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Anatomy of Agile Enterprise

Janne J. Korhonen

Requisite Cognitive Logics in Enterprise Architecture

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In my last two blog posts, I have outlined a five-scale classification of system views and elaborated on the systemic-structural underpinnings of each view. As these systemic views are increasingly expressive and powerful, they also call for progressively sophisticated levels of cognitive sense-making. In the following, I will suggest how the different cognitive logics, as identified in stage-based approaches of adult developmental psychology, pertain to the five systemic views. Further, I will discuss what cognitive capabilities would be required from an (enterprise/business/solution/system) architect or a system engineer with respect to different systemic lenses and respective work levels. These conjectures are summarized in Table 1.

Table 1. Cognitive logics pertaining to different system views.


Static System View

In static system view, the output of design and implementation work is clearly prescribed (cf. Rowbottom and Billis, 1987) by specifications, requirements, quality standards and acceptance criteria. It is even desirable that the system engineer reacts to provided stimuli without understanding and questioning the broader business context. This type of work can be readily outsourced and offshored.

Successful operation at this level calls for at least primary stage (7) logic in terms of Model of Hierarchic Complexity (MHC) (e.g. Commons et al., 1998). There is no need to connect events and perceptions (Fowler et al., 2004); information processing has a disjunctive, declarative quality (Jaques and Cason, 1994).

Reactive System View

In reactive system view, the response to each case of work is situational (cf. Rowbottom and Billlis, 1987) and depends on judgment and interpretation. The work of the system architect involves assessment of and adjustment to the varying requirements within specified architectural standards and work practices.

Concrete stage (8) (Commons et al., 1998) logic required at this level allows coordination of primary stage operations. Information processing has a pulled-together, conjunctive quality (Jaques and Cason, 1994). The person must be able to construct a series of events; classify, group and compare things; and comprehend cause-and-effect relationships. The focus is on concrete, visible aspects of reality that are empirically tested. Reasoning is inductive and based on concrete experience. (Fowler et al., 2004).

Responsive System View

In responsive system view, work is conceptualized as a system that accommodates to the varying needs of today as well as those of tomorrow. Rowbottom and Billis (1987) refer to this abstraction as systematic provision. The solution architect must be able to construct new, systemic resource assemblies towards ends as predefined in functional requirements.

In the abstract stage (9) (Commons et al., 1998), required at this level, the person must be able to construct hypothetical entities, simple theories and generalizations; think beyond the present moment and imagine possibilities; and make deductions from observable results (Fowler et al., 2004). This logic entails abstract thought and operations -- multiple views, permutations and careful comparison between pairs of items (Cook-Greuter, 2005) -- but there is usually no second-order reflection on thought itself (Fowler et al., 2004).

Up to this point, the problem space has been relatively well-structured: procedural, linear, deterministic and within a single domain. Beyond this level, problems become increasingly ill-structured: explorative, non-linear, probabilistic and crossing several domains.

Proactive System View

In proactive system view, work entails comprehensive provision (Rowbottom and Billis, 1987), where the means and ends of underlying work systems are adjusted to reshape profitability. The business architect must be able to translate high-level business requirements to conceptual functional requirements that specify the solutions

This work requires the cognitive logic of formal operational stage (10) (Commons et al., 1998): ability to construct systems, to analyze multi-dimensional problems and to be aware of contradictions and inconsistencies, alternatives and contingencies. Thought processes are systematic and reflective on thought itself. The person at this level shall appreciate inherent conceptual complexity; be capable of rigorous hypothesis testing, assessment and reorientation towards new goals; and logically justify worldviews. He or she is concerned about consequences and priorities and planful about actions. (Fowler et al., 2004; Cook-Greuter, 2005).

Co-Evolving System View

In co-evolving system view, the scope extends to a framework that specifies a general field of need (cf. Rowbottom and Billis, 1987). The entire unified complex system is objectified and seen from the outside. Likewise, the (lead) enterprise architect, operating at this level, must be able to holistically understand the enterprise system in its entirety within the larger context.

This view calls for systematic (11) logic (Commons et al., 1998): ability to understand phenomena in all their complexity, to coordinate several aspects of multiple abstractions simultaneously from different perspectives, and to recognize the relativity of all positions (Fowler et al., 2004). The logic aims at holistic understanding of things. The tendency to define system boundaries gives way to a more "open systems" approach. Paradoxes and contradictions are embraced, not explained away or resolved towards a closure around a preconceived system (Cook-Greuter, 2005).


  • Commons, M.L., Trudeau, E.J., Stein, S.A., Richards, F.A. and Krause, S.R. (1998). "The existence of developmental stages as shown by the hierarchical complexity of tasks". Developmental Review, 8(3), 237-278.
  • Cook-Greuter, S. (2005). "Ego Development: Nine Levels of Increasing Embrace".
  • Fowler, J.W., Streib, H. and Keller, B. (Eds.) (2004). Manual for Faith Development Research. 3rd edition.
  • Jaques, E. and Cason, K. (1994). Human Capability: A Study of Individual Potential and Its Application. Falls Church, VA: Cason Hall & Co Publishers Ltd.
  • Rowbottom, R. and Billis, D. (1987). Organisational Design: The Work-Levels Approach. Gower, Aldershot, UK.

1 Comment

Please disregard the mapping between system views (coinciding with requisite strata) and MHC stages. After having discussed this with several adult development professionals, I see the mapping to be plain wrong. For other parts, I deem the conjectures to be more valid.


Janne J. Korhonen provides insights into how information technology can be applied strategically to catalyze organizational change and responsiveness. Drawing from both theory and practice, he discusses agile enterprise and its governance.

Janne J. Korhonen

Janne J. Korhonen is an independent business and IT consultant,specializing in enterprise architecture, business process management,service-oriented architecture and pertinent governance models. He has over ten years of experience as an architect and consultant in a variety of extensive and mission-critical IT projects. With strong theoretical underpinnings, his consulting encompasses systemic co-development of business, organization and information technology.

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