Thinking aboutA Trace in the Sand

by Ruth Malan





Architects Architecting Architecture  

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June 2010

06/04/10 Your Co-ordinates

This journal contains notes I take as I explore in and around what it takes to be a great software, systems and enterprise architect. This is a journal of the more traditional sort--a place to keep track of pieces of my exploration, and a place to write as part of my meaning-making process.

This journal is a wandering, hopefully lively, trace of some of my thought journey. If you want a more organized, though still distinctly provocative (hopefully), introduction to my writing, may I suggest you start with our paper on innovation and agile architecting? Innovation and imagination are quite topical right now, with, for example, next week's Innovate2010 (IBM's Rational Software Conference) devoted to this theme. Also, agile architecting is getting attention, as the realization sinks in that, even when "agile" principles are embraced, upfront architecting needs to be scaled to address the organizational and technical complexity and risks of the system. Our paper is titled Getting Past "But": Finding Opportunity and Making It Happen. You can download a complimentary copy of that August 2008 Executive Report from Cutter Consortium: Usually you have to be a Cutter Consortium client to get access to these Executive Reports, but our readers get special access to those we write for Cutter. If you prefer to know more before you give Cutter your contact info, please take a look at the synopsis.

Then, if you like that Report, you might tolerate some of my journal entries--by which, I suppose, I mean you have to build up tolerance, kind of like to iocane in Princess Bride... Hmmm... Anyway, previous month's entries are linked in the sidebar on the left. Alternatively, you could offer to review the almost press-ready latest Report--my family insisted on stealing me away for an impromptu mini-vacation in Utah's canyon country, so the Report was hung in limbo I'm afraid. Sometimes one just has to live a little, and I'm glad we had the "unplugged' time together before the kids' various summer camps and our client travel splits the family up.

At any rate, our latest Report should go to press some time next week. That will be a big relief to all here and at Cutter!  And before you snicker at how late it is, please bear in mind that I wrote 5 times as many words as the average Report, splitting it into two Reports which are both too long. But which, please note, the Cutter editor has kindly permitted--at least for Part One (she hasn't read Part Two; I have a section to complete)--because it important for this time we're in. I would like more time to make it better, but I think it serves well enough as it is.  At least, I've received kind feedback, for which I am most grateful. Some has helped me to better position the reader to understand the message, but generally the message was very well received.  Dancing on the head of a... post

6/5/10 On the Value of a Sense of Humor, and Human Contact

Utah is stunning and magical and we were entranced and delighted. Well, it was my 4th sojourn in Utah's canyon country, and I am befittingly passionate about that part of this beautiful country! The first time I was there, it was b.k., the second I was neigh on 7 months pregnant with our first kid, and Dana and I hiked--with gear, mind you--to camp at Phantom Ranch, a vertical mile down at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and then we camped in the Needles District in Utah's Canyonlands NP. Those were wonderful times! Going back to Arizona and Utah with the kids--once in late Winter with snow, and this trip, in the late Spring (with winds gusting to 45 mph)--was a different kind of special. And a lot more constrained, since kids are both more vulnerable to heat and dehydration (yes, we always have plenty of water) and more voluble about it... Being articulate is a blessing--most of the time. So we were enchanted, filled with awed joy at the splendor ...and the kids' mostly jovial antics and exquisitely articulated delight. It was fun, and funny--at least, when things got strained, I started a "quote book" to keep track of funny and wise things we four people, very intensely jumbled together for the duration, came up with. That created a diversion, so that if we found ourselves tracking down an unhelpful path, we could redeem the situation by finding the humor in it.

Today, at a friend's bar mitzvah, the child's mother asked as a blessing that her son retain and develop his wonderful sense of humor, for it is a buffer in challenging times. Naturally, I saw the relevance to architects, who, like families, can be thrown intensely together with diverse others on a journey of sorts. ;-) 

And I think of the early logs, and the "first actual bug" (often attributed for the use of "bug") in system development. I believe it is good to log the thinking--the ah ha's, the hair-tearing moments, the experiments, and the fun, that goes into system development. Keeping track of the humor, and the moments of surprised discovery, the successes, and the failures, are important to creating a shared history, and "tribal" community that is reflective as much as it is action-oriented. It helps us move intentionally, with a shared sense of purpose and direction. We humans like--even need--to do work that is meaningful, that mounts to something, and our past together with our shared goals and aspirations give meaning to the team's work. The architect, as leader, is a meaning maker--establishing the meaning of the system and each of its elements including mechanisms (combinations of elements and interactions performing some function or set of functions in an analogically mechanical sense), and the meaningfulness of each contribution to the system (ideally, the architect does this with the participation of the multi-disciplinary team responsible for the system). This contributes to system integrity, as well as the integrity of the team, for it enables coherence as well as a sense of worth--a sense that each personal "ding" has a place in an exquisitely conducted orchestra of "dings" that puts a resounding "ding" in the universe.          

Returning to the bar mitzvah: Later, over the celebratory lunch that followed, more lessons were shared--this time also from other faiths, including Muslim and Buddhist. Some writings of the Dalai Lama were read. I mention this last, because he was quoted as saying that human contact is important for resolving differences. I think this is true in the sense in which it was being used, where people of many faiths were brought together to celebrate a transition out of childhood into responsibility (the family was very careful to make the traditional ceremony accessible to all of us not accustomed to their very beautiful traditions and observances in Hebrew). I also think it is worth bearing in mind in other settings, where differences can lead to strong feelings and divergent courses would be chosen if we didn't have recourse to the best in what makes us human, and empathetic. And human contact reminds us to be empathetic, to consider other points of view, and balance other needs.

Architecting happens across--across the components of a system, or across systems of systems. So we have to balance divergent interests and needs, and when the going gets tough, it is good, not to make fun of, but to find the humor in the situation. Life is not a game in a trivial sense, but a playful orientation can help open us to new possibility. And we use humor not to mock or laugh at, but to find what is odd, what is unique and confounding, what is serendipitously thrown into juxtaposition, what is funny, in a situation. Humor, and a playful, experimental, orientation can help us change, move onto a new trajectory. In the small, in a tough moment. And in the large, changing our and others' lives.  

  Anyone'd think Abe just tickled her! Just look at his expression!

Photo: in Steamboat Springs.


6/9/10 Innovate! Leaders and the Big Thing Worth Doing

This TED talk is truly--galactically--beautiful and inspiring: Brian Cox: Why we need the explorers

And this one pairs well with our "Art of Change" Report for Cutter: Adam Sadowsky engineers a viral music video (note the Commandments, and in particular the imperative to be "messy", as well as for the machine to interact with and be integral with the band, even playing part of the music).

"It is very hard to know what you take for granted, and the reason is that you take it for granted."  Sir Ken Robinson, Bring on the learning revolution!, TED 2010 

Well, you know I like Sir Ken's TED talks, and I just watched his latest. (Don't worry, it caused me to add the most important sentence in the Cutter paper, so it's just as well I took a break from dealing with the copy editor's edits. Grin.) Sir Ken quotes one of my favorite Lincoln quotes. At the end of his talk, Sir Ken reads this Yeats poem:

He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread upon my dreams.

This poem was written in the context of a personal relationship, and it is truly beautiful. Sir Ken used the poem to exhort us to tread carefully on the dreams of our world's children, and that is a beautiful use too. And it struck me that leaders--read architects--have a big responsibility, because we fly on a "magic carpet" woven of the dreams of our teams, and we need to tread softly on their dreams. Their dreams--aspirations; hopes for themselves; the meaning, identity and dignity they get from their work; and their creativity or what they envision and contribute to how we see, shape, articulate the problems (within-problems) and their solutions.

Narrowly, this lights another angle on how we give feedback ("tread softly..."). But when we allow that what we build soars on a magic carpet woven with the threads of our teams' dreams, then we also light another angle on the importance of giving recognition and thanks for the contribution that is made by the people who fold the work of their dreams into the bigger work we lead. I am always struck when the likes of Steve Jobs and Dean Kamen do not, with great emphasis and delight, point out that the dreams they make real are not realized alone, and that it takes the weaving of many contributions, and the folding in, the alignment of many dreams, to make big dreams real in this world. As much as the leader, the visionary who sees a big thing that needs doing and inspires and aligns contributions to make it so, is vital, so are each of the members of the team. Yes, leaders set out to dream a big dream, and lead through all the challenges that big dreams face--and there should recognition and reward for that. But that recognition and reward is not diminished when the leader recognizes the team's contribution. We have such a culture of heroes, but it is just as well for those heroes we laud to recognize that as much as he yearns for recognition, so too do each of the people on his team!    

At SATURN, someone remarked that we shouldn't pay attention to the leadership, the negotiation, the communication and so on skills of the architect, because these are common to other professions--like sales! It is good when we are asked questions that cause us to take a hard look at our very identity. In Grady Booch's keynote at IBM's Innovate2010 Conference this morning (streamed live), he recounted that someone had provocatively asked him if he thought IBM is still relevant. Not only did this provocation make for a great launching question for Grady's keynote covering a variety of very exciting work IBM is doing to make this a Smarter Planet, but it causes us to ask deep questions about identity--assumption revealing questions, which are critical to new directions, or to framing the chosen direction more compellingly. I think Grady did this last superbly. Lots of exciting directions, and I especially liked his slide near the end on the opportunities that come from the internet of things, and all the information that generates.

Returning to the question that was provocatively addressed to me: the situation architects are in is unique, for it is at once highly technical and highly social; highly creative and highly engineered; highly... oh you get the point. And we are making design decisions that cannot, generally, just be passed as dictum because so much relies on their communication and interpretation, and subsequent elaboration and reification. To further exacerbate the problem, decisions made with a system perspective to meet system objectives or challenges may appear sub-optimal at a more local, narrow perspective (local, for example, to a component), which means trade-offs have to be made, and explained and defended. Moreover, if we are doing something humdrum that doesn't take much leadership, we might want to question whether it is a candidate for being outsourced--offshore, off-the-shelf, or to the cloud. But if we are doing something ambitious, something that alone, or in concert with other things our value-stream partners are doing, will create a "ding" of delight, we need a leader, or leaders to light and keep the unifying, inspiring, aligning vision alive.     

At a recent workshop, Mark--one of those architects who stands out even among fine architects--reflected that architecture is as much in what the architect does and how she does it, as it is in the artifacts she produces. I have to agree. As important as the decisions and their expressions are, the process by which the decisions are made and conveyed is hugely important. Simply put, we are in grave danger of making the wrong decisions, and failing to communicate our decisions, if go about it in ways that undo rather than enable. Further, our explicit decisions are generally heavily laden with a myriad decisions we don't even realize we are making! Factors we choose to ignore or focus on. Intuitions we go with or assertions and assumptions we make, without testing or questioning them. We filter. We abstract. We connect. We make choices. And these all shift and narrow our options--our decision field. And yet we have to move quickly, so our process as well as our decisions have to be smart--creative, imaginative, sometimes finely reasoned other times intuitive leaps--and highly leveraged. I spend a lot of time investigating what makes architects effective--personally, interpersonally, and in terms of the process by which they reach and convey key decisions, because I seek to help architects create leverage. That is what we are trying to do, right? To create big things with and through other people--often many other people. So we do ourselves harm to think we can focus on architecture, and ignore the architecting process or the qualities, capabilities and intelligence (including emotional intelligence and blink intuition) of the architect. These are all facets of a compound! As with the systems we design and build, we can pay attention to these facets separately, but we must all-the-while remember that it is a compound, so that we look at the interaction between the facets too.  

Now, in fairness to my naysayer, I suspect that he was pushing back against topics that seem well, fluffy and self-evident and easy... But think about it. One of the best illuminations of Agile was cartooned by Sara--when she was 8 or 9. It contains ideas we would find sophisticated, compared to practice and principle: not too much, but also not too little; we can't juggle all that many ideas at once; and for all the YAGNI advocates--having no stretch makes for a brittle system. So this stuff is as easy as a child's imaginative play. The trouble is, we are so good at making things complicated! Oh, there are plenty of lessons in Adam Sadowsky's talk on building the Rube Goldberg machine for OK Go. Like staging--risky things first, so you don't have to undo as much to correct for an approach that doesn't pan out. We "know" that, but what we "know" doesn't always determine how we act, and we have to consciously raise awareness and seek out vehicles that help us compel a change in what we actually do. Rube Goldberg. Hmmm, that reminds me, I saw this on a LinkedIn update:

"An elephant is a mouse, built to government specifications." ~ John Herro

6/9/10 Mess Management

We have such a legacy of "mess" (or "big balls of mud" in Foote and Yoder terms) that it creates a sense of urgency and impatience to be done with it. So SOA was heralded with great enthusiasm, with the private hope that we could hide the mess behind neat facades while building new services presumably with greater integrity. Now XaaS is being swept along on the same tide of hope for an easy fix to our burden of high-cost-to-sustain existing systems. And the same realities need to be faced, as those we face with each new generation of promising technology. If we have sown the seeds of our uniqueness, our differentiation, through our "legacy" systems, do we even know what they are, and what impact they have? How do we duplicate this uniqueness, and position ourselves to differentiate going forward? I was working with a team creating the next generation of their product platform, and I had the product development teams identify what unique and compelling things they did for their markets--because the engineers know what cool stuff they did and what challenges they overcame; what they are proud of because it works for users and for the code. The marketing folk got so excited by that process, they went off and did the same thing from the customer perspective. I call this "the difference that makes a difference." When we seek to clean up our messes, we have to seek out what compelling value and distinctness our (distress about the) mess might be obscuring. That is, when we replace the common essentials, we have to be sure we don't undo the points of competitive distinction.

We have to think about this as we create our own internal componentized platforms, or when we outsource to cloud services, taking advantage of another business's investment in creating and sustaining a componentized platform. If we take business rules as an example, some may be there because they give us unique process advantage by embedding some piece of organizational wisdom--wisdom that then becomes tacit because it is enacted automatically in the interaction between the business rule and the system. This does not argue for or against the move to XaaS, but does make the case that there is strategic and architectural work that must be done to figure where and what to control and innovate on in-house, and what to watch for in evaluating options we won't control. And some of this work is looking to future competitive distinction, and some of it is understanding how we currently distinguish ourselves in the market--acknowledging that some of this understanding has become quite deeply embedded and embodied in our systems, to the point that we may have to dig to find it. And some of this work is figuring out if the past matters, or if there is enough new opportunity that substantive new investments should ignore the legacy--giving the business the same open space of opportunity as a start-up competitor would have.          

6/9/10 Application Performance Monitoring

6/10/10 Playing for Change

There are so many exciting ways that our connectedness is being used to bring about change in the world. Here's two songs from Playing for Change: ☼Don't Worry♫ and ☼One Love♫! Songs sung around the world--it's really touching and beautiful to have a the world brought together in music. I lost sleep to these songs, they are so lovely! The CD will be in stores on June 15th! (And Bono is one of the artists on ☼War/No More Trouble!)

6/10/10 It's Not a Long Report, It's a...!

I had this realization today: our Report for Cutter is not a too-long report, it is a short book! And not the condensed/Reader's Digest version either! It covers significant landscape-shaping aspects of the dynamically shifting world of our businesses, and explores the role of architects and IT as they are being pressed to adapt along with the organization. It presents an orientation to strategy and architecture, intentionality and emergence, that fosters agility. If you pull it apart into pieces, they for the most part already exist--we draw on a ranging set of perspectives, insights and experiences. What is unique, is how it is all pulled together, setting context, clarifying the relationships and responsibilities... hey, that sounds like architecture! ;-) Jest aside, I hope that you'll find it full of rich insight, woven with a lively zestful style into an inspiring and organically "right" view of the relationship between strategy and architecture and the strategy-architecture tandem and business agility, and distinctive role of architects in a world of opportunity and evolutionary pressure.

The Report is not about how mobile technologies are reshaping relationships, although this is touched on. It is not about how the cloud might transform IT for many businesses, although this is touched on. It is not about integration technologies, or business intelligence, or the Internet as platform... though these are all touched on. It is more about the forces that these advances introduce, and their results, and how to deal with them. Specific technologies enter the attention-scape, and then settle into patterns of use--assuming they are embraced. And the next transforming capability or technology emerges. The Report is more about the transformation pressures various technologies in various combinations and applications induce, and how to respond to those pressures and opportunities.             

I actually set out to write the Report that became Part Two, focusing on the architect as leader and the tools of leadership--for I believe that architects have unique demands placed on them as leaders, on the one hand, and, on the other, we have drawn together a uniquely helpful way of thinking about architects as leaders, assembling a set of tools that enhance their effectiveness. Then I wanted to set the scene, doing what architects need to do--see a need, an opportunity worth pursuing, frame it in a compelling way, and draw people in to making it real. So Part One was an illustration of doing that. Seeing a need, making a compelling case for change, and inspiring and enabling people to start to make the change reality. Well, I saw a need, and an opportunity to do something about it...

Flatly, EA in particular, but also IT, has come under scrutiny in these challenging economic times, and we have to make a compelling case for the very existence of enterprise architects (as enterprise architects, rather than simply a task force executing the downsizing of IT)! And, flatly, any organization that thinks EA is dispensable, is ignoring the fact that technology-enabled capabilities, relationships and interconnectedness, and instrumentation, information and ultimately intelligence can only be a sustainable competitive bases of the business if they are architected--for emergence alone runs the business into a wall of entropy. We codify organizational capabilities in the mutable medium of software, yet undisciplined "accommodations" transmogrify systems and in aggregate typically erode the transformational capacity of the organization.        "We make things predictable by deciding!" --  Dana Bredemeyer. We make it so, so our action is our crystal ball. Or, in the words of Alan Kay: "we can't predit the future, but we can invent it" Oh yeah, stuff still happens. Wave gets cancelled. But Wave will also set precedent, so in important ways, it will shape (aspects of) the future.

A framing--a persuasive articulation that motivates change, and presents a vision that illuminates, inspires and aligns the change--is not sufficient for change to happen. For that, people need to be drawn in, that is to say, become actively involved in hacking, sometimes, and carefully crafting, at others, to turn the vision into their reality. To move toward a future we want, we need to sense what it is we are trying to bring about in our world. To be sure, we don't have a crystal ball, but we can begin to resolve uncertainty by making decisions. We will have to adjust, adapt, amend. But if we don't start to see, and to move towards the future we see, we stand still, wrapped in inertia and uncertainty, or simply get bumped on the tides created by other people's more determined, concerted will and action.     

So the Report is a beginning.               

6/10/10 No RSS Feed?

I don't publish an RSS feed on this page--I can't imagine anyone would want updates as frequently as I post/jot notes/reconsider! There's, but frankly I do not recommend it on my journal. Still, it is a handy widget--for a less busy page!

6/12/10 Q<=s in Software

Dana pointed me to this article in The Daily Beast -- "13 women who rule the web."  

6/12/10 Cutting Corners...

Short term opportunism is what architecture is very much about counterbalancing. The metaphor of the US Constitution and story of James Madison that we start workshops with, holds many lessons. Of particular relevance--the need for "separation of powers" and "checks and balances" is as real in organizations as it is in governments.  Painful lessons in the BP story that is very much in the news... this one sheds light on what led up to the current crisis.

6/12/10 Small Cogs... Working Together to Turn Things Around!

We want to commit any other family vacation time we take this Summer to volunteer in the Gulf clean-up efforts. In addition to helping with clean-up, a flow of volunteers could replace wary vacationers and help the Gulf economy! Tonic has a list of places that need volunteers, but if you have come across other ways for families to engage in the crisis, please let me know.

6/20/10 Happy Father's Day!

This by way of Dana (it's hilarious if you've been there, done that, ...had to call the game...):

Spread the diaper in the position of the diamond with you at bat.

Then fold second base down to home and set the baby on the pitcher's mound.

Put first base and third together, bring up home plate and pin the three together.

Of course, in case of rain, you gotta call the game and start all over again.

--Jimmy Piersal, on how to diaper a baby, 1968

Fathers--you know, the one's who carry the day pack on the hike in Utah heat...This also by way of Dana: The Velveteen Rabbit, or how to become real. Dads (and moms) feel very real--worn, tattered, but very, very real--thanks to all the loving they get.

Here's to you, dads!

And to my kids' dad, my love! My gratitude. And commiseration!

"You were Real to the Boy," the Fairy said, "because he loved you. Now you shall be Real to every one."

-- Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit, 1922


6/21/10: I used Descartes "I think, therefore I am" as part of my playful beginning to my SATURN Tutorial (as an excuse to overview what I like to think about, by way of an introduction to that Ruth Malan person no-one knows). But I very much prefer 'I'm loved, therefore I am"!!

6/25/10: And I used slides from my Archman sketchblog series to show what I think so much about. This is how I began: The Art of Drawing People In (slides 1-18) (PDF). Nothing new, if you've been following along. But a neat series of key points about architects and architecting, for those just dropping in on us VAP folk.

So I used "the end depends on the beginning" and referenced two of Hugh MacLeod's cartoons--the end: something amazing, depends on the beginning: something to believe in. I had fun doing the Presentation Zen design thing, and doing the persuasion thing a la Aristotle, Cialdini, and the Made to Stick brothers (who's book title stuck so well I can't remember their names! Yes, I could Google them. Duh!), etc.  And then I tossed it all aside and did the Ruth thing. And some people got it and were totally into it. It was Friday afternoon after a week of firehose conference projection, and I called on folk to really switch gears and most of them got, well, at least into third. A good number were all the way into fifth. Oh well, I did give them the slides with notes. I didn't use them, but provided them as a safety net for folk who need that. 

Afterwards one person chastised me mildly for not playing by the proven rules of teaching and giving people clear instructions for exercises with explicit objectives and steps--written down for reference, for those who were distracted when I described what I wanted them to try out. But I play to who I work with--smart, quick thinkers who treat learning as an adventure to be enjoyed! If you put people in a small box, they will meet the expectations the box implies. If you give them a big space, they will surprise themselves and you.      

Sara was looking at a book today, and brought it over to show me this quote:

"If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun." -- Katharine Hepburn

That's my girl. I'm so going to get my just deserts when she hits those teenage years!!

6/25/10 Where Have all the Bloggers Gone?

Donald Ferguson's blog is kaput.

Kayaking on Lake MonroeBut Brian Zimmer went hiking. I'm glad the mushrooms are back! Hmmm, morels. Dana makes a great dish with morels and pasta; but it's way past morels around here! (There is wording in the set up for the "to frame" section of The Art of Change: To Lead is to See, to Frame, to Draw that was inspired by what Brian does with photography in general, and mushrooms in particular.**)     

Daniel Stroe's last post--a month ago (!)--is a great example of an architect watching the tech frontier and thinking about directions for the technologies that underlie the business models of that ecosystem.

As for me. Work. Work. And this week, an hour or two here and there covering some distance on Lake Monroe in kayaks. And dealing with the final bits and pieces so the Cutter production team can do their good work. When it's done, we'll go kayak-camping in the Wilderness to celebrate. Grin. (Isn't the forest green of that water just glorious? I love being out on the water, close to it, covering it at a pretty good speed but still with the freedom to watch the bald eagles and herons. It is a great way to keep mind and body healthy!)

Martin Fowler posted on Team Rooms. Hmmm. I don't see any space to put Martin's books. I jest, but I think some mind space and some book space is important too. I loved HP's open cubicles which had a happy compromise between flexible work-surfaces and book shelves and from-your-desk-access to peers on the immediate (subsystem) team. Of course we work with folk across the spectrum, from those in "trading floor" type spaces (including some where architects and developers don't even have assigned desks/workstations, just a login that brings up their "world" at any station) to those who have closed door, walled individual offices. And each end of the spectrum there freezes the cogs of my mind, but for quite different reasons.

** No, it was not that I learned something about architecting from photos of mushrooms! Nor do I learn about architecting from my children! Garr! Rather, when we look at something else, we are free from the preconceptions we have in the space we think we understand or at least grapple with daily. So for me, at least, some of the most interesting "ah ha"s come when I am in that "outside my zone" space. I see a new relationship, or the concepts in that other domain suddenly give me a way to articulate something I've grappled with in our space. Or, for example in the case of humor, I'm able to see something that our "all business" orientation is so inclined to try to shove under the rug, because it is human and human is not mechanistic and directable/controllable in clean, efficient plan-and-engineer terms. So when we're operating in the cast of "business as usual" it is hard to see how "business as unusual" works. And business as unusual is where things get interesting--creative, paradigm-busting interesting!

6/26/10 The Beastie

Editing the report took an inordinate amount of time, but I learned a lot about my writing from the editing process (just as one does about how one codes, from code reviews). To give you a glimpse of why it takes so long, one exchange went like this:

My version: This is not a matter of product design — alone.

Editor's suggestion: This is not a matter of product design alone.

My response: That em dash is important! It changes the weighting of meaning to remove it. If it is not there, one reads quickly over it and the point isn't made with emphasis. The way I have it, you're riding along, and you go "whoa" at the unexpected "not a matter of product design" and pulling up suddenly on the reigns you find yourself landing with emphasis on "alone." The long form would be to say "We tend to think this is a matter of product design alone, but it isn't only a matter of product design." But my version is shorter and more vivid. :-)

One may well ask why sink the time into protecting em dashes, when I overuse them anyway... Right. Admit it, you never knew I thought about the short way to say anything! Or that I used so many words protecting so few!

But hear me out; this is significant. Smile. I learned why I (over)use em dashes, and I think you'll like this very creative excuse I came up with! It allows for iterative refinement. One presents the simple idea in a chunk, then expands on it. Elaborates and refines it. By the time I'm done with em dashes, they will be treated with the respect they deserve, and be as common as commas--in other people's writing, too.

I acknowledge, I do challenge the boundaries of grammar. I don't always use full sentences. Choppy, to be sure. But that conveys an orientation to action that I use when it fits what I am writing about. I start sentences with conjunctives, allowing a just-enough pause while elaborating a point. In conversation, these are conveyed by diction and tone, and I intuitively match these conversational cues in my writing--especially in this Report. Especially--because it isn't intended to be didactic, but rather to launch thought journeys and a set of conversations.

It is an invitation to think about the role of IT and architects in the Conceptual or Innovation Age. An age of change and continuous forming and reforming of relationships--relationships which weave in and out of the technology substrate IT tends.    

Here's a peek at some ideas I found exciting as I drew them into view:

"Many of the business capabilities that IT supports and enables have to do with building and maintaining relationships and their information spaces to run the business and create strategic advantage. ... 

Relationships, both formal (with codified transactions) and informal (with dynamic, even ad hoc, interactions), are enabled through high connectivity. In Connections, James Burke, commenting on the Gutenberg printing press, observed “the easier it is to communicate, the faster change happens.” Alternately put, new ideas come about through conversations, and conversations through relationships, and increasingly these are digitally enabled and/or enhanced." 

-- RM and DB, The Art of Change: Fractal and Emergent


"Complexity is a key driver of architecture. That is to say, as complexity increases, so does the need for architecture. It is not that we want complexity to go away, for value comes hand in hand with complexity. Instead, we want to harness complexity and, as it were, to tame it so that it serves rather than obfuscates and subverts the value we are creating."

-- RM and DB, The Art of Change: Fractal and Emergent

It is fun to write, because it is a process of putting what one knows together, to come to fresh insights. Well, I think they are fresh insights. At least, they are uniquely nuanced, and the nuance shades the insight just so--I like it when that "just so" means that it becomes actionable.

I've taken considerable flack and teasing about how long this took. And I deserve it. But it was the kind of beast that is born as a small idea that takes hold, and grows. And it grew too big to be one report. With the result that I wrote 50,000 (and counting) words on two reports (it takes about 25,000 words to write a 16,000 word report--I do cull words, even if you find that hard to believe), and another 50,000 words in this journal--it takes a lot of words to avoid the words I have to write!

Oh right. The word limit on these reports is generally 8,000. But if you want to paint a picture of how the world is changing, and the implications for IT and architects, so that you can call people on "there's no future in IT and EA" it turns out that it takes about 16,000 words. Even when you are careful to say "This is not a matter of product design — alone" rather than "We tend to think this is a matter of product design alone, but it isn't only a matter of product design." Well, 16,000 words, or one xkcd cartoon! Grin.

Oh, there's one more thing I need to share. A kind reviewer wondered if perhaps transmogrifying, used as follows, was gratuitous:

The role of architects in an agile enterprise, therefore, includes taming the transmogrifying mess created by responsiveness, dynamic learning, and accommodation, even while leading with intentionality to innovatively envisage, build, evolve, and sustain systems and their explicit, enabling and constraining architecture decision sets.

I explained:

I liked transmogrifying because it is so perfect--the word sounds like the thing being described is becoming a beastie (the mess transmogrifies the organization, which means it transforms it generally in a bad way, but not necessarily). So usually I go with vivid without pretention and in this case it simply, playfully, fits the meaning...

Again, what I so like about the questions (about the content and the writing style), is that they reveal something about my (subconscious) process. Let me hasten to say that the reviewer feedback led to changes I was glad to make and I'm so fortunate to have such wonderful, smart, time-constrained people willing to step in and help us improve a piece of work!

Funny, in this post I drew out the sections that place emphasis on beastie--it is not my orientation generally. Really! But, here's an awesome quote by way of Daniel Stroe:

"Writing is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public." -- Winston Churchill

See, I'm at the "monster" point in the process. I joked that this "report" (or two) is like the plant in the Little Shop of Horrors. It asks for just a drop of blood. Then another. Then another. And another... And then it swallows the mommy whole. Along with a few reviewers. Grin.

Oh dear. I need to add--although this report is in the EA Executive Report series, it has much that is very relevant to product architects. Yes, it covers topics that a tech lead or newly minted architect may only be just beginning to see as (marginally) relevant. But hopefully it sheds light on the relevance, and provides lots of pointers to arenas of investigation to follow up on.

Well, if someone else wrote the paper, and I was reviewing it, I'd say "this is a unique piece of work. In each area that it covers, it makes contributions to that domain of discourse. Consider the vectors of innovation. The market maturity model presented off-handedly as a table has important implications for product line strategy and architecture. It is, however, in the connections between all these domains that the real import is unfolded." blah blah. Grin. Oh, I do hope you'll find it exciting. When I write something like this, I start out with an idea I like, then I get stage fright (and I have to hurl myself through it because no-one will be undilutedly positive and encourage me to do what I do), then I start to hope that it can be as amazing as the promise it holds, then I have to get the stupid thing done, and accept good enough. Well, of course, Dana is my thinking partner and we run (as often as possible literally, in the woods) through ideas and he encourages and bolsters me, and it is hard with so intertwined a collaborative thinking process to know where what I do begins and ends. But it is still true that the writing relies very much on insights my fingers tickle to life in words, and doing so depends very much on whether my spirit soars or spirals in distracted despair of doing anything worthwhile. And then when it's done, I'm terrified that I failed to deliver the promise it held. So every moderated response feels like crushing confirmation of that failure! But an unabashedly, wholeheartedly delighted response makes doing this worthwhile. In short, if you like it, tell me in unmoderated terms--moderation is for alcohol, not for spirits! Smile.

6/27/10 Smuggling Donkeys

I recognize I'm being introspective (navel-gazing?) about the stupid report, and losing your interest. Yet it is important to me. You see, I'm supposed to be writing the Executive Summary, which is supposed to cover the key take-aways of the report in 1,000 words. So, I have to think about what this Report contributes, and one part of me wants to say what I can't say. I want to say this Report gives us something we long for--truth and beauty. Well, I would like that to be true of the Report. But I fear it is not. It could be. I think. I believe that there is truth to go after in the space where technology meets business, and I believe that truth could be delivered in a vessel of beauty--even great beauty. And I even suspect just a little that if anyone could do that, or reach at least close to that, it might be me. Oh well. And still I hold out the possibility, for truth and beauty lies in the seer and the seen. It is not a fixed absolute, but lies in the possibility offered, and the stance taken toward it. [What you make of those last two sentences will demonstrate my point! Smile.]

Ok, moving on from the fluff of thought dancing, finger touching words into wisps of wisdom... I'm teasing, I'm teasing! But it was fun to write. And fun to think of the people who would gag at that, and those who will thrill at it, and to know we have a glorious mix of styles and predilections in software! And a goodly amount of good-natured tolerance, along with the smattering of bile.

I promised to disclose donkeys. That's what you're here for. Not that foggy poetic nonsense. So, donkeys. But first, elephants.

In the Getting Past "But" report, the key message was about the importance of bringing the architect out from behind elephant. Alternately put, it was about the role of technology in innovation, and the importance of including the architect's perspective on what technology makes possible, and the architect's role in finding opportunities to innovate and leading agile cycles using the cheapest, quickest medium to discover and deliver the value-capability bundle that realizes that opportunity. That sentence is a mouthful, but it summarizes an entire Report.

Turning to The Art of Change. The impetus was an increasing rumbling around the future of IT and EA. Well, of course we know IT and EA has a healthy prognosis. Still, many choose to see IT as a cost-center--one that encumbers with a mish-mash of entangled, brittle systems, and expensive tastes in technology frills that can't be afforded in lean times, at that. So it is worth articulating the counter-position, don't you think? Anyway, that's the donkey--the role of IT and architects (product, system and enterprise) in sensing, catalyzing and responding to change. Um, that doesn't sound right, does it? You do know the story of smuggling donkeys, don't you? Alternatively, it's a head fake (that term comes courtesy of Randy Pausch in The Last Lecture).        

So, I say, for example,

When we recognize that this is a world where organizations increasingly compete on and for relationships, perception, and fidelity, and on information leverage, the strategic role of IT jumps into sharp relief. Place this in a context of change, and IT finds itself with a leading role on the strategic stage. Whether it is playing the role of the proverbial bad guy responsible for runaway costs and change encumbrance or a partner in a landscape-defining dance of change depends very much on how well IT is integrated into strategic decision making — at various levels in a fractal approach to strategy setting.

You see, that's not so wispy as "the writing relies very much on insights my fingers tickle to life in words," but it reaches for truth and strives for beauty in expression. While still managing to be something you might envisage your peers or boss reading. But not this journal. So, here we can talk about Yeats and say "leaders--read architects--have a big responsibility, because we fly on a "magic carpet" woven of the dreams of our teams, and we need to tread softly on their dreams. Their dreams--aspirations; hopes for themselves; the meaning, identity and dignity they get from their work; and their creativity or what they envision and contribute to how we see, shape, articulate the problems (within-problems) and their solutions." But hey, I do kinda like that. It may well find its way into Part Two. Grin--wicked grin! And the last two lines of this poem by ee cummings fit nicely with the "To See" section in To Lead is to See, to Frame, to Draw (Part Two of The Art of Change):

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and love and wings; and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any – lifted from the no
of all nothing – human merely being
doubt imaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake
and now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
-- poem by e.e. cummings

6/28/10: I don't much like to do the vuvuzela thing... (What, even if you haven't been watching the soccer world cup going on in South Africa, surely you looked at my link to xkcd? No? Goodness, the links are the good stuff!).  All evidence here to the contrary of course. Well, you do realize that no-one reads this--yes, some people visit. But I mean read. Like this many words! Right. Safe. :-) At this point I can even say "sometimes I think Hugh's cartoons are more insightful than he is" while "I am more insightful than my writing." Both of which are deep, dark humor that Hugh would probably be the first to get (the meaning is that Hugh is a great artist, for great art so often says more than the artist had in mind, while I am a creature of foible and vanity), but if he didn't it'd be dangerous--he wields a sharp pen! Anyway, vuvuzela is a trumpet used to call people to a gathering, and I'm not much one for drawing attention! So I prefer to touch ripples of change gently into the world, like the picture on Peat's Gentle Action Strategy and architecture in tandem

But returning to Part One: It occurred to me I need to make something explicit: Agility means both proactively catalyzing opportunity ("being the change") and reactively responding to threat to create and sustain competitive advantage--and doing so throughout the organization in a dynamic dance of change choreographed by fractal strategy and its tandem architecture, and organically, allowing that empowerment means that in contexts of high uncertainty and churn, there will be a good deal of experiment and emergence that will moderate and modulate concerted intentional action.

Ok, Gentle Action. Let me explain. Strategy happens fractally. It does, whether we plan and acknowledge this or not--though it may be implicit and emergent, or explicit and intentional, or (more likely and more desirably) a combination. This means at any point in the organization, architects can partner with management in choreographing this dynamic, organic fractal dance of strategy and its tandem architecture. Partner? See opportunity, frame it, and draw people in--management too. So that's the idea. Create a sense that big things are possible, starting right where you are. Because the big dings that matter are not one narcissistic trumpet call into the screaming silence of universal indifference, but rather the concert of dings that is created when many small dings add up to something big, a change that matters.        

I read across this month of entries, and I see that for most it would come across as introspective, narcissistic drivel. But for the reader who is both generous and um persistent, it is a tapestry of insight threaded with jewel-bright phrases that lift the spirit in joy at what can be wrought with words. And I ask why not? We can draw our breathe at the elegant simple beauty of an iTouch, and its reminder that technology can be art, not simply a vehicle for its expression. And so why shouldn't this be true in writing about technology? Why shouldn't that make us thrill too? And why shouldn't we aspire to that? And hope sometimes, or sometime, to achieve it? Time washes so quickly by!  It is just as well to be delighted that someone wrote "blue true dream of sky" and "now the eyes of my eyes are opened" and my fingers dance delight into words. The "illimitably earth," and "human merely being" that yet can feel the flow of Grace trace through us a sometimes wondrous chorus and a sometimes awed whisper of words.

Well, the most awesomely wonderful editorial team will allow some of my illustrations in the report, so Archman gets to make his formal debut. Wahoo. I'll have to dress him up a bit.

Um... Now I've got stage fright. All over again. Now I need someone to say "I love what you do with Archman--..." or some such bolstering... mush... Mush. But husky style. The "get on with it Q<=" kind of mush. But if you're me, you have to do this ridiculous out there on the brazen edge stuff with, at best, the barest hint of acceptance, and certainly no encouragement. Because everyone stands aside and shrugs, indicating "hey, if its important to you, by all means do it, but it's not important to me. Draw. Don't draw. Whatever." And put like that, in the face of bland indifference, I have to say, yes, it is important to me. I think it would give interesting texture to the report, but more importantly, the visual draws attention and conveys even when word-weary eyes glaze over. There are a few serious illustrations that would serve the paper well, but the playful Archman sketches have their own kind of charm--don't they? Oh dear.  I guess I'll draw out some ideas, and see if confidence finds me--since I'm having a hard time finding it!     

But doesn't bland indifference just drive you nuts? This tepid encountering of life, all people weary and wary of sounding a vibrant joyful chime in response to another spirit's striving soaring? 

So I write. To explore, ever questing, questioning. To find what I know, to make connections, to take delight when something new springs to life. To incite action. In myself. And others. To find confidence, and direction. It is tiresome. It is hard. It is earnest. It is joyful. It is late. 

The stack of good intentions...

Well, as South African trumpeters go, I do like ☼this one♫ [Hugh Masekela performing Pata Pata with Lira. Pata Pata is a song that Miriam Makebe put on the map, and if you've been following along, you'll no doubt remember I love this ☼Paul Simon+Miriam Makeba♫ Africa-USA duet.]

6/29/10 The Key

I was defending the recent wordy "torrent" of entries reflecting on what I did with the report, and realized what "set me off": one of the reviewers said the report was "not perfect, but very good" and that bothered me. To be sure I pre-empted that. You see, I'd asked someone to review the paper and he didn't have any suggestions for changes so I playfully replied "So it's perfect?" You know me, but this reviewer doesn't, at least not well--not well enough to know that there is no way I'd get close to serious with that. Indeed, I wonder what kind of arrogance it would take for a person to think they could reach perfection? I want to inspire a feeling of delight and a curiosity and desire to contribute to making a concert of dings that resounds a ding that breaches the wall of indifference... So anyway, perfection would be a fool's target, but an unreserved "I loved it" works well for me. :-) Alternately put, the joy of the thought chase drawing insights glimpsed but barely into view and finding them fall into epiphany--that's what I relish. I like to strive for that, and offer that. But it is like forests or mountains, beautiful but rugged and messy. We know how to enjoy these things, even when in a landscaped garden we would see the weeds and the rotting fallen branches that we don't see in a forest... Or in a landscaped garden we overlook a brown-edged rose bud, or are drawn to a colorful caterpillar chomping a leaf into tatters. Again, beauty is a collaboration between the seen and the seer, and if I ever inspire a gasp at an insight wrought in a way you thrill at, it is as much my doing as yours! In good part because you have to overlook much to see the beauty you draw out as such.

So that, and needing to figure out the executive summary had me looking back, rather than forward. Well, as a project completes, it is good to do a retrospective--if nothing else to get clear about what I liked about the process of the writing and what came of it. In short, if I didn't take pleasure in the me-surprising things I've let tumble from my fingers, I wouldn't have much reason to do this, for the positive reinforcement (and the criticism) is for the most part entirely self-generated. (I have a very strong internal critic who I direct at my own work because there it can do some good; if I directed it at others, they would feel like their feet were always being cut away from under them. Still, I apply that critic more at the right/wrong level that at the word level, so I don't tend and work over my words. I should, I suppose, but there's so much more to explore and write!)

I should say, the reviewer feedback was very positive and heartwarming. It's nice to hear "I loved it" even if I did explicitly ask for feedback, putting people on the spot to say something nice. :-)

And since you're so kindly interested in my creative process, here's a piece of the storyboarding I did when I was designing The Art of Change:

surprise me, "gets me" ==>  defines me!

Why, I think a person could write a pretty decent paper based on that sketchy thinking, don't you? Oh, well, for better or for worse, I was the one to write it. Grin.

6/29/10 Collaboration

Lifting my attention from "navel-gazing," introspective "what the Dickens am I doing?" and "what makes it worthwhile--to me, and to others?" kind of thinking, I watched Charles Leadbeater's talk on innovation in education in poverty-stricken contexts. And from there turned to ☼Sugata Mitra. Now, this is all interesting to me (paths out of poverty; education and innovation; and more). And I'm interested in how technology helps. But mostly I'm interested in technology and innovation, and doing better at innovating in software. So the point that jumps out at me, is the point around multiple children per PC. The point about collaboration. I was thinking about what is the exciting vector that will characterize a major thrust of social change on the Web. To me Web 2.0 is in good part about participation and the web as application platform, and I'm thinking that the next wave--the wave that Google Wave provides a glimpse of--is the Internet as distributed collaboration platform. Well, there are different ways to collaborate--there's the 5 kids around a PC, collaborating to teach each other and solve challenges together (much like pair programming and "modeling out loud").  And then there's distributed collaboration. So I was interested to learn this:

"He has a project called Skype Grannies, whereby retired teachers in the North of England teach pupils in India via Skype." -- Mike Carter's comment

There's a rich free-for-all coming! Not to mention paid markets. Amazon's Mechanical Turk is another foreshadowing of the potential of this collaboration wave! How about them sheep? (Them? Well, did you look at it? Doesn't it just beg a "them sheep"? There is something charming in the mess of it, in the unself-conscious, unpretentious egalitarian-ness of it.)

6/29/10 Amazon--the BIG River!

Remember Grady Booch's "Like a River" IEEE Software column? Now think about Amazon. What a choice of name, for a company that is swelling like the river in the Andes thaw and basin rains! It has swallowed Zappos, and I am very, very, very^trillion disappointed in Tony Hsieh for selling out to Amazon even if I also totally understand! But the "little guy" that took on the Amazonian Goliath and succeeded in showing it could be done, got sucked into the big river, nonetheless...  If you've read my Cutter reports you know that I very much admire Amazon and Bezos--given what I know of him, that is. Still, the gobble of the Googles and Apples and Amazons draws my breath in admiration, amazement and apprehension...

And as the tech-deities stumble... how about them Apples? I thought the iPhone4 looked pretty cool--face-time chat and all. Well, I'm not looking at an iPad yet (but give my eyes a few more months), though Martin Fowler's run down on his iPad didn't turn me off the idea. On the other hand, Martin has me sold on a Canon S90 for workshops, and those hanging about with the kids shots, and kayaking--whenever you want something small.

6/29/10 And Failure!

So, I see Grady's next IEEE Software column is on systems failure. I liked his blog post on that topic--System Resonance and the Stock Market. When he posted that, I hadn't looked in on his blog (it had been quiet) for a while. Coincidentally, Dana and I were running and talking about how systems fail.  I love running in the woods with Dana--he's so interesting and fun to push on a topic with because he draws on such a rich field of experience and investigation and it makes me forget I'm running (in Indiana's humidity, dodging roots and puddles)! So it's a nice way to take work out for run (recording the conversation on one of our iPhones--to the unfriendly that could sound self-important perhaps, but it's just an acknowledgment that without a notebook I need a different memory aid so we can continue the conversation and investigation, rather than rehash it; yep--when things fail, you need mechanisms to maintain interim state). Anyway, I got back and looked in on Grady's blog to find that he'd (a few days before, but I didn't know that) posted on the same topic--his unique perspective, but interestingly the same topic. So that was a neat serendipity and I am very intrigued to see (or better hear, on the voicecast) the longer version. I like to do comparative listening to music exploring a song or piece of music through the unique interpretation and style of various artists, and it's fun to advance my thinking by exploring and integrating and interacting with another's thinking in systems architecture. 

The topic of our run today? Well, emergence and experiential learning were keywords. Along the spine of the hill the conversation ranged from systems to the spiritual, and on the way down, it turned to a section of the infamous, long-promised Part Two of the Report. :-)

So, now you know everything.


Ok, this sketch was from... I dunno, last year, I think (given the boarding pass tucked in the notebook):

We need to architect across the boundaries or system interfaces because a system interacts with--shapes and is shaped by--its context.

Architect across--across the boundaries and the interfaces. Systems shape and are shaped by their contexts. (I had to write that again, 'cos Dana couldn't read "across" above the arc...)    

In an OOPSLA talk, Alan Kay points out that in cells, boundaries serve to keep unwanted, foreign things out and to keep important things in. A useful analogy! Alan also points out that new technology can be used to automate the old way of doing things, or to do new things, which pushes the frontier of value and what is possible.

6/30/10 From the Sketch Log

Looking through old sketch logs (looking for an empty page, if you must know), I came across these... which I didn't remember, so suppose I never thought them worth sharing. But with just hours left in the month, they will be tucked safely into the archives. :-)

Archman Does the Heavy Lifting!

Archman does the heavy lifting!

Finding the right balance of ideas and action.

Balance value on the one hand, and resources, schedule and risk/challenge (how much we cna take on, given time and talent/budget)

We can't do it all, so we have to decide which vectors to differentiate (delight) on, and where good enough is just that, to balance value with resources, schedule and challenge and risk.

Shared system context empowers: people know where to plug in, and what impact they will make, and where what they are doing impinges on and affects others.

Set context to empower; empowerment engages minds and passion

Our tools help us see and solve, but we need to diversify our toolsets!

We need to diversify our toolsets, so we set what we weren't seeing when everything looked like a nail!

10/8/10: xkcd's Golden Hammer is a great "if all you have is a hammer" skit.

Architecture record (implicit and explicit). Given what will be read, it is easy to see how important is to get the right things talked about (in useful ways)!

What gets talked about is what gets done


Feedback: If you want to rave about my journal, I can be reached using the obvious handle. If you want to rant, its Just kidding, I welcome input, discussion and feedback on any of the topics in this Trace in The Sand Journal, my blog, and the Resources for Architects website, or, for that matter, anything relevant to architects, architecting and architecture! Bring value, and I commit to using what you teach me, to convey it as best I can, help your lessons reach as far as I can spread them. I try to do this ethically, giving you credit whenever I can, but protecting confidentiality as a first priority.  


Ruth in Arches NP, Utah

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