Architecture versus design

Been re-reading Len Fehskens’ presentation “Re-thinking architecture” [may require login] at the last TOGAF enterprise architecture practitioners conference in Munich. His intro [public] indicates at last a fundamental shift in thinking about enterprise architecture, away from the inane IT-centric world towards a real architecture of the enterprise:

Most thinking about IT architecture as a discipline has been shaped by the ideas of the software architecture community, which in turn grew out of the software engineering and structured programming initiatives of the late ’60s and early ’70s.  Increasingly, though, IT architecture is less about programs and more about solutions and enterprises, of which software is only a part.  Does this shift in the focus of IT architecture require a corresponding shift in the way we think about architecture?  Many practicing solution and enterprise architects believe it does, and this session will re-examine the role of architecture from this perspective.

Gratifyingly, or perhaps worryingly, there were several slides which were all but identical in mood, if not content, to my own presentations at TOGAF Paris, eighteen months ago (“Unpacking TOGAF’s Phase B: business transformation, business architecture and business buy-in” – just discovered it’s not up on the Tetradian site, an oversight which I must remedy Real Soon Now 🙂 ) and at TOGAF Glasgow earlier this year (“Enterprise architecture and the service oriented enterprise” [PDF] – and that one is up on the Tetradian site!). He even included one slide which used exactly the same New Yorker cover to illustrate the limitations of an IT-centric perspective.

(Likewise Business Architecture lead Dave van Gelder’s intro to the session, and Open Group Fellow Walter Stahlecker’s presentation “The quest to apply architecture holistically” (summary and PDF [may require login]) often seemed to be echoing what I’d presented at those conferences and discussed with them in person: “…the implications of addressing architecture of an entire enterprise … possible adaptations of TOGAF for use with the whole enterprise…” and so on, with again some of the text and diagrams that could easily be said to be drawn from my previous presentations. Gratifying in one sense, yes, and all of them nice guys, earnest and honest and genuinely committed to what they do; yet it’s still a trifle galling that I didn’t get any acknowledgement for it at all. A passing reference to “builds on work by … the TOGAF Business Architecture Working Group”, perhaps, but that was it – a ‘working group’ which they’d offically excluded me from last year, and asked me to join this year, but then in effect asked me to pay them several thousand pounds to be ‘allowed’ to correct the disastrous mistakes in TOGAF’s design, and hadn’t bothered to contact me since. So yeah, I will admit I’m more than a bit miffed about it all: be nice to get some acknowledgement for all the work I’ve done, and even – though I’ll accept I ain’t holdin’ my breath for this – ‘twould be nice to actually be paid for some of it too… 🙁 Hey ho…)

But there was one slide in Len Fehskens’ presentation, ‘Architecture vs Design’, which to me was new, and which gives a very useful tabular comparison of the differences between architecture and solution-design. A handful of examples:

  • Architecture: about the entire entity in its environmental context; Design: about components and subsystems of the entity
  • Architecture: a different architecture implies a different mission; Design: different designs may address the same mission
  • Architecture: defines a class of acceptable solutions; Design: defines a single specific solution
  • Architecture: role of the architect is mostly to make correct inferences; Design: role of the designer is mostly to make correct decisions

The last item triggered a fair bit of discussion: Len was trying to show that architecture and design are fundamentally different, but wasn’t quite getting his point over – especially to some of the non-English speakers, for whom ‘inference’ and ‘decision’ seemed essentially to be the same. It was only later that I realised that the critical difference there is around a linkage between two other themes that Len had mentioned, about ‘values’ versus ‘business-value’, and architecture as ‘upstream’ requirements versus design as implementation of ‘downstream’ requirement. So here’s my suggested addition to that list:

  • Architecture: explores the values of the business to derive its structure and logic; Design: uses the structure and logic of the business to derive business-value

Design operates within a logic; architecture creates that logic. By definition, logic cannot assess the validity of its own premises; it needs an alogical process outside of itself to do so, and that’s the real service (or one of the key services, at least) that architecture provides. To many people in business, and perhaps even more in IT, architecture often seems vague and blurry and indefinite – but that’s what an alogical assessment of values will need, from which to derive the business logic which the designers can use.

Something to think about, anyway.

And yeah, for the reference to the Open Group folks in general: please note that you did see it here first? Oh well… the joys of the Outsider again, I guess…

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2 comments on “Architecture versus design
  1. Paul Preiss says:

    Tom, great post. Tim Westbrock from EA Directions and I had a conversation in a similar vein relating to IASA work on architecture professionalization and skills development IASA is doing. Len and I have discussed this a bit as well.

    There is one very real issue with this approach to architecture and it relates more to the profession than any question that there is actual business value here. The issue is that architecture is a profession and not a set of deliverables. That implies a great deal and comes with some specific baggage. A profession is defined partly by a body of practice and partly by a body of knowledge but fundamentally it is a large group of people who recognize each other as similar. In addition it is an inclusive entity where individuals (even of different specializations) offer a similar value proposition (what I call the common differentiator). Surgeons and orthopedic specialists do radically different things on a daily basis yet fundamentally they have the same value proposition to society.

    We should setup a time to discuss your views with the IASA working group on architecture skills, roles and specializations. We welcome individual contributors and definitely won’t be asking you to pay. 🙂 In addition would like to setup another time for us to talk.

    Now back to the point. There are indeed models that have come out of architecture that are valuable to the entire enterprise much as there were models of the enterprise that came out of finance. The difference is these models were then adopted to the basic business curriculum of an advanced business professional (an MBA). Similar situations exist for operations, marketing, sales, etc. But the point is, as useful models come from a set of professionals to the majority of business people, they do not modify the basis for the original profession. I believe that what you are describing is leading to this situation. It leaves off architecture and enters into pure MBA territory.

    For architecture to remain relevant, or more appropriately to grow in recognition and capability, our professional basis must UNIFY software, business, infrastructure and information architects. The active term must become architecture and NOT what someone puts in front of it.

    Think of it this way. As the CEO of a company I may ask you the question, “Tom, why should I hire architects?” Notice I didnt ask why enterprise or software architects but architects in general. We soar or sink as a group.

    Paul Preiss, IASA

  2. Tom G says:

    Hi Paul

    Many thanks for this! 🙂

    There’s a short(ish?) answer to that last question, which I’ll put here, and a longer one, which I’ll attempt to put into a separate email (or post, perhaps).

    The short answer comes in essence from my extension to Len’s list: that architects work from the values to the logic, whilst designers go from the logic to business-value. In that sense architects of almost any stripe are closer to (in fact are) strategists than to the MBA-wielding types, who in most cases I’d place at best in the finance equivalent of the IT-architect bracket – i.e. a business-designer rather than business architect, a context-specific specialist rather than a true cross-disciplinary generalist.

    That means that the architects act as the custodians of a body of knowledge that describes what the enterprise is, _why_ it is what it is, what kinds of structures are thought / felt / whatever to best fit those needs at the present time and into the future, and how things go together to make that happen.

    So a slightly glib one-line answer to the CEO, perhaps, would be “Because we remember your future.” 🙂

    And in a far less glib manner, Len Fehskens has a lot of very good and very sensible things to say about the professionalisation of architecture – follow that link to his ‘Rethinking Architecture’ PDF whilst it’s still accessible, it’s well worth reading.

    More later, anyways – and thanks again
    – tom g.

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