The moment of the architect

A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct.
— Frank Herbert, Dune

Towards the end of the implementation phase of the software, the moment of truth for the architecture arrives. All weak parts of the architecture start showing themselves: the integrated components do not play together, NFRs are not satisfied, maintenance costs explode, tests are hard to execute and bring limited meaningful results and so on.

If you are unfortunate, this is the phase where you’ll experience the most pain as the architect of this software. It will perhaps be your mistakes that caused the problems, or maybe you warned the project team about these issues, but couldn’t get the management or the team to buy-in, so you had practically no effect on the results.

My advice: (1) see what you can salvage and help your project at this point and (2) don’t kick yourself, learn from the failures. Because this is not your moment as the architect.

The moment of the architect is when things are initiated. When you formulate the first key use cases, the first quality attribute scenarios (i.e. NFRs), when you lay out the baseline architecture, when you discuss the testing strategy… That’s your moment as the architect. Not only the technical things, but also building your team, building relationships with the stakeholders incl. product managers, suppliers, customers…

The problem is that in most SW projects there is a long delay between the moment of the architect and the moment of truth for the architecture. The feedback loop is simply too long. Agile methods help us (as architects) tremendously in shortening this loop, but doesn’t free us from needing to apply our skills of forecasting and deciding in uncertainty.

And all this becomes extra difficult when other stakeholders in the project need convincing about your forecasts. For instance, when a project manager digs deeper on your assessment, he’ll come across your gut feeling as the underlying reason. Sometimes you can find some good reasons for your forecast, but sometimes they are hard to express, as they are just gut feelings. There, skills of persuasion and established trust will play a major role.

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