Monday, April 28, 2008

Tough crowd: architecting in a shadow of a challenged project

The human feelings is a decision making variable that software architects must consider when architecting or more importantly – when strategizing a software system. This is especially important in environments where users have technology based scars.

Situation: Users had (or still have) a bad experience with implementation, deployment, and support of an enterprise grade solution. The system was adopted by a large (7000 people) organization through a mandate – people use it on a daily basis because they are forced. This brute force approach has done a tremendous damage to users’ trust and any new IT investment will be severely challenged.

Potential solution

1. Recognize the pain your future users are feeling right now. Study the situation and learn their existing environment. Understand the challenges of that system – you may face them as well.

2. Clearly understand the business problem you will solve with a software solution. You must, absolutely must, get different perspectives on the problem from a full range of stakeholders – from executive owners to the solution end users. You must be convinced that this solution will solve a business problem.

3. Go an extra mile when documenting the quality attributes of the system to demonstrate through scenarios how your system will not have the frustrating elements of the existing system that scarred the users’ experience. Consider paying an extended attention to the usability quality attributes.

4. Architect your solution so that initial implementation steps can demonstrate progress early. Create a special view of the architecture (an abstract component connector view will work well) targeting your non-technical user base.

5. When possible consider using software you can configure (e.g. COTS packages) to show progress early and often.

6. Conduct demos to the right audiences: the user base influencers. Demonstrate through actions how your approach to architecting and implementing is different than the experience your users had. Especially pay attention to the pain points your users have suffered with another solution. Ask for feedback. No. Demand feedback.

7. Remember that even if you get the architecture “right” it may be implemented wrong. On project you must stay fully engaged in the implementation and monitor conformance with the architecture as if your reputation was on the line. Actually, your reputation is on the line.

In this type of a situation it may be appropriate for an architect to pay a lot of attention to the user touchable interfaces (i.e. UI) before immersing one’s attention on creating a solid skeleton of a system that captures conceptual integrity of the system.

Do you have an experience to share where human perception played a role in your architecture related thinking? Leave a comment.

Constantin K.
Firebrand Architect®

Thursday, April 24, 2008

How mature is the software architecture discipline?

In 1996 Professors David Garlan and Mary Shaw of the Carnegie Mellon University published an influential book: “Software Architecture – Perspectives on an Emerging Discipline”. In chapter 1 the authors discuss a model for the evolution of an engineering discipline. The diagram can be found here.


Before discussing the diagram let’s establish a few key concepts. With respect to maturity of engineering disciplines based on pure sciences (e.g. chemical engineering) the software engineering discipline and to a greater extent software architecture discipline is generally considered to be very immature. But why? The authors state that “engineering practice enables ordinary practitioners create sophisticated systems that work … reliably.” Has the software architecture reached this state?

It’s important to note that engineering discipline practitioners make the bulk of money by solving routine design problems. Routine design aims at “solving familiar problems” and designing solutions by using the knowledge base from previous projects and experiences (e.g. an e-commerce shopping cart site). Innovative design aims at solving original and unique problems, such as controlling an unmanned helicopter through a remote control center. It’s important to note that with software architecture discipline the bulk of the money is made solving routine problems by ordinary practitioners.

So how do engineering disciplines evolve?

The engineering disciplines evolve from ad hoc state in two steps. Initially, talented and passionate amateurs pioneer the discipline. They achieve their goals by all means necessary – usually irrationally using available resources. Later the routine production occurs. With time the need for advancement arises and supporting science for an engineering discipline emerges. The maturing science eventually turns into a “professional engineering practice,” where science will become the main driving force of a discipline.

What will it take for the software architecture discipline to become mature? This question will be addressed in the future post.

Other ideas to think about: if software architecture discipline is not based on hard science at its higher levels of abstraction, will it ever reach the same level of maturity as a civil engineering?

Constantin K.
Firebrand Architect™

Software Architecture is about people

At its core the software architecture discipline is about people and our obstacles are a figment of our imagination.

Constantin Kostenko.
Firebrand Architect®

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Microsoft’s Architecture Journal 15

The latest issue of the Microsoft’s Architecture Journal is bound to rekindle the topic of maturity and purpose of the software / enterprise / technical / infrastructure / data architecture discipline. The issue is fresh off the press. Microsoft is correctly anticipating the onslaught of responses by setting up a special discussion forum. As of writing of this post the forum is not yet active, but once it becomes active the phrase tra-ta-ta-ta-ta will take on a whole new meaning.

Constantin K.
Firebrand Architect™

Software Architecture Assessment

Assessment of software architecture is necessary to judge its utility and applicability to the goals a system aims to achieve. Every architecture design should be assessed by a non-partisan resource, but this practice has been adopted only at organizations with a very mature software engineering processes. There are no industry wide accepted methods for evaluating software architecture, but the Architecture Tradeoff Analysis Method (ATAM), developed by the SEI, is a well structured & rational approach for conducting architecture assessments.

Benefits of a structured tradeoff analysis method

The principal benefit of the Architecture Tradeoff Analysis is an ability to see if a proposed overall software structure will live up to the user expectations. The tradeoff analysis helps one understand the strengths and weaknesses of a system. The ATAM method not only helps evaluate the current system architecture, but also helps with the design of architecture for a new system. This methodology helps designers to ask the right questions and solve critical issues early on in the project. Additionally, selecting the right degree of quality for a specific system fully utilizes the money spent by the customer, as the money spent in any one particular area of the system will be justified.

The ATAM process helps developers discover tradeoffs and sensitivity points

The tradeoff points are defined as the dependencies between attributes. The sensitivity points are the areas of the system that will be significantly impacted if system architecture is changed. The tradeoff points are the breeding ground for the sensitivity points, because when architecture changes the connections between different attributes changes as well.

One of the more obvious tradeoffs is the relationship between performance and security quality. Often the security quality is achieved by compromising performance; this is not a surprising statement as it’s general knowledge that making something secure requires a special effort. Even outside of the architectural context, securing a door in a house requires a purchase and installation of a lock – and that’s only the initial costs. The effort required to lock and unlock the door each time it’s open/closed is an additional cost/effort element. In this out of context example performance of the door can be increased by not installing a door lock. With no lock there is little security, as anyone can open the door with no trouble. The tradeoff points in this example are the presence of lock(s) and the speed at which a door may be opened (perhaps for security reasons it can only be opened at 1 foot per hour).

Key sensitive points are like the gauges that must be monitored by an architect each time a change to a software system is considered on an architectural level.

Do you evaluate your software architecture?

At the end of the day a systemic architecture evaluation method is up to the architect to decide. What matters is that an architect has a way to judge whether architecture is the right fit for a business problem at hand. Other evaluation methods exist and serve various purposes: SAAM, ALMA, FAAM, CBAM. Some even use this assessment form.

Post a comment if you evaluate software architecture. How do you do it?

Constantin K.
Firebrand Architect™

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Boundaries between "Architecture", "Design", and "Implementation" formally defined

Insightful paper by Rick Kazman & Amnon Eden, presented at ICSE 2003, that defines the boundaries between "Architecture", "Design", and "Implementation" by formalizing the ‘Intension and the Locality criteria, which imply that the distinction between architecture, design, and implementation is qualitative and not merely quantitative.’

Basic understanding of formal notation (esp. Zed) is necessary for enriched reading experience.

Download the paper from or SEI.

Constantin K.
Firebrand Architect™

Friday, April 18, 2008

Microsoft's Architecture MVP Changes

In late February of 2008 Microsoft dissolved the Microsoft Architecture MVP award as part of realignment of the MVP program to be more product oriented. Dissolved is a wrong word … so read on. This came as a surprise to many award recipients - including myself – who lost a “nice to have” title. This development, however, had a very positive impact on the Architecture MVP community, because it forced the architects ask themselves some hard questions about their role in the community and the role Microsoft plays in the software architecture discipline.

This post features some highlights from the ferociously bubbling listserv.

At first there was confusion. Participants understood the reasoning behind moving towards a product oriented approach, but they couldn’t fathom the disappearance of the architecture competency. Then there was anger – well summarized by one of the participants: “I believe the shutdown of the MVP Architect program is just one more piece of evidence that … Microsoft does not appreciate the role of the architect in driving large buy decisions.”

Then a word of wisdom came from Simon Guest. In order for the MVP program to grow the structure has to change. MVPs will be aligned to a product, but will be able to select a discipline such as architecture. Simon then called for an open forum at the MVP summit in Redmond on April 15th.

Identity crisis started to emerge – some participants, including Martin Fowler, voiced their reserved opinions about the value of the MVP award. Valid questions arose – why do architects communicate so little with each other? What role do architects play in organizations? What do they do for Microsoft? The consensus was clear – although there is a clear need for robust architecture communities the MVP award infrastructure didn’t make individual architects feel part of a single unit.

Finally discussion merged onto taking proactive steps to define the scope and purpose of the group. Familiar questions arose: how do we define different types of architects? What are the definitions of architecture and architect? Should we just take some definitions from IASA? Microsoft has established a work space where the discussion of these various topics will commence.

There are no clear answers, but there are good questions – Microsoft is moving in the right direction albeit at its own pace.

Constantin K.
Firebrand Architect™

Blockchain learning path for Enterprise Software colleagues

I wrote this post to document my learning path of blockchain concepts and Ethereum technologies while keeping my “new to blockchain” collea...