So you want to be a software architect. Part 3

In the second post I’ve shared my thoughts about the most important skill that architect needs if he wants to see the materialization of the design. Today we will go over the ability to identify the risk and commitment to the priorities.

Identify risk

As you design the application or subsystem, it’s important to see what the risky parts are. Before you hand the design over to the development team, you must be sure that risk and unknowns were investigated and resolved.

Let’s take a look at an example. In order to speed up the development of the new versions of the product, you need to transition from a monolithic architecture to a Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA). You know how to split your business functionality into multiple independent services. You addressed the issue of internal routing and load balancing. But what method should be used to communicate among the services? There are many approaches. SOAP will be an obvious choice. But this will require your team to learn new skills of building SOAP-based services and operation team to deploy & maintain them. Maybe it’s not a big deal, of course. But you consider to build internal SOA using AJAX/Json services because your team is already familiar with this approach building Web application and operation knows how to deploy and operate them. But what about the performance? It can be slower than other SOAP approaches. Unless you measure and compare performance of both approaches, and than agree with the team that the performance “penalties” are acceptable because of the advantages that the team will utilize the existing skills, you will be risking the transition to the new architecture and delivering it on-time and with high quality. In this case you should measure first and build then, not build first and then test and measure:

  1. Identify the risk
  2. Investigate it
  3. Find alternatives
  4. Agree with the team about the approach
  5. Do it

Risk may present itself in many areas – team skills, complexity or stability of the 3rd party components that you plan to use, performance of the algorithms, scalability path and so on. By “realizing’ the new architecture in your head, identifying the risk as part of the design and addressing it in the earlier stages, you will be able to deliver the design that will be successfully implemented by the team. 

Commitment to priorities

Each new project or release has priorities, Usually they are:

  • time
  • quality
  • scope
  • resources

Priorities are defined by the management and driven by the business needs. And if they are not defined, then you should ask for them. Very often the resources are fixed – your team has the same number of people. Out of the other 3 you can balance only 2 and have to sacrifice one of them. For example: with limited time, it’s not possible to deliver all the features with high quality. And it’s easy to forget about the priority #1, if let’s say it’s time, by creating a perfect design or design an interesting feature (both take time). You have to deliver according to these priorities, even if you disagree with them sometimes. 

(To be continued)

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