TOGAF: The Good Parts

TOGAF is a framework for enterprise architecture management. Enterprise architecture aims at aligning the business and IT to achieve the strategic goals of the enterprise. Enterprise architecture supports digital transformation in large enterprises.

The core of the TOGAF framework is the architecture development method (ADM).

In a nutshell, the method works as follows:

  • in the preliminary phase, you build up the enterprise architecture capability itself (that is, you establish and tailor the TOGAF framework)
  • the architecture work is triggered by architecture changes that go through the whole cycle.
  • Phase A-D work out the candidate architecture, which is decomposed in four architecture domains: business, application, data, and technology. Application and data architecture are grouped together into “information systems architecture” in the cycle.
  • The candidate architecture is solution-neutral. Up to this point, you identify changes to business processes, applications, interfaces, data models, platforms without defining a concrete implementation.
  • A more concrete solution is worked out in phases E and F. The selection of precise technologies, implementation architecture styles (microservices, streaming, etc.), or vendors come especially in these phases.
  • Phases E and F also cover planning with key stakeholders using an architecture roadmap and migration plan that define the work packages.
  • In phase G, the project is handed over to the implementation organization (e.g. an agile release train). Expectations about the outcome to deliver and quality are agreed in an “architecture contract” between the architecture and the implementation organization.
  • Phase H is a retrospective where improvements are formulated and kickstart a new cycle.

The cardinal sin to avoid is to jump from A to G, namely, from the business need to the implementation plan. We’ve all been there: the business has an idea and mandates a team to realize it, without looking left or right and how it would fit in the bigger context. This usually leads to specific solutions for specific problems. Over time, the architecture landscape becomes fragmented and inconsistent. The goal of enterprise architecture is precisely to avoid this. Business needs should be supported by a consistent architecture strategy.

This goal of consistency is supported in TOGAF with the concept of building blocks. The architecture consists of architecture building blocks (business, application, data, or technology) that can be used or reused. In phase B/C/D architects identify which building blocks have to modified, added, or removed for a given change. This is the gap analysis between the baseline and target architecture. In phases E and F, when the concrete solution architecture is worked out, solution architects identify solution building blocks to fulfill the requirements.

Part of TOGAF is also a content metamodel that define key entites to model the four architecture domains (business, application, data, or technology). It’s pretty generic but can be good starting point. You will probably have to refine it though, so that it becomes really useful (e.g. refine the technology metamodel to distinguish between plattform and frameworks).

These core concepts of TOGAF define a useful methodology to tackled complex architecture change. It’s the good parts.

From the perspective of agility, the framework is neither good nor bad. It will all depend on your implementation.

The framework is iterative in nature. Each architecture change goes through the cycle and is an iteration. How big the changes are, how long the cycles last, and how many iterations can run in parallel will depend on your implementation. Part of the preliminary phase is the idea to tailor the framework to your needs. You can implement the core idea in a bureaucratic manner with many deliverables and approvals. But you can also implement the core ideas in a lightweight manner with a few well chosen checkpoints. Similarly, you can partition the enterprise architecture work in “segments”. What they are and how big they are will depend on your implementation.

The bad parts of the framework are the useless ornaments around the core concepts. I can make a list:

  • The many deliverables expected to be produced along the cycle. I like the core concepts as long as they remain concepts. But TOGAF also defines a set of deliverables that probably are never implemented as such.
  • The template library documents predefined viewpoints that can be use to document the architecture. This level of details is mostly useless.
  • The content metamodel comes with two additional references architectures to model the technology and application domains. This complexifies the discussion about modelling without bring much benefits.
  • The framework comes with a set of techniques that can be employed to carry out the phases. What has been defined as technique or not seem rather arbitrary. The techniques can serve as inspiration to conduct real work, but I doubt they will be followed as such.
  • The framework defines a classification scheme for building blocks, ranging from generic to enterprise-specific, called the enterprise continuum. The value of the continuum as concept and its applicability are rather unclear.

These ornaments make the framework bigger with details, without being practical enough to be really useful. They mostly distract rather than help.

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