Responsible Software Architecture

SoftwareArchitectures.com is propelling the concept of responsible software architecture. This concept is based on philosophy that every decision made by a software architect must be conscious and must be supported by a judicious decision making process that clearly demonstrates why the chosen design alternative was selected out of a range of other possibilities.
Every decision made by a software architect is made in some context at some snapshot of time. The context is defined through architect’s understanding of personal capabilities, requirements, constraints, financial resources, time, capability of the team, etc. The context changes over time, so it’s imperative to document the background against which a decision was made. When someone questions a design decision or suggests a better solution an architect must provide a scientific justification of his or her decision – without it architect’s credibility and the credibility of the solution may be compromised.
The concept of responsible software architecture is very powerful, but few architects live by it. Think about two or three most recent software architecture design documents that you reviewed. How many documents clearly explain the way key architectural decisions meet business drivers and why selected architectural approach is better than listed alternatives? Not every decision needs to be documented with an elaborative set of alternatives, but all key decisions need to be explained. Key decisions are architecturally significant choices that if changed have a profound impact on multiple quality attributes of a system.
A responsible software architect must sincerely believe that a business problem, and not technology, drives the solution. Technology may be the core vehicle for delivering the solution, but it’s not the driver – this is a paramount concept. Because technology is not the driver a responsible architect must be able to initially reason about a solution without technology specific terminology. The point here is that selection of a technology (platform, development tools, COTS software, etc.) is an architecturally significant decision that constraints the solution. An architect must be able to provide a judicious explanation as to why selected technology was chosen. Once that decision was made it’s only natural to think within the context of selected technology.
Some software architects have too much vested interest in a given technology so they only design solutions with that framework in mind. This clearly limits the range of solution alternatives, but it’s not as limiting as reusing the same architectural approach from project to project without justifying the reason for doing so. For example an architect who designed web based applications using MVC architectural style for the past four years may be inclined to use it on the next project even if a Front Controller style or an AJAX based pattern may be more appropriate. Similarly if an architect is used to a working with a process intense SDLC he or she may push for it without realizing that a new project requires agile JAD/RAD approach due to its research and development nature. The latter examples demonstrate the proverb: “When all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail.” For an architect to be responsible he or she must question their decisions and make sure that appropriate audience is able to understand the reasoning behind the decisions.
SoftwareArchitectures.com is currently establishing a Center for Responsible Software Architecture. Join the discussion on responsible software architecture in a specially created forum. Each post will earn you a chance to win Evaluating Software Architectures: Methods and Case Studies book (through October 15 2007). Registration required to view and post.

Firebrand on duty: Constantin K.
www.SoftwareArchitectures.com

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