Functional, technical, and strategic "architectures" do not process charts. They do not necessarily help to improve the business.

These Are Not Processes

The technical, functional and strategic architects appear to be taking over the world. Technical architecture diagrams are appearing all over the place as “Strategy on a page”, as operating models and, worse of all, as process charts.

They are not process charts.

These architects are decomposing the business into a series of elements — customers, channels, products, operations, processes, functional areas, etc. The boxes within each of these elements may or may not be a process area — e.g. accounts receivable, accounts payable, general ledger, etc. But, process areas are not business processes.

An accounts payable process starts with a requisition and goes through the purchase order and receipt processes before ending up in the accounts payable sub-process. Requisition-to-payment is the end-to-end process. If you start to change the accounts payable process without knowing how the end-to-end process works, you are as likely to make it worse as better.

Breaking down the breakdowns

What the architects are doing is breaking an organization into like-functional elements. All the finance elements go together, as do all of the marketing elements and the channel elements. This is interesting and can be useful, but it is not a process chart, nor is it able to be used to identify the nature and dynamics of an organization.

Let us liken these architectural charts to a car manufacturer. The manufacturer may break down their cars into glass, aluminium, steel, plastic, rubber, etc components. Then within these components they may break glass into windscreens, side windows, mirrors, back windows, etc. This will be useful for those accountable for managing glassware in cars but it doesn’t tell you how the car looks, drives or what market it is designed for.

An operational car is one dimension, a functional decomposition of its components is another.

Similarly, an operational business is one dimension, an architectural functional decomposition of its operations is another.

In a recent discussion with an “Enterprise architect” he explained what he did and what he produced; but could not explain how it advanced his organization, how it helped make better decisions or how it enabled strategy to be implemented faster.

Yes, there is a role for architects — but it is helping people understand the scope of their organizational or system elements.

But 'architecture' is not a process role, and does not help improve how an organization operates.

Read our ebook, "Understanding Processes" to understand why functions are not processes.


Topics: Project Success, Standards/Frameworks/Methods

Further Reading



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Revision History

First published: Simms, J. (Aug 2011) as "Functional Architectures Are Not Processes"

Updated: Chapman, A. (March 2020), Revisions and Corrections