Architecture Solutions Without Problems

This blog discusses the impact of having solutions documented with no architecture behind it.

Deep thought, a super computer in Douglas Adam’s Hitchhikers Guide To the Galaxy was commissioned to find the ultimate answer to life the universe and everything, and after 7.5 million years managed to do so – the answer being 42. The mice were not impressed; deep thought pointed out that the real problem was that they cannot understand an answer when they didn’t really know what the question was. So they had to build a bigger computer (The Earth). There’s a little bit more about that at the video at the bottom.

In terms of time, that was a fairly costly mistake, and one that I see sometimes repeated in architecture design – it is directly relevant. Some people create Architecture Solutions, but its only really a solution if we can clearly identify what the problem is.

The Earth Mk 2.

Solution Needs

I’ve said it before – A solution needs to Identify stakeholders and ensure their goals and requirements are captured; along with their rationales. There is a need to show in design how the needs of all the stakeholders are met. If that’s not happening methodologically there’s a real risk something will be missed.

For a solution to have properly captured requirements, you need to know where the requirement came from, where it went to, what the requirement was and why it was. You then need to show how its been either realized in the design, or in some cases why it has not been included in a design. If you fail to answer any of those questions you will potentially force someone to have to spend hours tracking down the information later.

If I come into a project which only has a solution document it presents huge problems to myself as an EA – because I can have no confidence that the architects have full control of a situation. I cannot understand a full solution without potentially spending 100’s of meeting hours, in an attempt to build or understand a basic design. That’s effectively trying cover the work of dozens of architects and it really isn’t practical. That’s not really my job so more often or not it ends up in pushing back towards the project.

Some technical specialists with experience will naturally do a fairly good job at planning and implementing a design and just focusing on creating a solution document. They have seen the common challenges and know how to guide projects. Because these guys can seemingly pull solutions out of the air, its easy for people to mistake a technical specialist for a solutions architect. In organisations with poorly defined competency programs I have even seen the roles of tech specialist and architect confused.

The problem is that in this case you are leveraging the expertise of the individual in a way that doesn’t scale very well. It means you need very highly competent and expensive technical specialists. If you are doing this in a large organization the ability to quickly adapt and change as well as the ability to scale is compromised severely – because your architects lack the vocabulary and disciplines needed to talk with each other and properly manage requirements that come from different directions.

Its really painful to become the architecture lead of a project with 20+ architects only to discover that none of them are creating architectures, they are just writing solution descriptions based on discussions. Its hard to lead a team of architects when you don’t have the same vocabulary and in such circumstances is difficult to achieve tangible results. Its also hard to explain to management why architecture is not providing the benefits it should when you have so many architects on paper.

Do you have control?

At this point if you have architect in your job title and you work in a large organization, I would ask these questions:

  • How well do i understand all the developments going on in projects that impact your work?
  • How well do you know which standards your designs my comply to?
  • How compliant is your architecture to the needs of all its stakeholders?
  • Does your architecture design not only show what you need to implement, but how it should be implemented, and how it should be operated by who?

I have met architects whom despite being very competent, smart people, would feel a bit uncomfortable answering all those questions, even if they are routinely building architecture “solutions”. They are still excellent resources with a particular set of skills that provide value; and still have an important part to play in the role of architecture design, but they are not always architects.

Understanding the risk

If your solution doesn’t fully and clearly identify requirements in a way that’s easy to consume and is collected together in a single place, then I would challenge it. Risks are things that may impact your ability to meet your requirements. if you haven’t identified all your requirements clearly, then you have no way of properly understanding or managing risk.

You also have no way of ensuring your test and acceptance criteria are really fit for purpose, and may risk scope creep.

If you have architecture solutions without architecture design I would log at least one risk – that the architecture design may contain un-managed levels of risk and not be fit for purpose.

The Solution

Now I have scoped some of the problems I will point out the obvious solutions – We have to do proper architecture design including requirements and risk analysis preferably following some kind of standard for description such as ISO 42010.

We need to ensure that architects are trained to do architecture, and expected to deliver architecture artifacts. If working in a line organization, for managers who do not understand the architecture roles, I would suggest they should also report to a lead architect. Those resources should be allocated time to do architecture properly, and the lead architect should directly contribute into their goals and job assessments. Failing to do this can denigrate the effectiveness of architecture. I can personally attest to how frustrating that can be.

And for Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy Fans

Now I have finished talking about architecture, Here’s a clip from the TV series where the mice are given the answer to the ultimate question. You will hopefully see the comparison between this, and providing a solution without a design.