.

    4. Commercial intent can often be tough, especially for someone who has a wealth of ideas. Contact me and I’ll be happy to share some thoughts on how you could potentially get started.

    5. Glossary plugin for WordPress…There’s a neat little plugin called “FAQ Builder” that allows you to create a simple glossary/faq for you blog. You might want to check this out.

    Please do keep in touch and hope you’re feeling better.


  11. @Luce Chandon – Hi Luce – back again, and yes, feeling a lot better. Was, uh, not fun while it lasted… :wry-grin:

    1. Many thanks re Google Analytics, is now all set up, though I admit I don’t know how to make use of the info… 😐 For example, one thing I’d like is a really straightforward hit-count on individual pages, and I don’t see how to get at it…

    2. YARRP – duly located on, will install when the re-theme is done.

    3. You’re definitely right about need to re-theme. And I definitely need some advice on that. (see 4)

    4. Commercial intent: yes in theory, not a clue in practice – hence yes, I need help on that too. 😐 Will contact first via the email you used to post to here.

    5a. Glossary: Have gone through all of the glossary-plug-ins that I can find on – I don’t think there’s anything that I can use directly for this purpose, though there are a couple that I could either tweak, or use in parallel with a separate larger linked glossary. I’ll write a separate blog-post on this, to ask people what they’d want – not least because it’ll be a lot of work to write all of the content for the glossary, and I don’t want to do it more than once! πŸ™‚

    5b. FAQ: Thanks for pointing me to FAQ Builder. Yes, a nice plug-in, and an FAQ is something I probably do need, though it’s actually a different requirement (yet another one!) than the Glossary. Again something to discuss further, though I’ll also include that in the blog-post on ‘what to do next’.

    Again, many thanks for the advice – will be in touch on this.

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