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A Good Architect Is Like a Good Parent

Posted by Jason Bloomberg on Jul 24, 2014

Parenting is perhaps the most difficult job any of us is likely to have in our lifetimes, and we earnestly do our best as a rule. And yet, some parenting styles are clearly better than others.

The same is true of architecture. Even the best architects will admit that architecture is difficult, and even though we all try to do our best, in many cases architects are at the least ineffective, and at the worst, do more harm than good.

As it happens, there are some interesting parallels between parenting and architecting. Let’s start with the two most common bad parenting styles: too strict, and not strict enough.



The too strict parent lays down the rules. There are plenty of rules to go around, and breaking them leads to adverse consequences. Such parenting leads to resentment and rebellion from the children.

Unfortunately, most architecture falls into the overly strict category. Architecture review boards that give thumbs up or thumbs down on everybody’s work. Copious design documents that everybody is supposed to follow. Policies and procedures out the wazoo. A rigid sense of how everything is supposed to work.

The result? No flexibility. Excess costs. Increased risk of spectacular failure. And of course, resentment and rebellion from the masses.

However, the opposite type of parenting style is also quite poor: the “anything goes” parent with no rules. Sure, if you’re a teenager it sounds good to have such a “cool” parent – but with no guidelines, parents aren’t teaching their children the basics of living in society. The common result: antisocial or dangerous behaviors like drug use, promiscuity, etc.

The enterprise parallel to the anything goes parent isn’t anything goes architects – it’s no architects at all (even though some people may have the architect title). Without any guidance, the architecture grows organically into a rats’ nest of complexity. No rules leads to a big mess, as well as dangerous behaviors like insufficient attention to security, disaster recovery, etc.

The best parent, of course, is the happy medium. A parent who establishes clear but reasonable guidelines that don’t prevent the kids from living their lives as they like, but keep them out of serious trouble and help them establish behaviors that will make them successful adults.

Just so with the best architects. Focus on what’s really important to architect, like your security, disaster recovery, and regulatory compliance. Provide clear but reasonable guidelines for interoperability among various teams, projects, and software. Act as a mentor and evangelist for architecture, without limiting the flexibility that people need to do their jobs well. And by all means, don’t spend too much time on artifacts, documentation, rules, policies, procedures, and other “stuff.” Yes, you sometimes need these things – but good architects know that the very minimum “stuff” that will get the job done is all the stuff you need.

TAGS:

architecture, interoperability, Architect, Security Analytics


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