Principles Don't Matter

Enterprise Architecture principles are arguably the most commonly created EA artifacts across EA teams. Unfortunately, principles also seem to be one of the least helpful artifacts EAs produce. What! Principles don't add value? Unfortunately not in most cases.

In the first place most principles are not really "principles" at all. Instead they are mostly good intentions. In the world at large, principles are rules we live by. They are the things we believe strongly in and adhere too unless there are extreme extenuating circumstances. For example, engineering principles are generally based on laws of nature so they are very rarely broken. Personal principles are based in moral beliefs and are broken occasionally but only under duress (or too much alcohol). But EA principles are different. A principle of "buy before build" doesn't really mean we will always choose to buy solutions when they are available. The "buy before build" principle really means that we will consider buying an available solution before we jump to coding. The problem this creates is that our clients see us declare principles that we don't adhere to. They (correctly) come to the conclusion that we don't really mean what we say.

The second issue with principles is that they are passive. A principle sits there until something comes along to test it. Strategies are more active. They drive action all on their own. They tell people what to do. Strategies also provide some wiggle room so veering off the strategic track a little isn't as egregious as breaking a principle. Strategies are also easier to connect to goals and objectives and are much better understood by the business than are principles. And that "buy before build" principle? Isn't it really a strategy? Many EA teams I work with have a hard time defining their strategies because they have couched them as principles so they have a difficult time articulating meaningful strategies.

My advice? Build strategies, not principles.

Comments

re: Principles Don’t Matter

Most of the time Architecture Principles have nothing to do with Architecture, unfortunately. And they are countless.Still a few Architecture Principles exist for the purpose of designing a clean architecture, like for instance decouple the components (Loose Coupling).Apply SOA is another encompassing architectural principle. That means apply a Service Oriented style of architecture.I called "Buy before build" a technology transformation guideline because while it looks like a strategy it is too general.I documented a few architecture principles and technology transformation guidelines in my book.

re: Principles Don’t Matter

I always recommend to add my favourite principle:"You may break any principle provided that you master it"Sure that any of principle is just an advice. It is quite normal to break any them if you know the reasons which are behind a particular principle and how they do match to a particular situation. For example, in the chess game is it recommended to novices do not exchange the queen vs. a pawn, but such an exchange can be a part of a combination which leads to the checkmate.Thanks,AS

re: Principles Don’t Matter

Whether you call them principles or strategies, this is the sort of semantic dancing that I saw all-too-often in my past life as an EA for a large organization.I'm not saying that semantics don't matter (or that they never matter), and I think you raise a good point here. Specifically, that inadvertantly broadcasting to the organization that your actions don't match your words undermines your credibility. And I think we probably both agree that guideliness of some kind, regardless of name, can be useful. But arguing that principles are useless, while the same guidance is ok if called a strategy instead of principle... well, that's the sort of twiddling that gives EA a bad name.On the other hand, I think there is a useful discussion to be had around how to devise and frame guidelines so they are most useful to an organization. Would like to see more of your thoughts on this front... advice to change the name at the top of the list on the wall is just barely dipping a toe in the water.

re: Principles Don’t Matter

See my response on my blog:http://www.dromologue.comthanksJustin