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U.S. Government: A Model for a Software Architecture Group : Page 2

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

Domain architects focus on a particular technology such as security, front end, integration, content management, business process management or business rules. They play a lead role in defining and maturing standards and reference architectures to be used across projects.

Solution architects leverage a set of standards and reference architectures to solve a particular business problem. Where standards and reference architectures are lacking, they work with domain and enterprise architects to define them to meet the business need. Along with domain architects, solution architects are akin to the House of Representatives.

Enterprise architects (senate) as well as domain and solution architects (house) are accountable to create and abide by the declared standards (laws).

Setting Standards

In the constitutional model for an architecture organization, you may be surprised that standards are not declared by the executive branch or CTO. There is a clear separation of powers as this responsibility falls to the legislative branch. In a previous article, Maturity through Standards, I outlined an approach modeled after the W3C process which is suitable for establishing and maturing architecture standards in an organizational context.

Whatever process you choose to use to define and mature standards, it is important that it has integrity because there is often outside influence from vendors, business partners and others who are akin to lobbyists. A thoughtful standards process will ensure that standards are defined which are in the best long term interest of the company and not merely to satisfy parochial interests. The process must also mitigate the risks of introducing new technology through a maturity model to support the standard throughout design, development and production operations.

Judicial Branch: Architecture Review Board

The judicial branch of the architecture organization consists of the architecture review board. Using our sports analogy, the architecture review board serves as the referee. The review board ensures that project architectures are aligned with roadmaps, blueprints and standards.

The review board consists of the chief architect (chief justice) along with appointed enterprise architects and other architecture leaders. This is where there is a difference from our constitutional government because there is a little intermingling of the branches.

All projects are required to document their solution architectures in a consistent manner. This enables the review board to ensure that the project is being built on a sound architecture and so it can assess whether it is leveraging standards, reference architectures and services as expected. It also must gauge alignment with defined blueprints and roadmaps. A previous article, Achieving 20 / 20 Vision through Architecture Viewpoints, provides a model for creating lasting architecture documentation which is also suitable for use by the review board.

Just as there are famous court decisions which set precedent, the architecture review board sets precedent as it makes judgments on project architectures. Projects which are not found in alignment will not have governance approval to proceed. This may cause drama and make the corporate news as would any visible court case. But as stewards of the corporation's technology assets, pushing back on projects which are not in alignment is the review board's mission.

Why the Constitutional Model Works

Let's examine some of the reasons why the constitutional government model works for an architecture organization.

    1. Principles define the mission and charter. The architecture organization exists because of a small set of explicitly defined and adopted architecture principles important to the broader organization. This gives the architecture function a clear mission and charter.

    2. The roles and responsibilities are clearly defined between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The CTO, architecture practitioners and architecture review board are given the separate but equal responsibilities needed to efficiently run an architecture organization with integrity.

    3. The three branches also imply the minimal process needed to set direction, define standards, and judge whether they are being followed. Each branch of the organization is empowered to establish the minimal processes such as architecture governance required to perform its function.

    4. The three branches provide a resilient structure which can survive many regimes and leaders. The architecture function is necessary to the corporation. Although there will be leadership and organizational changes, the constitutional structure will survive over time in stewardship of the principles. As with constitutional government, the organization will even survive through ineffective or corrupt leaders.

Constitutional Model Pitfalls

Let's examine some of the pitfalls to avoid when modeling your architecture organization after constitutional government.

    1. All powers not delegated to the architecture organization are reserved. The architecture organization must carry out its primary mission and be careful about any additional goals and outcomes it takes accountability for. This ensures that the architecture organization does not overstep its bounds. When it does take additional accountability, it must also have the budget and resources to do so.

    2. Serving in the architecture organization is a privilege, not a right. The CTO, architecture practitioners and architecture review board must understand that it is a privilege to serve the corporation through the architecture function, not a right. Ultimately, the responsibility is about sustaining an ongoing business concern, not about architecture.

    3. Centralize only what is necessary. The U.S. government has federal, state and local levels. Similarly, the architecture organization should drive responsibility down to the local level as much as possible or it will become overly bureaucratic.

What Is Your Model?

Surprisingly, the constitutional government of the United States provides an effective model for an architecture organization. Like the constitution, architecture principles define a clear mission. Separation of powers into the executive, legislative, and judicial branches enable the organization to effectively and efficiently carry out its mission over time.

What is the model for your architecture organization? Does it effectively ensure that the technology strategy aligns with the business strategy? Does it leverage standards consistently? Does it have a push back mechanism for projects which are not in alignment with standards, reference architectures, blueprints and roadmaps? Has its structure and vitality survived through different regimes?

If your answer is no to any of these questions, consider how you might model the roles and responsibilities or your architecture organization after constitutional government as discussed in this article. The rest is up to you!

Recommended Resources

Those interested in learning more about topics touched on in this article including architecture blueprints, standards, reference architecture, principles and architecture viewpoints should consider downloading a copy of my e-book, Enterprise Architecture: The Journey Begins Here. The books are free and only require you to register with Internet.com.
Enterprise Architecture: The Journey Begins Here, Part 1
Enterprise Architecture: The Journey Begins Here, Part 2

Jeff Ryan is an enterprise architect with more than twenty five years experience architecting and implementing thoughtful solutions to business problems. Jeff has written 34 articles and an e-book for Internet.com.
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