Thursday, May 7, 2009

Principles - A prerequisite for effective design.

There’s a long running broadcasting history radio program on Sunday mornings on Radio Telefis Eirann (the national Irish broadcaster RTE) edited and introduced by John Bowman. The program comprises interesting clips from RTE’s extensive broadcasting archives.

A couple of weeks ago the first item was a piece on Frank Lloyd Wright, the well known American architect, triggered by the 50th anniversary of his death. The piece recalled several young Irishmen who in 1950, sailed to America to work with Lloyd Wright for a few months.

One of the men, Sean Kenny, recalled that they were rather pleased with themselves having completed a rather adventurous crossing of the Atlantic, and were somewhat taken aback when they first met Lloyd Wright.  Expecting to be put to work on architecture related tasks they were more than a little surprised to be given a pick and shovel and directed to work on the construction of one of Lloyd Wright’s designs. At the conclusion of their stay they recalled they didn’t come away with a deep insight into how to practice architecture. However they did learn a huge amount about the principles of using space in design to create solutions that worked for the user.

Kenny returned to Ireland and related how he set up as an architect. In the first two years he was very disappointed – prospective customers didn’t beat a path to his door, in fact during that period he obtained just one small engagement. Yet in later years Kenny became very well known as a stage and set designer for the Irish theatre. 

Once again I return to a common theme. Deep understanding of architectural principles is a prerequisite for effective design. The primary challenge of SOA is interpreting the business goals into architecture that uses relevant principles to deliver an appropriate and affordable level of agility, and then exerting governance over the delivery and ongoing maintenance to ensure the integrity is not compromised.

But Kenny’s story also suggests that “architecture” shouldn’t always be a discrete activity. Rather it is a way of thinking that will be applicable to many roles and actors in a wider process.

This month, in not unconnected pieces, I write about Agile methods and their relationship to SOA. I am reminded that everything we do is a series of compromises. The issue with Agile methods is that the required compromises often appear unacceptable in context with architectural principles. Yet there are many aspects of Agile methods that can deliver real value to an agile architecture. The key is determining the important business goals and then using architecture principles and patterns that can deliver appropriately. Merely cloaking your activities in “agile methods” is likely to create a suboptimal result. Like Sean Kenny, we all need to understand what represents good architectural outcomes, and then be prepared and indeed capable of picking up our metaphorical picks and shovels and delivering effective solutions.

Finally, regular readers will know that while most of the Journal material is produced by CBDI people, occasionally we publish guest articles. In future I would like to increase this balance of guest material and I would like to invite CBDI members to consider making a contribution to the CBDI Journal. I am interested particularly in members’ experiences that develop and extend the body of Service Architecture and Engineering (SAE) practice guidance. For example practical experiences in service classification, policy setting, governance criteria, use of the SAE meta model and profile etc. If you would like to make a contribution, please contact me to discuss.