Architecting Out of the Box

I got this from a blog by Seth Godin. He was thinking about it in respect of marketers but it so applies to what we do as well.

Most of the time, we (IT architects or anyone else) think of our job as a set of tasks that take place in a box. We take inputs from upstream, add some value(hopefully) and create some outputs that we send downstream.

Architecting Out of the Box

It turns out, though (according to Seth), that if we go upstream and alter the stuff that comes to us, it’s a lot easier to do great work. And if we go downstream and teach people how to work with what we created, the final (work) product is better as well.

Seth gives as an example how a medical doctor can consider her work in the box of the examining room. But if she figures out how to get people to quit smoking before they come in, her results are better. If she figures out how to get people to take their pills after they leave, same thing.

As Seth says “the challenge lies in spending a lot of time and money on the upstream and downstream parts of the work, instead of always assuming that your [box] is just what happens inside your cubicle, or as a direct result of your actions”.

So here’s how I would translate this for the humble IT architect:

  • Visit your business sponsors by walking over to their desk (or calling them up on the phone if they happen to be on a different continent). Talk to them. Ask them what is troubling them today and see how you can help.
  • Take a long hard look at those requirements and make a point to go back to the person that wrote them if you don’t understand them. Don’t just assume stuff.
  • One persons architecture is another ones requirements. What you create will be used by designers and coders to build systems from. Make sure they really understand what you want. Go and visit them (possibly virtually) to see what makes them tick.
  • Here’s a really revolutionary idea. Write some code to a) convince youreself you can remember how to do it and b) show your downstream designers/implementers that you know what you are doing and have some empathy.

Most of what we do all day, intentionally or not, is aimed at keeping us in our boxes. Buck the trend and make an effort to get out of that box and make a difference.

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