Enterprise Architecture principles are arguably the most commonly created EA artifacts across EA teams. Unfortunately, principles also seem to be one of the least helpful artifacts EAs produce. What! Principles don’t add value? Unfortunately not in most cases.

In the first place most principles are not really “principles” at all. Instead they are mostly good intentions. In the world at large, principles are rules we live by. They are the things we believe strongly in and adhere too unless there are extreme extenuating circumstances. For example, engineering principles are generally based on laws of nature so they are very rarely broken. Personal principles are based in moral beliefs and are broken occasionally but only under duress (or too much alcohol). But EA principles are different. A principle of “buy before build” doesn’t really mean we will always choose to buy solutions when they are available. The “buy before build” principle really means that we will consider buying an available solution before we jump to coding. The problem this creates is that our clients see us declare principles that we don’t adhere to. They (correctly) come to the conclusion that we don’t really mean what we say.

The second issue with principles is that they are passive. A principle sits there until something comes along to test it. Strategies are more active. They drive action all on their own. They tell people what to do. Strategies also provide some wiggle room so veering off the strategic track a little isn’t as egregious as breaking a principle. Strategies are also easier to connect to goals and objectives and are much better understood by the business than are principles. And that “buy before build” principle? Isn’t it really a strategy? Many EA teams I work with have a hard time defining their strategies because they have couched them as principles so they have a difficult time articulating meaningful strategies.

My advice? Build strategies, not principles.