Thursday, May 27, 2010

How Not to Create Artitecture

What should we do if we just want to create a SOA (same old architecture) rather than a TOA (totally outrageous artitecture)? Here are five things you should do if you want average rather than exceptional architectures (antipatterns for ineffective architecture if you like):
  1. Focus on what your employer wants you to do (your job) rather than what your client wants you to do (your work). How much time is the project team spending excessively networking obsessing over recording data that is not project related and of dubious use anyway or attending endless meetings which don't have a clear agenda or any useful outcome.
  2. Start committees instead of taking action. Like most things in life the best architectures don't come from committees but come from the focussed efforts of a small team of architects. Sometime that small team can be just one person (consider Tim Berners-Lee's world-wide web or Ray Ozzie's Lotus Notes). Committees (we call them Design Authorities in technical circles) may have their place when multiple stakeholders need to be bought together but don't confuse governance (i.e. controlling the steady-state) with design (i.e. initiating a change of state). Unfortunately there is safety in committees where there is no single person responsible for decisions and no one individual can be blamed when something goes wrong.
  3. Create a culture of blame and negative criticism where everyone has to watch their back. Many people on projects interact with others as though they are better than their peers or want to teach them a lesson. Others assign motivations and plots where there are none. Still others criticise anyone who is doing something differently from the norm. Mistakes happen and are usually the result of a series of unfortunate events rather than deliberate negligence or dishonesty. Learn from mistake and move on.
  4. Stop people from learning. Not allowing or fostering a learning culture is probably one of the gravest crimes that can be committed in the conceptual age. Learning does not just have to come from attending classroom based courses (or the dreaded “online training”) but should come from everything we do. Treat every type of interaction with a person (talking to them, reading their blog or whatever) as an opportunity to learn something new.
  5. Produce overly complex and outlandish work products. The problem with many delivery processes is that they can demand large numbers of work products that, when taken literally, will pull the team down into a never ending spiral of “document production” where every deliverable has to be signed off before progress can be made. Delivery processes and the work products they produce should be highly customised to the projects needs not the needs of stakeholders that demand huge volumes of written material which no one needs let alone reads.
Not having any/all of these is not a cast-iron guarantee you will succeed in building great systems based on innovative architectures but having them will certainly ensure you have architectures not artitectures.

How to Create Artitecture

Forgive me for pushing yesterdays entry a bit further but I really like the idea of creating architectures that come from more of a right-brained way of thinking. So how should artitects go about creating an artitecture?
  1. Thrash early. Thrashing is a term used to describe the creative brainstorming process that happens during a project. Seth Godin in his book “Linchpin – Are You Indispensable?” says that amateurs thrash late whereas as professional thrash early. Late thrashing introduces bugs which are better to identify early rather than later.
  2. Make mistakes and learn from them. Like Fred Brooks said: “plan to throw one away; you will anyhow”. Use prototypes to understand how new and technically challenging components work but treat these as throwaways not release 1.0!
  3. Deliver (ship) something. According to Steve Jobs “real artists ship”. Delivering something (anything) on time and within budget is one of the great challenges of software development. Time or money (or both) usually run out before anything is delivered. Here's a different way of looking at it though. Why not see the time/money constraint as a positive rather than a negative aspect of a project? So, if you have to produce something on time and within budget it's quite simple really. Just work until the time/money run out then deliver something.
  4. Read the rule-book, but then change it. For software development projects the “rule book” is usually the process that is meant to be followed. However it's important to recognise that there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to SDLC (software delivery lifecycles). SDLCs are good but don't follow them too slavishly. Be ready and prepared to customise them to your needs. A good SDLC will have this flexibility
  5. Seek forgiveness not permission. I got this from an ex-colleague. In many companies today you are overwhelmed by (often) petty rules of engagement. If you always follow the rules that are supposedly “needed” to get a piece of work done then you won't deliver. You'll have done your job (followed the rules) but won't have done the work that your client wants. Better is to not follow every rule and ask permission for doing something but to just do it and ask for forgiveness when the rules get broken (unless those rules are there to keep you out of prison of course).

Okay here's the real irony in the above. If you read and believe my point number two from yesterday (artitects don't follow the process in the manual, instead they write the manual) you won't be following any of the above; instead you'll be creating your own way of doing artitecture.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

On Being an Artitect

My mum, who just turned 85 this month, mispronounces the word architect. She says “artitect” where a “t” replaces the “ch”. I've tried to put her right on this a few times but I've just finished reading the book by Seth Godin called “Linchpin – Are You Indispensable?” and decided that actually she's probably been pronouncing the word right after all. I've decided that the key bit she's got right and I (and all of the rest of us haven't) is the “art” bit. Let me explain why.

The thrust of Seth's book is that to survive in today's world of work you have to bring a completely different approach to the way you do that work. In other words you have to be an artist. You have to create things that others can't or won't because they just do what they are told not what they think could be the right creative approach to building something that is radically new. Before I proceed much further with this thread I guess we need to define what we mean by artist in this context. I like this from Seth's book:

An artist is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity and boldness to challenge the status-quo. And an artist takes it personally.

As to what artists create:

Art isn't only a painting. Art is anything that is creative, passionate and personal.

I'd also add something like “and changes the world for the better” to that last statement otherwise I think that some fairly dodgy activities might pass for art as well (or maybe even that is my lizard brain kicking in, see below). 

Of course that's not to say that you shouldn't learn the basics of your craft whether you are a surgeon, a programmer or a barista in a coffee shop. Instead you should learn them but then forget them because after that they will hold you back. Picasso was a great “classical” artist. In other words he knew how to create art that would have looked perfectly respectable in traditional parts of the art galleries of the world where all the great masters work is displayed that follows the literal interpretation of the world. However once he had mastered that he threw the rule book out completely and started to create art that no one else had dared to do and changed the art-world forever.

So an artitect (rather than an architect) is someone who uses creativity, insight, breadth of vision and passion to create architectures (or even artitectures) that are new and different in someway that meet the challenges laid down for it, and then some.

Here are the five characteristics that I see a good artitect as having:
  1. Artitects are always creating new “mixes”. Some of the best IT architects I know tell me how they are creating new solutions to problems by pulling together software components and making them work together in interesting and new ways. Probably one of the greatest IT architects of all time – Tim Berners-Lee who invented the world-wide web – actually used a mix of three technologies and ideas that were already out there. Markup languages, the transmission control protocol (TCP) and hypertext. What Tim did was to put them together in quite literally a world-changing way.
  2. Artitects don't follow the process in the manual, instead they write the manual. If you find yourself climbing the steps that someone else has already carved out then guess what, you'll end up in the same place as everyone else, not somewhere that's new and exciting. 
  3. Artitects look at problems in a radically different way to everyone else. They try to find a completely different viewpoint that others won't have seen and to build a solution around that. I liken this to a great photograph that takes a view that others have seen a thousand times before and puts a completely different spin on it either by standing in a different place, using a different type of lens or getting creative in the photo-editing stage.
  4. Artitects are not afraid to make mistakes or to receive ridicule from their peers and colleagues. Instead they positively thrive on it. Today you will probably have tens or even hundreds of ideas for solutions to problems pop into your head and pop straight out again because internally you are rejecting them as not been the “right approach”. What if instead of allowing your lizard brain (that is the part of your brain that evolved first and kept you safe on the savanna when you could easily get eaten by a sabre-toothed tiger) to have its say you wrote those ideas down and actually tried out a few? Nine out of ten or 99 out of a 100 of them might fail causing some laughter from your peers but the one that doesn't could be great! Maybe even the next world-wide web?
  5. Artitects are always seeking out new ideas and new approaches from unlikely places. They don't just seek out inspiration from the usual places that their profession demands but go to places and look to meet people in completely different disciplines. For new ideas talk to “proper” artists, real architects or maybe even accountants!!!
Perhaps from now on we should all do a bit less architecture and a bit more artitecture?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Architecture vs. Design

Yes it's that old knotty problem again! Over at gapingvoid.com Hugh MacLeod is fond of using Venn diagrams to illustrate overlapping concerns so here's one that I recently used for addressing the eternal architecture versus design debate that was the source of much discussion at a recent Architecture Thinking class I was giving.
As I remember it the discussion went something like this:
  • Student: So what's the difference between architecture and design? It seems from what you're saying its just a matter of scale?
  • Me: Whilst its true to say that architecture addresses the major components of the system, rather than the detail, it's more than that. The architecture is the bridge between the "what" (that is the requirements) and the "how" (that is the design).
  • Student: Yeah but isn't that we usually call "high-level design".
  • Me: Not really. Grady Booch says: "All architecture is design but not all design is architecture". (I cheated and looked up this quote afterwards and found that Booch goes on to say "architecture represents the significant design decisions that shape a system, where significant is measured by cost of change."). In my experience high-level design is just the the view that allows the complete system to be represented on one page.
  • Student: I still don't see what the difference really is.
  • Me: Okay, here's the real difference for me (at this point I draw the above Venn on a flip-chart). As well as defining the structure of the system, architecture must also embrace the "what" and the "how" of that structure.  The "what" in this context is the requirements (functional and non-functional) and so architecture involves reasoning about and resolving these sometimes conflicting requirements. It's about addressing those architecturally significant requirements (the "what") that will drive (and constrain) the "how" (the design).
Now, if I was drawing this again (and maybe I'll do this next time) I would actually draw a third overlapping circle which I'd label the "why". This is where we'd capture the rationale for why we make the (architectural) decisions we do.

Thanks Hugh, this is a neat way of explaining the way things are!