On Being an Effective Architect

In a previous blog entry I talked about the key skills architects needed to develop to perform their craft which I termed the essence of being an architect. Developing this theme slightly I also think there is a process that architects need to follow if they are to be effective. Stripped down to its bare essentials this process is as shown below.

This is not meant to be a process in the strict SDLC sense of the word but more of a meta-process that applies across any SDLC. Here’s what each of the steps means and some of the artefacts that would typically be created in each step (shown in italics).

  • Envision – Above all else the architect needs to define and maintain the vision of what the system is to be. This can be in the form of one or more, free-format Architecture Overview diagrams and would certainly include having an overall System Context that defined the boundary around the system under development (SUD). The vision would also include capturing the key Architectural Decisions that have shaped the system to be the way it is and also refer to some of the key Architecture Principles that are being followed.
  • Realise -As well as having a vision of how the system will be the architect must know how to realise her vision otherwise the architecture will remain as mere paper or bits and bytes stored in a modeling tool. Realisation is about making choices of which technology will be used to implement the system. Choices considered may be captured as Architectural Decisions and issues or risks associated with making such decisions captured in a RAID Log (Risks-Assumptions-Issues-Dependencies). Technical Prototypes may also be built to prove some of the technologies being selected.
  • Influence -Above all else architects need to be able to exert the required influence to carry through their vision and the realisation of that vision. Some people would refer to this as governance however for me influence is a more subtle, background task that, if done well, is almost unnoticed but nonetheless has the desired effect. Influencing is about having and following a Stakeholder Management Plan and communicating your architecture frequently to your key stakeholders.

Each of these steps are performed many times, or even continuously, on a project. Influencing means listening as well and this may lead to changes in your vision thus starting the whole cycle again.

Adopting this approach is not guaranteed to give you perfect systems as their are lots of other factors, as well as people, that come into play during a typical project. What it will do is give you a framework that allows you to bring some level of rigor to the way you develop your architectures and work with stakeholders on a project.

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