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Thirty Years and We Still Do NOT Know What We are Doing!

This is the first in a series of articles that will bring the latest research into architecture to you in useful bit size pieces.

Whether you take Zachman’s 1987 paper as the start of the architectural time-line or not doesn’t really matter. The point stands that architecture, as in the planning of IT systems, has now been around for thirty years. And so why do people still refer to it as emergent? It’s because although we may know what a good architecture programme looks like we still struggle to know how to achieve it. How is it that after all this time there’s still a different definition of architecture for every book written on it; well almost! I guess it comes down to knowing what architecture is. If we knew that we could sort out its epistemology. We might actually have a chance of deciding what matters and what doesn’t. In short we could identify its Critical Success Factors (CSF). It has long been recognized that architecture lacks this kind of basic research. ‘Although a wide range of topics is covered, the discipline is lacking basic research.’ (Langenberg and Wegmann 2004 Enterprise Architecture: What Aspects is Current Research Targeting?) ‘enterprise architecture is a new discipline and it will not mature unless substantial basic research will be made’.(Noran 2003).

Well some of that ‘basic research’ has finally been done (Hope 2015 The Critical Success Factors of Enterprise Architecture). And some of the results are to say the least a bit disturbing. Like the fact that given a choice of CSFs drawn from the literature a college of over 200 Architects basically can’t tell you what the CSFs are. In fact, they can barely differentiate the critical from the merely important. Even then they are a lot further from consensus than you’d expect or like.

Architects were asked to rate the importance CSFs on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being Not Important and 5 Critically Important. Most CSFs were rated 3 or higher by 85% of the respondents. This situation is exasperated when it is revealed that ‘bogus’ CSFs rated as highly as the genuine ones. When filtered for ‘critical’ only you finally get some insight. Just for the record they were: Alignment with Business 68%, Coordination with Developers 37%,Purpose of Architecture 47%, Commitment to the Use of Architecture 51% and Consultation and Communication 74%

But the results are particularly comforting when you realize that out of 25 CSFs only five were picked by more than a third of Architects and only two by seriously more than half the respondents. The research also notes a disturbing tendency for anything that ‘sounds’ rigorous or objectively assessable to be marked down. ‘Formal methodologies, tools, quality control, maintenance and budgeting are all objectively assessable tasks. Curiously, for a discipline concerned with detail it seems that rigor is unwelcome’ (Hope 2015).

Furthermore, the architects’ choices don’t tally with the academic research.

Academic CSFs
Critical Success Factor Critical %
Use of Formal Methodology    63
Use of Tools    25
Strategy for the Development of Architecture    33
Monitoring & Compliance    30
Commitment to the Use of Architecture    42
Consultation and Communication    51

Arguably this data is just as indecisive as the survey data and is possibly biased by the methodological bent of the literature. Could it be that we can’t get consensus because we’re not asking the right questions? It seems that the classical empirical approach to this problem has failed. That failure is underlined, perhaps ironically, by the survey responses to questions about how well the architects thought they executed against the CSFs. ‘Only two CSFs were considered to have been excellently executed and only by around 10% of respondents. These are Alignment with the Business at 11%, considered critical by 68% and Understanding the AS-IS State with 10%, considered critical by 33% of respondents. Consultation and Communication, considered critical by 74% of respondents, scores only 8%.’

So, what does this all mean? Basically neither the academics nor the practitioners know what matters and it seems that perhaps many things may be important in different ways. That there is no ‘golden’ to-do list, no TOGAF like body of knowledge is going to save us. We’re talking about the need for an alternative paradigm, something that Architects unfortunately aren’t typically familiar with. Purpose Driven Architecture Practice (PDAP) offers such a new paradigm. If you haven’t heard of it, that’s not surprising the research was only published in late 2015. PDAP takes an empirically substantiate approach to architecture practice to develop a socio-centric approach. Suggesting that architecture consists of three Architectonic Activities, whether you like it or not these activities are going on all the time and they determine the fate of the programme.

For more information about PDAP or PraXtice email PraXtice@Truetechnologypartners.com.au

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What’s really going on in architecture – Update 3

One point emerging from the research is the importance of architecture being in alignment with the business. Which on the face of it seems logical. But here’s the rub; how do we know this is true? Why do we believe this?  Who told us it is so? And if it is so obvious why can’t we define alignment?

Those of you who are bewildered by this kind of Socratic investigation might like to consider taking part in the research which ca be found at: http://angryarchitect.limequery.org/

We can pretty well guarantee that it’ll throw up some questions that will get you thinking!

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What’s really going on in architecture – Update 2

The production survey has now need up since late October and we have a couple of things to report. The response has been good; particularly when you consider the commitment need to tackle the monster, we have respondents from, Australia, Canada, Colombia, France, India, Iran, Israel, Netherlands, New Zealand, Romania, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, UK and the USA.

So far I’ve made a couple of observations. First, only three female architects have participated, plainly we need more female participants.   Secondly a number of people have commented on how thought provoking the questions are!  Which is very pleasing as not only are  we doing some research, but it seems that the survey has provoked discussions in a number of architecture teams about how they do architecture, which can only be good. It seems that we’ve achieved some unintended give back already!  I’d be very interested in hearing how these discussions evolve and any consequences.

Once again I’d like to thank those who have invested the time and effort to battle through the survey and urge those of you who have partially complete surveys to complete them.  To those who keep “meaning to get to it” to do it!    Remember in architecture there is always something that has to be done, before the first thing can be done! Sometimes you just have to do it!

The survey can be found at: http://angryarchitect.limequery.org/

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What’s really going on in architecture – Update 1

I’d like to thank those of you who have taken the trouble to respond to our very long and admittedly somewhat onerous survey. At least I was honest and told you it was a biggie. So far there have been respondents from Australia, Netherlands, USA, Russia and India. I thank you sincerely and ask you to recruit as many participants as you can from your professional connections.  After all  the better the sample the better the results will be.

This wonderful research instrument can be found at   http://angryarchitect.limequery.org

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What’s Really Going On In Architecture

Information systems have been a fertile domain for academic researchers for more than forty years so it’s somewhat surprising when you discover how little research has been done on actually doing architecture.  Now I accept that architecture is not that old and that it is probably best dated from Zachman’s seminal paper A Framework for Information Systems Architecture (IBM Systems Journal, vol 26, no. 3, 1987), but it is 2010 and that was twenty three years ago now. I guess you could shorten the architecture horizon further; I’m sure I’ve read a claim somewhere that the term was first used by IBM in the 1990’s.  But I digress,  my point is that computing in whatever guise you take it is done by people and so it would seem reasonable that the study of people involved in computing would be well developed after 40 years and that consequently one would for example be able to find heaps of quality empirical data about the various roles involved in the development of information systems.

Well, I’d argue that this is simply not the case.  So at Angry Architect we have set about doing something about it. I fact we’ve been doing a whole lot about it for some years now. And now you can be part of this worthy endeavor.

Empirical data comes in two basic varieties, secondary data which scholars painstakingly extract from other sources which can themselves be second, third or even fourth hand accounts and primary data. Primary data as its name suggests comes “from the horse’s mouth”. Well in this case from the architects’ mouths. Working with primary source data has considerable advantages over secondary data particularly when it comes to interpretation and analysis; things are much simpler when you only have to figure out what the answer means!

Angry Architect in conjunction with a PhD research student has devised, compiled and now offers you the opportunity to participate in the most comprehensive and we hope soon; with your help, the largest ever survey of Contemporary Architectural Practice.  Our aim is to achieve a sophisticated view of our dynamic profession drawn not from hear say and opinion, but founded on hard data from real architects. We urge you to be part of this research and to encourage all your associates to do likewise, so that we architects can find out what’s really going on in architecture.

This wonderful research instrument can be found at   http://angryarchitect.limequery.org

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