First Kill the Architects

Why do we think about architecture, and should we bother?

May 6, 2003

I’m over in Bergen for the rOOts conference. Martin Fowler gave an interesting 30 minute talk on the role of architecture in software development, and on how the forces that drive architecture also drive other aspects of the overall process. He started by mentioning Ralph Johnson’s discussion of architecture; we define architectures to document the things that we perceive as being hard to change. Being agile, Martin then went on to say that the role of an architect is to make himself redundant: to find ways of implementing systems which can roll with the punches, and where everything is amenable to change. As an example, he talks about databases and schemas. Conventional thinking tells us that database schemas are hard to change: once you code to a schema, every change involves updating the database, the code, and also all the data affected by the change. As a result, people tend to treat schemas as scary things: we define them and then code around them. At Thoughtworks, though, they have developed techniques for incremental migration through schema changes: the database, data, and code all update in parallel. As a result, the schema no longer has to be defined up front: is is no longer an architectural element.

The driver for all this, of course, is flexibility: we need to find ways of writing applications that work in the face of a set of volatile requirements. Cut down the number of up-front constraints, and we increase our degrees of freedom. If also helps us start delivering earlier, allowing us to get feedback ad refine our applications as we go.

The alternative to killing all the architects, of course, is to kill all the developers. Rather than spending time coding flexible applications, find ways of throwing together disposable solutions to business problems at greatly reduced cost. Don’t worry about flexibility: if the application no longer works when the environment changes, throw it away and write it again. If the cost of code is small, then the investment can be written off in almost no time.