In a blog last year, I asked my readers to let me know about anything they felt was ‘wrong’ with TOGAF®. In this article, I am going to address some of these concerns with tips, advice, and workarounds to help users minimize the weaknesses of the TOGAF documentation.
Bear in mind that it is difficult to describe a topic as complex as enterprise architecture (EA), especially in a way that pleases everyone. TOGAF has its weaknesses, but it’s not a bad starting point, and there are many additional resources available online which can help new and practicing enterprise architects to keep advancing their knowledge.
So, let’s take a look at the problems with TOGAF, and what you can do about them!
“The TOGAF documentation is too wordy.”
The issue: EA is a BIG subject that covers a variety of tricky concepts. TOGAF attempts to describe EA using a document format which, unsurprisingly, requires a lot of text. This format can make it difficult for students to fully understand the framework.
Some suggestions: There have been many attempts by EA practitioners to explain TOGAF in a simpler format. TOGAF certification courses (online or in a classroom) can help students by taking them away from the documentation and communicating what they need to know using more engaging tools and resources.
Good e-Learning provides a number of free online training resources which present TOGAF in simpler formats. You can also find additional resources by searching for TOGAF keywords online (making sure that you are as specific as possible about what you want to know).
The nature of EA means that, ultimately, learning about anything is going to require a lot of effort. You will not be able to fully escape the source documentation, but you can certainly find easier ways to understand the key points.
“TOGAF isn’t a framework.”
The issue: Although TOGAF’s full title quite literally includes the phrase ‘architecture framework’ (The Open Group Architecture Framework), this is not an entirely accurate summary of what it offers; a fact which can be quite misleading to new students.
Some suggestions: Instead of viewing TOGAF as an EA framework, it would be more beneficial to see it as a body or book of knowledge. Students should consider TOGAF to be a basic introduction to the topic of enterprise architecture in a document format.
That is not to say that TOGAF has nothing to offer; it is reasonably well-structured, being divided into six parts, and covers many of the most important concepts that enterprise architects will need to be aware of.
As you learn more about EA, you will quickly come to understand the importance of actual frameworks. For more information, please see the article ‘What is TOGAF Not Telling Me About Frameworks?’
“TOGAF is too theoretical.”
The issue: EA is often seen as being abstract, conceptual, or theoretical. For anyone approaching EA for the first time, TOGAF can come across as too theoretical or academic to be of any practical use.
Some suggestions: Remember that some of the components in EA are conceptual out of necessity, as they do not have any physical presence. For example, software is digital, processes are intangible, and networks are complex. These characteristics – digital, intangible and complex – mean that these components cannot be visualized or understood in the same way as, say, the physical features of the architecture of a building.
However, non-physical enterprise architecture elements need not be difficult to understand. Many of the ideas behind EA are based on common sense, such as the idea of constructing an architecture by configuring a set of components or building blocks or segmenting an architecture into several domains or sub-domains.
The trick is to train yourself to think first at the architectural level, rather than at a solution design, implementation or operational level (see ‘Levels of Architectural Understanding’). This can take a bit of practice, and TOGAF doesn’t provide any guidelines on how to think like an architect, but there is definitely more help out there (check out ‘How to think like an architect’ or ‘Architectural Thinking’).
One further point to bear in mind:
Unfortunately, you shouldn’t expect to learn everything about EA by taking an online or four-day course. TOGAF does a reasonable job of providing a ‘standard’, or at least a common language and basic concepts, as well as describing the initial processes and techniques which can get you started.
However, enterprise architecture is a discipline; achieving a TOGAF certification will simply be the first step in a lifelong process of becoming an enterprise architect. Once you have learned the basics via TOGAF, it will be time to start putting these ideas into practice through further training courses, case studies and working alongside experienced architects who can mentor and coach you.