'Capability' - the micro-trendy word on its way to failure unless...

Is it just me or is the word ‘capability’ becoming a micro-trendy word and losing its meaning? I personally liked it b/c I love ways in which to communicate at abstract levels however it is so overloaded these days that I now try to avoid it and find myself cringing when hearing it misused.


In the context of different enterprise architecture, domains like the Business Domain, Application Domain and Technology Domain and at different IT organizational levels like the Senior Execs, Middle Management and project teams the word 'Capability' means entirely different things causes heaps of confusion.


I suppose that the proliferation of the word indicates it has a bit of merit in the right context and it should be used. But at as a result, those who like to spout their knowledge based on no understanding of the subject often misunderstand it and more often than not use it inappropriately. This leads to utter frustration and the need to find another word leaving a bit of damage to the proper use of the word 'capability' that only time will heal. This situation looks awfully familiar doesn't it? I can think of many more words that have suffered the same fate such as Architecture, Strategy, Risk, Quality, Pattern, etc. as well as SOA and ESB over the last few years too.


In the Business Architecture Domain, 'Capability' refers to the highest-level business functionality encapsulating People, Process and Technology. ‘Capability’ also refers to the value or result of a Business Process sometimes refered to Business Process Capability. In the Technology Architecture Domain, the word 'Capability' often refers to the functions an IT asset provides - I think of these as features or feature sets of a technology. I heard a senior IT executive use the word 'Capability' to describe the existence of a single master the other day. Whoa! Hold on a minute! All of these uses of the word ‘Capability’ are correct but have totally different meanings and it is now cause the word to fail to communicate.

Sidebar: I had a chat with a Business Architect colleague of mine yesterday on the word 'Capability' and they found themselves describing a business process and not a business capability. We resolved that the litmus test for identifying a business capability and not a business process isn’t so much to work from the definition itself but rather to check that the object/entity that you have identified has people, process and potentially technology included. If so, then you have a business capability. If what you have found describes what people do, then it is a business process

One way around this is to add a prefix or qualifier to help ensure the integrity of the meaning of the word. This will help maintain the meaning of it and increase the longevity of the word.

We should instead talk about ‘Capability’ in conjunction with a domain or other qualifier like Business Capability, Technical Capability, Process Capability, Business Solution Capability, etc.