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

Friday, March 12, 2010

Over the Fence

It is surprising how many software architects still create their design, throw it over the fence, and then expect others to follow the divine strategies implicitely hidden behind the lines and diagrams.

This behavior also holds for different teams with key developers or subsystem architects that are ought to coordinate design activities, while in practice they are happily inhabiting their isolated islands.

I’ll never forget a telecommunications project where the architects had introduced excellent guidelines and a decent strategic design. However, I was called for an architecture review, because the implementation had turned out to be not quite decent, to say the least. When I searched for the root of all problems, it became clear very soon that no one in the project had really cared about any of the architecture guidelines. And even worse, the strictly layered architecture design had been seriously violated. For example, whenever the database schemas were evolved, the clients broke, although they were totally isolated from each other by a “firewall” of 3 layers. The key developer of the GUI told me in an interview, that he considered performance optimization as his primary directive so that it semed to be totally acceptable to directly access the database.

We can learn from these war stories that good communication is the (most) critical aspect in any project. Without good architecture enforcement, there is no good architecture. But how can architects  pragmatically ensure high quality as well as conformance with the architecture design? Management by walking around does the trick. You should frequently visit the different teams and make sure, they really understand the infinite wisdom and essence in your architecture design and architecture guidelines. This is the best way to get their buy-in and support. In addition, you ‘ll detect any architectural shift early. In particular, when developers add accidental complexity by introducing design pearls that are not motivated by requirements. I wholeheartedly believe, agility implicitely requires architects to work this way. But it is not the case that architects are inerrable, (although we’d really like to see the universe from this perspective). Sometimes, even clever wizards fail. As an architect I am definitely better off when developers show me where I was plain wrong. Believe me, this is much better than testers, reviewers or customers happily finger pointing to your design flaws. Thus, architecture enforcement is a bidirectional interaction between architects and implementation, with architects being the drivers.

As Lenin once said: trust is good but control is better. Think about this before throwing your design over the fence in the next project. Some things tend to backfire heavily.


  • "Ignored Architect, Ignored Architecture" as Klaus Marquardt put it.

    By Blogger allan kelly, at 4:46 PM  

  • There is a report from an excelent Architect at SEI, abou using aspect oriented programming to enforce architecture: http://www.sei.cmu.edu/reports/07tn019.pdf

    By Blogger yatalkintome?, at 4:01 PM  

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