The Three C’s of architecture

23 Apr, 2010
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In our work with clients we often have discussions about the function of architecture and the role of architects. These discussion are largely due to fact that architecture does not visibly contribute to organizational goals and is perceived as a nuisance for projects. Many discussions originate from a lack of understanding of the role and place of architects in the organization. We have defined three goals of the architecture function in IT organizations: The Three C’s of Architecture. These are: Connection, Cohesion and Changeability. Taking these as the prime principles of architecture provides focus on what to do and how to position architecture in the organization.

Organizations are continuously changing and operating in ever more dynamic environments. This places big demands on the IT department. It constantly needs to ensure it supports the business goals and changing circumstances. Architecture should play an important role in this process. This implies that architecture must focus on contributing value. Architecture does not exist for esoteric reasons, it is not there to define and prescribe the most beautiful or technological most advanced architecture. No, it has to focus on business goals and value creation as its ends. Architecture is just a means.

There are three main principles, focal points upon which architecture should base its effort. The first is Connection to the organizational goals. Roughly, these come two categories. First, business goals that define what the company exists for and what place it has in the marketplace or society. Second, projects, business cases that define opportunities to further the first type of goals. For Connection principle, architecture needs to work on connecting the efforts and capabilities of IT with these goals and endeavors. It needs to thinks about how structures, technical solutions and infrastructures need to be organized to realize the goals as good as possible. Architects do have a role and responsibility here to understand the business aims and ambitions. And architects must make sure that other people in IT understand how to realize these aims and ambitions into concrete solutions.
IT is expensive. Period. That is not just a perception of the business, it is reality. We need to find ways to most efficiently use IT. One part of the solution is Cohesion in the kind of solutions created and deployed. By choosing from a limited number of solutions (reference architectures) we can keep the complexity contained. Cohesion also helps to organize the systems in a way that promotes sensible partitioning of functions and responsibilities, such that simplicity and flexibility are increased.
Change is a given, so we better be ready for it. Changeability is the last focal point of architecture. It is the capability of IT to adapt to changes in business goals and the environment quickly. Changes disturb the Connection between business goals and IT capabilities and it might disrupt the Cohesion in within IT. By focusing on Changeability we can restore Cohesion and Coherence as quickly as possible.
The effect of defining the role of architecture by these three principles is focus.
We gain focus on
• what needs to be done,
• what can be done,
• tangible results and delivery,
• quality,
• cost effectiveness
In short: focus on results that matter. It is interesting to note that these principles apply to architecture at multiple levels: enterprise, project, systems and infrastructure architecture are all governed by these principles. In that respect the three C’s of architecture do not only help unite business and IT effort, but also unite the different IT functions themselves.
This blog is the first in series about Lean Architecture, an architecture method that bridges the gap between classical architecture , Agile Project Management and long term goals of organizations.
The upcoming series will first focus on a series of Lean Architecture principles: basic principles or mantras that form the foundation of Lean Architecture and how a Lean Architecture approaches his responsibility.


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