Zachman Grid and when to use it

The Zachman Grid or Framework is useful tool for determining what artefacts to create as part of the Enterprise Architecture work in an organisation.

Zachman defines his framework as:

The Zachman Framework™ is a schema – the intersection between two historical classifications that have been in use for literally thousands of years. The first is the fundamentals of communication found in the primitive interrogatives: What, How, When, Who, Where, and Why. It is the integration of answers to these questions that enables the comprehensive, composite description of complex ideas. The second is derived from reification, the transformation of an abstract idea into an instantiation that was initially postulated by ancient Greek philosophers and is labeled in the Zachman Framework™: Identification, Definition, Representation, Specification, Configuration and Instantiation.”

John Zachman

The framework will only ever be a small part of the overall architecture effort. This is because it is just a grid of artefacts that are relevant for different parts of the architecture for different types of stakeholders involved in the project.

It is extremely generic by design and any industry can use it. There is absolutely no process in the framework at all. It is simply a guide to what artefacts to create.

How to use the Zachman Framework

What’s the key to using this framework? In my opinion, it’s realising that although the Zachman organisation say the artefacts are not complete unless every square in the grid is complete, I have found completing all the squares on most projects is not needed and is not required.

The process, the company’s culture, the individuals involved and the project scope itself all make up the wider context of any project. This, as much as anything helps shape what squares in the grid need completing and hence what artefacts need creating.

I usually use the grid as a starting point to decide what to create. Then I use this in the context of another framework, which does supply a process, such as the TOGAF. I think both of these frameworks have their places on a large project. However, Zachman especially is not much use on its own.

The important element to release in Architecture frameworks is that these frameworks mostly suppose a waterfall approach to software design. In this respect, they are of limited use. However, they are still a good reference point to make sure you have covered all angles in the high-level design.

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