Sometimes, when a buzzword catches on, the meaning of that word gets lost.  Too many people use the word in too many ways, and after a while, when you hear the word, you really don’t know what it means.  This has happened to the word “capabilities” in EA practice.

I live in the trenches.  I work with Enterprise Architects from multiple different companies on a regular basis.  One thing I’ve noticed is that there really is no single definition for the word “capability.”

  • Do people have capabilities?  If I can write great Java code, do I have a Java coding capability (or, up a level, Object Oriented programming capability)?
  • Do technologies have capabilities?  If I have an identity provider like OKTA or Active Directory, does this technology have the “manage geo-distributed user identity record” capability?
  • Do computing systems have capabilities?  If I have a CRM platform, does it have the “track sales opportunities” capability?
  • Do enterprises have capabilities?  Does the company I work for have the capability to “offer product via online marketplace?”

I hope this helps illustrate the problem.  If I want to have a discussion with my business stakeholders about how to know if their enterprise architecture is fit for purpose, I want to have a method for describing how I would illustrate the gaps or deficiencies in the organization’s architecture.  I want the word “capability” to mean something.

In the EBMM, I suggested different terms for these concepts, so that the term Capability has one meaning.

  • People have skills.  Job positions require skills.
  • Technologies and Systems have features.
  • Enterprises have Capabilities.

So let’s say someone comes to you and shows you a list of things.  At the top of the list is the word “capabilities.”  How can you tell which one of the items are actually a capability?

Not always simple.  Making this differentiation is more art than science.

My rule of thumb is this: can I describe the people (organizational needs), process (workflow needs), tools (feature needs), and information (data needs) that would be driven by that capability?  If I cannot, I probably don’t have a capability.