In mainstream literature, the very concept of enterprise architecture was always strongly associated, if not equated, with systems thinking. The reasons for this linkage are rather evident: modern enterprises represent complex socio-technical systems consisting of numerous interrelated business and IT components, or hierarchical systems of systems. ‘Enterprise architects often make a big deal about an enterprise being a system of systems, but, really, everything that we as enterprise architects are likely to think of as a system is likely to be a system of systems’, explained the late Len Fehskens, the chief editor of the Journal of Enterprise Architecture1 (page 12).
Systems thinking calls for attending to things in a holistic way, understanding mutual dependencies between various system elements and uncovering existing feedback loops in their dynamic behaviour. Unsurprisingly, systems thinking is praised by many EA gurus and academics. Some people claim that systems thinking ‘can be considered a basic principle of EA’2 (page 7), while others go even further and argue that ‘enterprise architecture is a way of using system thinking as an instrument to integrate and align all organisational levels’3 (page 5). It would be arguably fair to say that today, systems thinking represents one of the core paradigms occupying the mindset of EA practitioners, if not the single most prominent paradigm. And yet, is systems thinking actually so helpful for architects and EA practices?
Minor problem with systems thinking