Framework Fundamentals: Level of Detail is a Function of a CELL

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

As the OMG's Business Rules Working Group was preparing its Request for Information (RFI) document, the group's members discussed how the Framework related to this work. And, sometimes, the exchanges were not quite 'on the mark.' This column presents part of one exchange, where John stepped in to set the record straight on this often-misunderstood point.


I was sent an email that contained the following TOTALLY INCORRECT assumptions about the Framework:

..."higher rows of ZF differ from lower ones largely by abstraction, by suppressing detail.  In other words, rows are not different viewpoints (electrical, plumbing) (functional, non-functional) of same problem domain.  ROWS [are] increasing greater level of detail as required by various observers or listeners to a story.  Some observers require only a very high level of detail, while some require an in-depth, technical description of the story."



'Level of detail' is a function of the Cell, NOT of the Column.  In any one Cell, you could have a high level of detail (that is, little detail), a medium level of detail, or an excruciating level of detail.  Anyone who has EVER heard me talk has heard me say that ... "excruciating level of detail" is related to a Cell.  What is making the Rows different is NOT more detail.

The Rows are different, that is, different models occur in every Row within any one Column.  It is just like in classic building architecture ...

  • Row 2 is expressing the usage constraints of the end result as expressed by the "Owner" of the end result, e.g., the Architect's Drawings.
  • Row 3 is expressing the constraints of the laws of nature as addressed by an Architect (or "Designer"), e.g., the Architect's Plans.  (In the Enterprise domain, this would be the expression of the logical, systematic manner in which the conceptual requirements of the Owner might be effected.)
  • Row 4 expresses the constraints of the Builder in terms of the construction process and machine tool technologies being employed, e.g., the Contractor's Plans.
  • Row 5 expresses the "Sub-Contractor's" tool-specific constraints (out-of-context constraints).
  • Row 1 is the "universe of discourse" relative to the analytical target.  In the case of Enterprises, out of the total universe of Things, Processes, Locations, Organizations, Cycles, and Objectives, what is the subset relevant to this Enterprise that they are willing to put forth effort to manage?

Row 2, Row 3, and Row 4 are equivalent of Conceptual, Logical, and Physical, where:

    • Conceptual is what the Owners have in mind as to what their Enterprise is or what they want it to be.
    • Logical is the systematic expression of how the Owner's intent could be logically realized.
    • Physical is the technology-constrained representation for implementation purposes.

Conceptual, Logical, Physical -- this is the equivalent of:

  • the Work Breakdown Structure/Product Structure (Row 2),
  • the Engineering Bill-of-Materials (Row 3), and
  • the Manufacturing Engineering Bill-of-Materials (Row 4). 

In other words, they are DIFFERENT ... NOT increasing levels of detail, because they are expressing different constraints.

In Column 1, for example, Row 2 is a model of the actual Things of the Enterprise that the Owners care enough about to manage.  Row 3 is a model of the logical representations of the things of the Enterprise, which are DIFFERENT than the actual things because the "Designer" is trying to figure out how to keep track of the information (the filing system) needed to take inventories of all the Things of the Enterprise when the Owners need to know how many things there are or whether they are all present or not.  Row 4 is a model of the technology manifestations of the Things, which are DIFFERENT that the logical representations of Things and DIFFERENT from the Things themselves, because the "Builder" is trying to figure out where to put the actual data about the things, which is going to take up space on some device and you want to make sure the same data is in the same place every time you send an arm in to grab it off of the disk (or whatever you are storing it on) and you don't want to wait for long periods of time while looking for the data.

This is REALLY important ... because you are trying to do different things with each different model.  The models are RELATED to one another, but they are not the SAME model just in increasing levels of detail. 

Any one Row model has to support the intent of the next higher Row or else you are going to have a quality problem.  If the intent of any one Row is NOT supported by the next lower Row, when you get down to Row 6, the Row 6 implementation is not going to be "aligned" with the intent of the Owners of the Enterprise at Row 1/2.

Conceptual is like the card catalog in the library; Logical is like the Dewey Decimal System; and Physical is the shelf allocation for the books.  Similarly, Conceptual is like the subject matter index, Logical is the file folder identification, and Physical is the location of the file folders in the file cabinets.  Row 2 is the Architect's Drawings, Row 3 is the Architect's Plans, and Row 4 is the Contractor's Plans.  Row 2 is the Customer's requirements, Row 3 is the Engineering Design, and Row 4 is the Manufacturing Engineering Design.

Why is it that those of us in the Data Processing Department are having so much trouble with this idea???  The Library people, the Document Management people, the Architecture and Construction people, and the Engineering and Manufacturing people don't seem to have any trouble with this at all!!

I hope this is helpful.


  John A. Zachman

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Standard citation for this article:

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John A. Zachman, "Framework Fundamentals: Level of Detail is a Function of a CELL" Business Rules Journal, Vol. 4, No. 4, (Apr. 2003)

About our Contributor:

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

John 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 of 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).

Mr. Zachman retired from IBM in 1990, having served them for 26 years. He is Chief Executive Officer of his own education and consulting business, Zachman International® and Owner and Executive Director of the Federated Enterprise Architecture Certification Institute in Washington, D.C.

Mr. Zachman has been focusing on Enterprise Architecture since 1970 and has written extensively on the subject. He has directed 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.

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