"What" Versus "What"

John A.  Zachman
John A. Zachman Chief Executive Officer, Zachman International Read Author Bio || Read All Articles by John A. Zachman

I recently overheard some discussion about what I said about "What." Someone thought I used the word "What" as it related to Column 1 issues.   Someone else argued that I had used "What" to refer to Column 2 issues.   There was even some discussion about whether I had used "What" to refer to Row 2 as opposed to Row 3.

Here is the problem:   the word "What" gets used in different contexts by different people for different reasons.   I always use "What" to delineate Column 1 issues for the following reason:

As I was first discovering the logic of the Framework, I was observing that in describing any physical object, there is always a bill-of-materials describing the material composition of the object, that is, describing "what" the object is made out of.   Since the Enterprise has a Semantic Model, which also is a bill-of-materials, that also describes the structural relationship of the "things" of the Enterprise ...

  • "things" being the material composition of the Enterprise,
  • "things" the Enterprise is made up of,
  • the "things," assets, concepts, common nouns of the Enterprise, whatever "things" the Enterprise thinks are important enough to manage,
  • "things" the Enterprise tends to put serial numbers on (like Boeing puts serial numbers on parts, the material composition of Boeing 747's)
  • "things" the Enterprise assigns accountability for inventory purposes ...

... it became obvious that the Enterprise equivalent of a product's bill-of-materials is the Enterprise Thing or "Semantic Model" ... describing "WHAT" ("things") the Enterprise is made out of and their structural relationships the Enterprise "bill-of-materials."   (At Row 3, this would be manifest as the Enterprise "Logical Data Model.")

Subsequently, in a similar fashion, it became obvious that the Enterprise's equivalent of a physical object's "functional specifications" are the Business Process Models, descriptive of "HOW" the Enterprise works.   The Enterprise's equivalent of "drawings," or, "geometry," are the Enterprise's Distribution Models (or "geography," or "Network") or "WHERE" the Enterprise establishes locations from which they accept work.   The Enterprise's equivalent of the "operating instructions" are the Enterprise's Work Flow Models, or "WHO" is responsible for which work products.   The Enterprise's equivalent of the "timing diagrams" are the Enterprise Dynamics Models, descriptive of "WHEN" things happen.   And, the Enterprise's equivalent of the "design objectives" are the Enterprise's Motivation Models, descriptive of "WHY" things happen.

In summary:

WHAT - material composition     Bills-of-Material (Column 1)
HOW - functionality Functional Specifications     (Column 2)
WHERE - distribution Geometry (Column 3)
WHO - work flow Operating Manuals (Column 4)
WHEN - dynamics Timing Diagrams (Column 5)
WHY - motivation Design Objectives (Column 6)

I do not believe that this is accidental.   Linguistically, over the millennia, humanity has universally discovered that for a complete description of any subject or object, you must answer these six primitive questions.   From the answers to these six primitive questions, one can derive answers to any other question about that subject or object anyone can pose.   These six primitives are a complete set.   They are not a hierarchy.   They are a fixed list.   It is not accidental that for a complex object like an airplane, you invariably find bills-of-materials, functional specifications, geometry, operating instructions, timing diagrams, and design objectives.

Therefore, in my (Framework) case, I am always using the word "What" to differentiate the material composition, the things, Column 1, the "bills-of-material," from the other Columns.   That is, I always use "What" for columnar differentiation and in designation of Column 1, the "Data Column."

In contrast, some people use the word "What" in association with function, to differentiate "What the Enterprise does" (Column 2, Row 2) from "How the Enterprise does it" (Column 2, Row 3).   Notice that in both of these cases, "What" and "How" are expressing functionality, Column 2.   What is being differentiated is conceptually "What" (Row 2) versus systematically (or "logically") "How" (Row 3).   The use of the word "How" for Row 3 in Column 2 is consistent with my use of the word "How" for all of Column 2, as all of the Column 2 models are descriptive of functionality.   On the other hand, the use of the word "What" to differentiate Row 2 from Row 3 ("How") is a Row differentiation, clearly much different from my (columnar) use of the word "What."

Both of these uses of the word "What" may well be legitimate, however, because of the six primitive interrogatives,   I think using "What" to differentiate the Columns is a more expressive, rigorous, and useful differentiation.   Therefore, I am very careful to be consistent in my usage of "What" to be a Columnar differentiation.   I do not use "What" to differentiate Rows.   When I want to differentiate Row 2 from Row 3, I use other words, like "Conceptual" versus "Logical," or "Business Models" versus "Systems Models," etc.

A slightly different but related issue relative to the Row differentiation illustrates a problem with the lack of a Framework for establishing context for meaningful dialog.   Relative to Column 2, the Process Column, some people use the word "Function" for the instances of Row 2 (conceptual functionality) and "Activity" for the instances of Row 3 (logical, or systematic, functionality).   Other people use the word "Activity" for Row 2 and "Process" for Row 3.   Then, other people use the word "Process" for Row 2 and "Activity" for Row 3.   There are people who reserve the word "Function" to mean "Organization" (the "Who" in Column 4) and they use "Process" for the "How" in Column 2, Row 2, and "Task" for the "How" in Column 2, Row 3.

All of this discussion illustrates the dire need for a logical structure (or, Framework) to establish a context for clear communication.   If one spoke "Framework language," this kind of confusion could rather easily be cleared up by saying something like, "Wait a minute ... what are we talking about here, Row 2 or Row 3?" Or, "Are you talking about Column 1 or Column 2?"   Then, "let's rationalize our terminology based on the Framework logic to ensure we are understanding one another."   That would quickly clear up any confusion, depending, of course, on how well you spoke the "Framework language."

Copyright, 2002. Zachman International.

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Standard citation for this article:


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John A. Zachman , ""What" Versus "What"" Business Rules Journal Vol. 3, No. 1, (Jan. 2002)
URL: http://www.brcommunity.com/a2002/b098.html

About our Contributor:


John  A. Zachman
John A. Zachman Chief Executive Officer, Zachman International

John A. Zachman is the originator of the "Framework for Enterprise Architecture" (The Zachman Framework™) which has received broad acceptance around the world as an integrative framework, an ontology for descriptive representations for Enterprises.

Mr. Zachman is not only known for this work on Enterprise Architecture, but is also known for his early contributions to IBM's Information Strategy methodology (Business Systems Planning) as well as to their Executive team planning techniques (Intensive Planning). He served IBM for 26 years, retiring in 1990 to devote his life to the science of Enterprise Architecture.

Mr. Zachman is the Founder and Chairman of his own education and consulting business, Zachman International®. He is also Founder of the Zachman Institute™, a nonprofit organization devoted to leveraging Zachman International's vast network of professionals and resources to offer services to small businesses and nonprofit organizations as they prepare for and experience growth.

Mr. Zachman serves on the Executive Council for Information Management and Technology (ECIMT) of the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) and on the Advisory Board of the Data Administration Management Association International (DAMAI) from whom he was awarded the 2002 Lifetime Achievement Award. He was awarded the 2009 Enterprise Architecture Professional Lifetime Achievement Award from the Center for Advancement of the Enterprise Architecture Profession as well as the 2004 Oakland University, Applied Technology in Business (ATIB), Award for IS Excellence and Innovation.

Mr. Zachman has been focusing on Enterprise Architecture since 1970 and has written extensively on the subject. He has facilitated innumerable executive team planning sessions. He travels nationally and internationally, teaching and consulting, and is a popular conference speaker, known for his motivating messages on Enterprise Architecture issues. He has spoken to many thousands of enterprise managers and information professionals on every continent.

In addition to his professional activities, Mr. Zachman serves on the Elder Council of the Church on the Way (First Foursquare Church of Van Nuys, California), the Board of Directors of Living Way Ministries, a radio and television ministry of the Church on the Way, the President's Cabinet of The King's University, the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Citywide Children's Christian Choir, the Board of Directors of Heavenworks, an international ministry to the French speaking world and on the Board of Directors of Native Hope International, a Los Angeles based ministry to the Native American people.

Prior to joining IBM, Mr. Zachman served as a line officer in the United States Navy and is a retired Commander in the U. S. Naval Reserve. He chaired a panel on "Planning, Development and Maintenance Tools and Methods Integration" for the U. S. National Institute of Standards and Technology. He holds a degree in Chemistry from Northwestern University, has taught at Tufts University, has served on the Board of Councilors for the School of Library and Information Management at the University of Southern California, as a Special Advisor to the School of Library and Information Management at Emporia State University, on the Advisory Council to the School of Library and Information Management at Dominican University and on the Advisory Board for the Data Resource Management Program at the University of Washington. He has been a Fellow for the College of Business Administration of the University of North Texas and currently is listed in Cambridge Who's Who.

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