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

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Architecture Governance

In a large project a product line is developed that supports multiple smart phones. The platform development team puts all code in its super magical configuration management system. Whenever one of the phone teams starts with a product development, it extracts the platform code from the CM system, and adapts it to its own needs. With other words, even the core assets (i.e., the platform itself) are modified. Of course, the platform team is not aware of all these activities. C'est la vie.

This is an example for reuse, albeit one which rather serves as a war story. How come? Imagine, the next version of the mobile platform is going to be developed. How can the domain engineers ever evolve a system that was modified by various product development groups in different ways? The product line has been literally transformed in a bunch of one-off applications by unsystematic reuse. One approach to prevent such architectural war stories is what we call Architecture Governance.

Architecture Governance is a systematic approach for managing architectures and controlling all modifications in order to ensure quality and sustainability. This holds for all modifications, those for developing the system and those for evolving it.

But who is in control? On one hand, there should be an architecture control board in charge of the technical architecture, and on the other hand, another control board should be in charge of the business and business strategy - Luke Hohmann once coined the terms "tarchitecture" and "marchitecture" in this context.

It s important to think about governance in general. Architecture governance is no island. It must be balanced with IT Governance, SOA Governance, and other classes of governance. Governance is about preferring control and monitoring over trust.

WTF does "control" mean? In the product line example, it means we need to introduce an owner of the platform. And we need someone responsible for business & strategy. Only these two "persons" are allowed to decide about modifications of the platform in terms of business and architectural sustainability. Of course, the business control board is supervising the architecture control board. Eventually, it is the business that drives the development.

For architecture control, guiding principles should provide policies for modification and evolution. Obviously, the internal and external quality of the system as well as its expected behavior must never be compromised. That's why we need tools to check and enforce policies, tools to assess the architecture, and test suites to obtain respective information. This is where monitoring comes in. By the way, "tools" in this context also include reviews. And mind the gardening activities! How can a system be systematically prepared for modification. This is where reengineering and in particular refactoring become important.

But there are even more details to bother about:

We need to address legal and regulatory issues. Any change must not violate such standards. Think of safety features for medical products as an example.

It is important to care about quality of service. Assume, a modification leads to a breakdown of KPIs or SLAs.

Don't ignore or neglect quality attributes in general. Does a modification influence sensitivity or tradeoff points? Will it introduce new risks?

An issue might also be patent scanning. Is there any new code introduced such as an Open Source Software that violates intellectual property rights?

But it is not only about tools. It is also about a governance process as well as assignment of responsibilities to roles and persons. For example: Who is allowed to change, configure, update, or add what and when. What measures are necessary in order to guarantee quality and sustainability. How does information flow between the different actors. What happens in the case of policy violations.

Note: This does not only hold for product lines but also for one-off applications. Unsystematic modification almost always leads to potential problems, because of unwanted side affects, accidental complexity, and lack of transparency.

What does this imply for the design of new architectures? It is the same issue: we need a business owner, an architecture owner, a design and implementation strategy, test-driven development, refactoring, and so forth. I happen to have introduced all these topics already in my blog :-) Modifying and evolving a system is only a special case of designing it.

By the way: An agile development process supports architecture governance in that its iterative incremental approach already introduces control and monitoring points.

In practice, there are many ways to deal architecturally with architecture governance. I cannot describe all of them for the sake of brevity. But let me give you some examples:

Using the Layers patterns in a strict sense helps to protect subsystems. Think about Safety segregation.

Clean Coding represents a good way to make control and monitoring easier.

Well documented software architectures are easier to modify and control.

There are many architectural means to foster governance.

Keep in mind that architecture governance is not about controlling architects or developers. Instead, governance helps architects and developers to keep in control. It requires additional efforts but its RoI is very high. Ignoring governance leads to project failure, overcomplex systems, buggy implementations, and design erosion. And eventually to dissatisfied customers and users (and dissatisfied architects and developers). Don't let the software govern you. Govern the software!


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  • Thanks for sharing such an informative article. It's interesting to know about Architecture Governance and why is it important? This article is helpful for people involved in IT Architecture. The best part I have learned here is that, "governance helps architects and developers to keep in control." Keep sharing such knowledgeable posts!

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