Is your IT architecture going in the right direction?

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“Architects, if they are really to be comprehensive, must assume the enormous task of thinking in terms always disciplined to the scale of the total world pattern of needs, its resource flows, its recirculatory and regenerative processes.” – Buckminster Fuller, Ideas and Integrities: A Spontaneous Autobiographical Disclosure

There are lots of architectural principles that form the total world pattern of needs in IT including but not limited to:

  • Adaptability and flexibility
  • Availability
  • Business alignment & Benefits Management
  • Business continuity
  • Compliance
  • Component reusability and simplicity
  • Control of technical diversity (Service Depth and Lifecycle Control)
  • Cost Efficiency across the lifecycle
  • Deliverability
  • Differentiating for Advantage and Benefit
  • Encapsulation
  • Equitable and Flexibility in use (User Persona Sensitive)
  • Information security & privacy
  • Interoperability
  • Isolation
  • Low-coupling interfaces
  • Maintainability & Sustainability over Lifecycle
  • Managed Risk
  • Modularity
  • Operations Efficiency & Administration
  • Performance
  • Quality management
  • Resilience
  • Resources management
  • Safety
  • Scalability
  • Tolerance for error in use or administration
  • Usability and Adoption

Over a decade ago the University of Florida and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ran a multi-year study on large scale Collaborative Design Processes. One of the key findings was in the big-picture architecture visioning process, that a collaborative approach failed miserably. The model that worked was called “over-the-wall”. In the “over-the-wall” process, a single resource would work a design and then pass it “over-the-wall” for feedback, refinement and then back again. It could be done either serially or on parallel tracks (multiple architects) but working it simultaneously on the same vision was problematic. What the study conclusively proved was that the smallest teams, where the individual roles were the largest and most discrete always generated the best design. In short, 1 architect in control is better than 2 and way better than 3. That does not mean the design should not have feedback or collaborative input, it means that there should be one driver for each vision.

Bucky uses the terms “always disciplined to the scale of the total world pattern of needs, its resource flows, its recirculatory and regenerative processes”. In other words, the very biggest picture, with very complex interactions and numbers of interwoven attributes and variables that make sharing the birth of the vision virtually impossible.

One of the things about IT systems architecture is we rarely realize when it’s good only when it’s bad. We know it’s bad when we hear;

  • ”can’t make that change it’s too expensive”
  • “going to take too long”
  • “we don’t touch that, it’s too risky”
  • “Only Fred understands it, and he’s on sabbatical [ code word for stress leave ]”
  • “It’s down, and it’s staying down”

If you hear those words there is likely only two options.

  1. Your architect wasn’t up to the task at hand or
  2. You had multiple people driving the architecture vision at the same time.

So what kind of architect do you need to drive?

“The ideal architect should be a person of letters, a skillful draftsman, a mathematician, familiar with historical studies, a diligent student of philosophy, acquainted with music, not ignorant of medicine, learned in the responses of jurisconsults, familiar with astronomy and astronomical calculations.” – ― Vitruvius

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