Friday, August 31, 2012

Business Culture: Part 6, An Abstract Model of Culture

This is the sixth and last part in a series of blog posts on Business Culture.  This part incorporates the concepts discussed in earlier parts to define concepts and relationships used to model a culture or a cultural architecture.
In order to clarify the meanings of the concepts, I will present a series of conceptual model segments that build to an overall business culture conceptual model. I offer this model, not as a final solution, but as a useful basis for understanding culture and for further discussion.  This model should be helpful for considering approaches to development, adaptation or alignment of culture with business goals. It is not an architecture of culture, but rather it defines the elements that might be composed into patterns that represent a particular cultural architecture or composed to represent a business culture with or without awareness of architecture.
Figure 1, Collaboration activities
Figure 1, shows the basic elements of collaboration.  Participants fill roles to perform activities.  The participants provide capabilities that enable performance of the activities.  A capability is the ability to perform a particular kind of work that may include knowledge, skills, tools and resources.  A role may be associated with multiple activities, and each activity may require that the same participant have different capabilities.
Figure 2, Practices and related collaborations
Figure 2 extends the basic elements to identify business practices and recognize relationships with other collaborations.  Business practices are commonly occurring patterns of activities and participant roles.  These patterns enable the collaboration to quickly respond to a situation without a lot of analysis and discussion because they do what has worked before.  Where the situation is a bit different, a business practice may be used as the basis for tailoring the activities to the new situation.  Business practices may not be documented but are understood by the participants.  As circumstances change, old practices may be adapted or abandoned.  Business practices are “the way we do things.”
A role and thus the activities it performs in a collaboration may be filled by another collaboration.  This occurs when the primary collaboration requires skills or resources that it does not have, or the engaged collaboration manages shared resources for economies of scale.  Delegation to such a collaboration occurs in each activity of the same role.  Each activity defines the specific objectives/requirements to be achieved by the engaged collaboration.
Participants in the primary collaboration may also participate in other collaborations.  An engineer may participate in a design review or a professional society.  The interests of participants may be affected by values of other collaborations such as technical guidelines, ethical standards or ideals.  This can influence the participant’s performance in the primary collaboration.   
Figure 3, Participant Motivation
Figure 3 extends the model to consider motivation.  Participant interests are aspirations and concerns that may inspire the participant to take (or oppose) some action.  Participants have interests that provide motivation to engage in collaboration activities.  In order to engage a participant, some of the participant interests must align with goals, objectives or values of the collaboration.  In addition, the relevant interests of different participants must not be in conflict. 
For example, if representatives of multiple software companies come together to develop an industry standard, each of them has an interest in minimizing the adverse impact of the standard on their product(s).  The collaboration will only be successful if either they can reconcile their different interests in a consensus solution, or they individually recognize that they must participate to mitigate and plan for the consequences to their products in order to compete in an emerging market. 
The synergy of a collaboration may also be affected by the similarity of interests of individuals that go beyond their interests in the goals and incentives of the collaboration, and extend their relationships to a social context—personal relationships.  The social context may improve cooperation, but it may also increase resistance to change.  This reconciliation of interests is part of the formation and evolution of culture.
If a role is filled by another collaboration, the interests of that collaboration are reflected in its own goals and objectives (discussed later). 
Participants  may also have interests that are not relevant, or interests that conflict with the collaboration goals or activities.  A collaboration may include incentives that leverage relevant participant interests to enhance motivation.  Typically, the primary business incentive is financial compensation.  Without incentives, the participant may not be motivated to contribute, although some interests may be strong enough to provide motivation without incentives.
Motivation is a net effect of multiple interests and incentives. Incentives can offset the effects of conflicting interests.  For example, a participant may have an interest in family activities, but will forego some family activities if paid overtime or offered a bonus. 
Figure 4, Work products and values
Figure 4 extends the model with work products and values.  Some work products may be external inputs to the collaboration.  Many of the work products may be used internal to the collaboration as inputs to other activities.  Some of the work products become output products of the collaboration.
Values are properties of work products that affect the desirability of the work product or the activitiy that produces it.  The cost, timeliness and quality of a work product are included as values.  Values may also be negative, depending on the recipient’s perspective.  So the creation of pollution or toxic waste may be of concern to participants as well as to others outside the collaboration.  External incentives, such as laws and regulations, may be created to mitigate the environmental impact.  The collaboration may also have social or economic impacts that are of interest to participants and affect their motivation.  In some collaborations, these are the primary sources of motivation.
Consequently, values reinforce some motivations, and fulfill the intent of some incentives.  A value achieved may fulfill an incentive to become the basis for some benefit such as a bonus or recognition of achievement.  Of course some values may have negative effects on motivation and incentives.
Figure 5, Goals and Objectives
Figure 5 Adds Collaboration goals and objectives.  Goals are general aspirations for the effects of the collaboration over time.  Objectives are specific, measurable accomplishments.  Goals are the basis for the participants to form or join the collaboration.  Objectives are specific to particular undertakings and may be different for different undertakings, but not inconsistent with support for the goals.  Some objectives are internal to adapt or improve the collaboration capabilities.
For example, if the collaboration provides services, the goals would characterize the general purpose and capabilities of the collaboration.  Objectives would define the results to be provided in response to a particular service request.  Consequently, the objectives must be satisfied by values achieved in response to that particular service request.
Incentives are designed to promote the goals and objectives of the collaboration.  Consequently, some incentives may be designed for long-term effects, and others may be designed to affect more specific results of a series of actions by the collaboration.

Relationship to VDML

This culture model aligns with some elements of VDML (Value Delivery Modeling Language).   VDML is a modeling language (a metamodel) under development at OMG for representation of enterprise architecture and business design.  See Outside-In Business Architecture with VDML and earlier posts about VDML on this blog.  The core structure of a VDML model is a network of collaborations, roles and capabilities that contribute to the success of an enterprise.  The modeling elements include collaborations, roles, activities, capabilities, methods, deliverables, flows, values and resources to specify and support analysis of the operation of an enterprise.  Some of these concepts correspond to concepts in the culture model discussed above.  Concepts of the culture model could extend the VDML metamodel to represent the impact of culture and incentives, as well as personal interests, on the operation of an enterprise. 
A final version of the VDML specification is expected to be submitted to the OMG in November, 2012.


The culture model, above, aligns with the collaborations, the roles, the capabilities, the activities and the value delivery of VDML, including the intangibles of VNA (Value Network Analysis).  It adds objectives, individual interests, incentives and motivation that affect how well and efficiently the work gets done, as well as the feedback that leads to further refinement.  Thus we can see how culture fits into a business model and how it affects the delivery of value.
This model does not define a cultural architecture, nor does VDML define a business architecture, but the elements provide the basis for describing architectures.  An architecture can be expressed as particular patterns of elements and relationships between elements.  By analogy, houses are built, using generally available construction components.  Patterns of configuration and particular features of those elements express an architecture.
While the foregoing discussions and the culture model described above still require more work, I hope they can provide a basis for a better understanding of culture, additional discussion and development of a computer-based, culture modeling capability.


  1. ---Business practices are “the way we do things."---

    An uncommon definition I think, except that it appears in the book "Can Two Rights Make A Wrong?" and was widely discussed in the LinkedIn Group "Business Architecture Community", in the thread "Architecture of Business Culture" where you recently posted. Perhaps you should cite that book's author, Sara Moulton Reger.

    1. Skip, Not an uncommon phrase at all. I believe Tim Manning suggested it as a definition of business culture in the Architecture of Business Culture thread. I'm sure I have heard it numerous times in conversations with reference to what I would call business practices. You can also find it in the title of a 2003 blog by Marvin Bower in reference to his 1966 book at