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U.S. Government: A Model for a Software Architecture Group

Surprisingly, constitutional government provides an effective model for creating and sustaining a software architecture organization.

constitution that defines a core set of principles. Three separate but equal branches of government. An executive branch which sets direction. A legislative branch which creates laws through a rigorous process. A judicial system to enforce these laws. This all sounds familiar when discussing the constitutional government of the United States. Does this really apply to an effective architecture organization?

Remarkably, the answer is yes.

Architecture principles are the equivalent of the constitution. A Chief Technology Officer in the executive branch steers the technology ship. Enterprise, domain, and solution architects comprise the legislative branch which codifies a set of standards, reference architectures, blueprints, and roadmaps and leverages them on projects. An architecture review board serves as the judicial branch and ensures projects adhere to declared standards. The architecture organization is commissioned to do this as a service to the corporation and as a steward of its technology assets.

In this article, we'll review elements of our constitutional government and illustrate how they can be used as a model for an effective architecture organization.

Architecture Organization Mission and Charter

My previous article, Putting Architecture Principles into Practice, argued that architecture principles are needed to explicitly define the fundamental assumptions and rules of conduct required to create and maintain IT capability. These principles, such as the "Reuse, Buy, Build Principle", provide the IT organization a compass to guide its journey and a framework for decision making.

Just as the Constitution defines the core principles underlying the U.S. government, architecture principles form the constitution of the architecture organization. They charter the architecture organization to uphold and maintain these principles in service to the corporation. They also ensure the architecture organization does not overstep its bounds.

The Three Branches of Architecture

The U.S. Constitution framed a three branch organizational structure to carry out its mission with the executive, legislative and judicial branches. The roles and responsibilities of each branch are separate, but equal.

This structure also proves effective for an architecture organization. The table below introduces how the roles and responsibilities of an architecture organization can be modeled after the three branches of constitutional government.

With this introduction in mind, let's examine the separate but equal branches of an effective architecture organization in detail.

Executive Branch: Chief Technology Officer

The executive branch of an architecture organization consists of the Chief Technology Officer or CTO. In some organizations, it might be an architecture executive or a chief architect. To use a sports analogy, the CTO is the coach of the architecture team.

The CTO ensures that the technology strategy is in alignment with and in support of the business strategy. This office is ultimately accountable to the business for the technology direction and along with the other two branches serves as steward of the corporation's IT assets.

The CTO role can be challenging. Leadership is needed to manage the organization through times of technical turbulence or even crisis due to contract negotiations, vendor support issues, wayward projects or operational instability. The CTO will also be unpopular at times. Hard calls must be made and difficult messages given when projects found not in alignment with the technology strategy are being conceived.

The CTO must have a balance of power with the architecture practitioners and architecture review board. This ensures that the principles which define the mission of the organization are followed and that the integrity of the architecture is maintained throughout different regimes.

There may be the equivalent of a vice president in the executive office in the form of a chief architect or architecture vice president. Nevertheless, a succession plan is needed to ensure continuity of this important office.

There are a few areas where the executive branch of an architecture organization differs from constitutional government. Leaders are selected rather than elected. This difference is true of the legislative branch as well. Another difference is that while the CTO is the executive accountable for technology direction, there are more senior executives in the corporation which the CTO serves.

Legislative Branch: Architecture Practitioners

The legislative branch of an architecture organization consists of the architecture practitioners. To use a sports analogy, the architecture practitioners are the team. The team consists of enterprise, domain and solution architects who establish the architecture standards, reference architectures, blueprints and roadmaps and leverage them on invest and maintenance projects.

Enterprise architects have a deep understanding of the current state of the automation portfolio. They work closely with business partners to align the future state with the business strategy. Enterprise architecture is a journey and enterprise architects shape the IT investment portfolio to transition from the current to the future state over time. Fewer in number, enterprise architects are akin to the Senate.

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