Hitchhiker's Guide to Software Architecture and Everything Else - by Michael Stal

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Architecture Governance

I consider cross-cutting concerns such as error handling as one of the major challenges in any software development project. These cross-cutting issues should be subject to what I call architecture governance. 

  • We need to establish rules how to uniformly handle these issues throughout the project. Otherwise, every developer or architect will provide her/his own solution which significantly reduces symmetry and orthogonality.  I've seen many projects where error reporting was provided by some subsystems using return values while others used exceptions instead. Even in projects where exception handling had been common practice, developers introduced their own exception types for similar exceptions. Guess, how well such an architecture is balanced.
  • We need to define roles and persons in charge of supervising software development and enforcing the rules. In one project architects had created documents for all of these concerns. Unfortunately, developers didn't care about the documentation. Policy enforcement tools such as FxCop for .NET can provide help. Trust is good but control is better.

The best way to guarantee proper handling of these concerns is to provide guidelines from day 0. Architects are in charge to establish a strategic architecture document as well as the design guidelines and programming conventions in the beginning, not as an afterthought. All places where those rules are then violated within the project are subject to refactoring.

What are typical cross-cutting concerns in this context? Examples include:

  • Error Management
  • Security Checks (such as most cross-cutting non-functional qualities)
  • Naming Conventions
  • Mandatory Patterns

Why is that important? Because allowing everyone doing whatever she/he considers best, will lead to less expressiveness and readability, high accidental complexity, less developer usability, missing orthogonality and symmetry. With other words, it will have an negative impact on all architecture qualities.   

This is why Architecture Governance is essential!

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