Random Acts of Architecture

Tales of an architect trying to bring order to the chaos that is modern information technology.

The best and worst thing about being an architect

pros-cons[1]

Many things about IT architecture simultaneously attract and repulse people. Architects are technical decision makers but often leave the implementation to others. They translate between the business and technical, taking an economic view of IT.

Fortunately and unfortunately, architects are not managers. While this frees them from budgets, staffing and directly managing people; it also means every decision they make is really a decision making aide for other managers. Architects are all responsibility but no authority.

Architectural authority is only granted through the authority of the management responsible. While managers can perform an architecture function, often in smaller teams, architects are usually senior individual contributor roles. Teams implement an architect’s designs because the manager says so.

Acting through managers’ authority also means architects must influence to ensure their architectures are adhered to. While some architecture teams take a more dictatorial approach, most architecture teams ensure their designs have clear benefits for all stakeholders and contributors. If a team sees no value to them from following the architects’ directions, they can often ignore it.

Even governance – ensuring other’s designs are complete, follow the broader architectural vision and are implemented as specified – works via influence. A lower level manager may baulk at his or her team doing significant work that does not benefit their team but there are often constraints or impacts outside their team. Higher level management must step in to ensure teams meet broader business goals, not just their own.

Like managers, architects engage with multiple teams and senior management. They need to communicate at different levels with different strategies (like management), switch frequently (like management) and are ultimately judged by outcomes (like management).

This means the architect depends on others to ultimately implement the systems involved. Like managers, architects need to tailor their output to their teams. An architect can delegate much of the lower-level details to a capable team familiar with the problem may need only high-level direction. An inexperienced team working on an unfamiliar problem may need a lot more help. An architect’s failure can doom the project.

Like management, architects handle ambiguity and conflicting requirements. These require a mix of technical, business and political knowledge to navigate but also allow the architect (or manager) to demonstrate his or her experience and value. Architects, like managers, should be looking at the bigger picture, considering the economic impact and giving non-technical solutions their due.

Of course, there are many things managers need to consider that architects do not. For example, architects can rarely delegate. Architects are individual contributors tasked with ensuring minor, often technical details do not compromise strategic goals.

Unlike management, architects need to evangelize their work and value more than management because they lack management’s built-in responsibilities. They may be the driving force behind a project but the success may be attributed elsewhere.

However, the overlap between management and architecture is larger than many realise. This overlap is why architecture is a senior role. When an architect sneezes, their areas of responsibility catch a cold. Architects are not managers but they players in the same game. They do a lot of managing anyway, whether that be up or down.

Image from https://smallbiztrends.com/2011/12/pros-cons-buying-franchise.html. Used under Creative Commons license.

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