Sunday, April 24, 2005

Canned Architecture

Several things in the Agile world has always bothered me. The one I'd like to point out today is the concept known as BDUF. The summary of BDUF is:
"The term BigDesignUpFront is commonly used to describe methods of software development where a "big" design is created before coding and testing takes place. Several ExtremeProgramming (XP) advocates have said that such "big" designs are not necessary, and that most design should occur throughout the development process."

Over the years I've noticed that the closer one is to the code, the less they tend to distinguish between architecture and design. "Code Intensive" people tend to be bottom up guys - they start with code, refactor to a new design - rewrite, refactor, repeat. Call me old fashioned, but I firmly believe in the use of enterprise reference models, template architectures, application blocks, architecture & design patterns and candidate architectures. This clearly puts me in the bucket of "Big Architecture Up Front" - and I'm proud of it.

In the last 8 years at MomentumSI, I've had the chance to see hundreds of projects across our clients. And the one thing that has always amazed me is the reusability of architecture and design elements. Sure, the platforms change - new elements are added - the functional domain is different, but for the most part the basic architecture and design is usually about 80% reusable.

To clarify my position, I'm really a "Canned Architecture Up Front" kind-of-guy. In working with architects, I've noticed an interesting behavioral pattern. Application architects realize that when their architecture is "finished" they're probably going to have to do "design work" or God help them, "coding". For this reason, they tend to re-invent architectures and make them drag on for long periods of time. This is bad.

We are in interesting times. I'm predicting that the "Big Custom Architecture Each Time" guys are going to find themselves in a pinch. Microsoft (and others) are moving us into a world of "drag & drop architecture".

Microsoft's decision to embrace an Architecture Description Language (SDM - the Systems Definition Model) has the potential to overhaul the profession. SDM will likely spark a renewed interest in creating digital descriptions of our architecture, leading to an ADL competition and overall advancement of the discipline.

Digitized architecture also has a greater potential for enabling architectural refactoring, automated vendor sourcing, self-reflecting documentation and automated environment provisioning. But the thing that gets me excited is significant reduction of 'architecture time' by using enterprise-grade, off-the-shelf, canned, distributed architectures.

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