Thinking aboutA Trace in the Sand

by Ruth Malan





Architects Architecting Architecture  

Your humble scholar (by Sara B.)July 2012


What's a Trace?

This Trace is just where I "work out loud," jotting notes as I explore in and around the territories I associate with architects architecting architecture. Since I work with architects across the spectrum from applications to enterprises, the scope of my exploration flexes accordingly.

Well, until July entries mass, you might like to stop by my blog:

Or read some of the entries in this Trace on

Or check in on the next frontier of my work:

Or use the links to past months of this Trace in the column on the right. Scanning across the flow of a month will give you a sense of how this Trace works, but you could sift by your area of interest as there is generally a topic list for the month below the month listing.

Or you could look let Serendipity drive, scanning some of my earlier posts where serendipity appeared:

Or jump down the column on the right to the blogroll. :-)

7/7/12: As for that post on Enterprise architecture -- if you can't stomach the first few sections on EA scope/charter, skip on down to the section on ecosystems. The first few sections overlap -- this is because I posted a bit, hit a reaction against revisiting the definition/framing of EA and pulled it undercover; then another question-reaction set about EA's scope made the need for some equanimity again apparent, and I posted a new angle of address... I replaced all the postlets leading up to the main discussion, because several important points were made in that lead up that contextualize it within a field that is in something of a perpetual identity crisis that is understandable and addressable. ;-) Alternately put, when embarking on yet another widening of the frame of EA, it is just as well to remind folk that it is useful to encompass and embrace different frames within our field. ;-)


Ecosystems -- and Architecture??

Why ecosystems? The term is being used so much of late it is sure to draw hype-antibodies and hype disillusionment... Yet, like Agile, beneath the hype there is something fundamentally important. So I'm not going to be intimidated away from what is important by the current overuse -- often incorrect use -- of the term, and instead focus on what I see being fundamental here. Architecture is all about primary, elemental, strategically and structurally significant shaping forces -- in the context, and the system under design(ed evolution). So the ecosystem -- the larger systems of interacting econo-socio-technical "organisms" -- is important to consider, as it shapes and is shaped by the system under design. The enterprise architect should be getting fuzzy tingles of excitement at that, but the solution, system or application architect? Sure. Consider the iPod. Not making sense? May I suggest: Getting Past ‘But’: Finding Opportunity and Making It Happen, 2008 (the section with the diagram on Apple). As for the enterprise architect, may I suggest: The Art of Change: Fractal and Emergent, 2010 (the first sections on change and strategy).

Ecosystems, being very much about the interaction and interdependence or relatedness (sometimes unexpected, indirect, or otherwise hidden from immediate view) of "organisms," is a space of concern that overlaps with "social business" (#socbus) and "connected company" (a la Dave Gray), because digital relatedness has changed the interaction costs and flow dynamics for business ecosystems, setting wave upon wave of creative destruction washing across industries.

Moreover, it is worth thinking even of an application in strategic ecosystem terms. Consider a game like Minecraft and the ecosystem that has formed around it -- conferences, regalia, fan video series, server hosting for multi-player game play, creators of skins, mobs and mods, as well as communities of players, of course. By tolerating mods (and opening a Minecraft API up to other developers), the imaginations and work of a broad community is harnessed to extend the game, helping to set direction for the game but also creating a situation where more people have "skin in the game." That is, ecosystems can be thought of at different scales and scopes. Walmart is so powerful that it shapes ecosystems around its supply chain. Walmart and Minecraft would both be called keystones, relative to the ecosystem that depends upon them, even though the ecosystems are substantially different in economic size and formative impetus.

In the EA community, Stuart Boardman has been working this space of concerns in parallel, providing useful stimulus though it is on a different exploratory vein. A collection of pointers to Stuart's posts on his exploration around ecosystems is in Tom Graves "This" post. Stuart also did a nice series of posts positioning and exploring Social Business ideas and consequences:

There are many other influences on my work in this area, and they are for the most part shared in this Trace, including Trace entries that led up to Getting Past ‘But’: Finding Opportunity and Making It Happen (2008) and The Art of Change: Fractal and Emergent (2010), where I was already exploring the ecosystem theme.

The result of this stage of my work on this topic will be revealed soon, so stay tuned. :-) [And show some interest; you know, like telling me that the EA and ecosystems posts set off wild tingles of excitement and you're looking forward to how I've pulled all that together. ;-) You are either a damping force or a magnet; nothing in between. Indifferent silence grinds at the spirit, it really does.]

7/20/12: "Ecosystem" is so de rigueur that you even see the term being used to describe the (growing) colony of devices you own and interact with. Well, okaaay. But I'm using it in the sense of business ecosystems. Now I think that an enterprise might be seen as an ecosystem -- sort of analogous to a pond as an ecosystem. ;-) And then we might ask if IT is a keystone within that enterprise ecosystem. I think that is interesting to ponder. That is, is the provider of the infrastructure that relationships are hosted on, that makes important flows (of information and value -- and trust) possible, a keystone player? It would depend some on how shaping it is. Generally speaking, it is more in the firmament than a powerful player on front stage, but as more companies savvy up to the central role of technology in creating differentiating advantage, this will change. Still, even when IT or business technology is playing a more strategic role, is an "infrastructure" provider a keystone player? To help answer this question for myself, I look to Etsy and Amazon and Facebook, and it is clear that they provide the relationship platform that vendors use to reach customers, and for customers to find products, and they are the keystones in the ecosystems that have formed around them. They created a context in which many other organizations -- colonies, if you like -- flourish and even morph or "speciate" to better adapt to the keystone platform and relationship basis (for interaction, engagement, participation, co-opetition, collaboration, mutualism, ...etc.) each provides. So I've persuaded myself, at least, that infrastructure providers may be keystone players. Much would depend on the extent to which the infrastructure or relationship platform provides the impetus for value flows or otherwise is a shaping (or structuring) force in the ecosystem, versus only being a non-essential piece in a larger puzzle.

7/23/12: So there is this trendiness around treating computing technologies as "critters" that consume resources and provide some value to the larger system they play (or compete or co-exist) within, and such. And the term "IT ecosystem" may be used in this way. So one may play with the analogy, considering the lifecycles and interactions of said technology critters, and such.

On the other hand, I've seen it argued that business ecosystems are ecosystems, not an analogy. Well, if we zoom out and watch businesses interacting in their larger contexts, we might argue that we have extended the notion of "organism" or we may argue that we're just using an analogy, and so we're still in the analogy game. I'm interested in understanding shaping forces and using concepts to explore, and it is just unhelpful to get stuck in pedantry around definitions in a space that is morphing anyway.

The question of whether IT is, at least in some cases, (coming to be) a keystone player, interests me. If an enterprise can be viewed as an ecosystem of interacting, interdependent for mutual sustainability, which organisms within it are absolutely essential to it (meaning if they are removed, the ecosystem fails; if they are created, an ecosystem starts to take shape around it/them) and are hence keystones or "keystone species"? Traditionally, product( line)s and services dominate or are the shaping force around which relationships form and value flows (within the enterprise). If we take an online retail business like Amazon, or a logistics business like FedEx, might we not say that IT (or business technology and the socio-technical systems that enable the business to exist at the scale and in the form it has) is the keystone?

All of which is the long form of saying, if someone says "IT ecosystem," I would want to know, do they mean the first kind (devices and systems and other technology as "critters" the play and obstruct and otherwise co-exist together) or the second kind (IT is the keystone around which the enterprise forms -- or reshapes itself, which gets us to "social business" or "connected company" turf (with dynamically forming, norming, storming and reforming "pods")? Or do they mean "eco-sub-system", which may be more characteristic of IT traditionally, where it is a backplane for (information) flows but the real shaping is done by product or service value streams?

Ok, let me back up a moment and credit what spawned this thread of exploration: Chris Potts tweeted "Just read 'IT ecosystem' & wondering whether there is one, rather than IT being integral to (other) ecosystems." And Tom Graves responded "'IT ecosubsystem', perhaps?" Which was what prompted me to explore when and how the term might usefully be used. Alternatively put, are there situations where it makes sense to say "IT ecosystem"? Well, before we tackle the question of whether IT could usefully be thought of as a distinct ecosystem within an organization, I wondered if, just as it makes sense to say "Etsy ecosystem," giving name to the ecosystem by conflating keystone and ecosystem, there may be times when "IT ecosystem" analogously makes sense. Which would be the long form of saying "it depends." Which may seem less than valuable to spend thought cycles on, except that it raises the question of, and is interesting to tease out, when IT is a keystone. This is significant in a setting where there is a tendency to regard IT as a second class citizen in strategy formulation. Oh sure, regardless, IT is significant to strategy, being "integral" to business capabilities in most any business. But when does it shape what the business offers and enable, shape and constrain the value flows upon which the business depends, or shape the very structure of the business, affecting the relationships among its internal actors in structurally determining, value enabling and flow directing ways? We have had to work hard to widen the field of view of EA, reframing it away from its "IT-centric" technology-focused roots, so why even go there? In good part because it isn't just IT that keeps EA focused on technology, but also many business leaders who do not see where and how technology is shaping and see no reason to complexify strategy exploration, formulation and adaptation with an understanding of technology's role in the broader ecosystem infrastructure and value flows, or within the business, and its value networks where value is conceived, created, offered and transferred, extracted and reinvested or reciprocated.

7/21/12: Returning to "social business," JP Rangaswami's series on social enterprise is really worth reading. It draws heavily on John Hagel and John Seely Brown's work on "power of pull" and "the big shift." The first in the series is:

and the last links to the 6 earlier posts:

7/21/12: And, since healthy ecosystems also attract parasites, Mojang is getting attention from one of the "usual suspects" shaking the patent money tree.



Visitors to this Trace (and visits and page views) were considerably down in June (typical for June and July), but this was a surprise:

this is interesting!

I have to guess that the estimate is based on visitors who come directly to this Trace site rather than via another site/link or search. So roughly 966 people returned to this Trace in June??!! That's, um, frankly, terrifying! Well, if I believed that, I'd take myself more seriously! :-)

I hadn't noticed that item in the stats before. Oh, I don't for a moment believe even half that number of people return ever. But, while I mistrust the analytics, you know you returned here, or will, so it's believable to you, right? Right?



Conceptual Architecture: Why Bother?

Reading between the lines, my Conceptual Architecture piece was mentioned in a class assignment that some 60 students got to last night! Well, perhaps a few read it and noticed that it is a fine treatment of Conceptual Architecture and agile architecting. ;-) If it produces a sense of déjà vu it's because I broke that piece up into sections and updated it slightly to post to my blog, partly to provide a mechanism for interaction and partly to feed that piece of work into blog searches.

When I first drafted that piece, the reaction that was shared with me was, to paraphrase, "that's old" or "what's the contribution?" or "doesn't everyone know this?" I don't mean to slight the response at all. It is a fair reaction. For one thing, our approach leverages "block diagrams" and "CRCs," which have a long and independent history (block diagrams being long used in other design fields, and CRCs being introduced to object-oriented design by Cunningham and Beck in the late 80's and integrated into other OOAD approaches in the early 90's). Further, though we did not invent the term "conceptual architecture", we actively advanced a view of the form it should take to the broader community through our work in software architecture in the 90's (and since). My intention* with the current write-up was to provide a good explication of a foundational area in architecting, updating and reformatting the draft chapter I wrote back in 2004. Still, we are such a "shiny new thing" culture that I feel it behooves me to add: Conceptual Architecture has only become more important as system complexity increases yet we look to what is the minimum sufficient architecting to do and document.

Anyway, Conceptual Architecture is a cornerstone of systems architecture and I'm not going to duplicate the "Why" section* here. I do want to say, though, that our approach is finely tuned to support architectural reasoning and communication, while being agile in the most sustainable sense, and my treatment of the topic is, I hope, as good as it should be, given all the superb architects we have worked with for the past many years! Given their pounding on our process and presentation/framing/positioning thereof, we ought to be pretty good at it by now! If not, the fault is mine. And now yours, because if you find fault with it, you have a responsibility to the community to let me know how to improve it!! ;-)

But what I want to be clear about is that this is not just a pretty good articulation of what other people generally understand Conceptual Architecture to be. It is a take on Conceptual Architecture that we have shaped and improved through years of field trial and a fierce commitment to minimal architecture and agile architecting -- in the context of, and fitting, the demands of the system under design(ed evolution). Those new to architecting will get a good foundation from our treatment. Those who have been around the block a few times will hopefully notice how our approach is refined and distinctive in -- only, and judiciously -- the most useful ways.

And consider this -- wouldn't you want this to be a highlight of formative encounters with conceptual architecture:

The parts, their arrangement and concert, cohere within and give expression to the system "gestalt."

Parts. Arrangement. Concert. Cohesion. Expression. System. Gestalt. In one sentence! ;-)

7/6/12: Conceptual architecture (shortened form of "conceptual design of the system architecture") applies to any architectural discipline, of course. I focused on software architecture, but conceptual design of the system doesn't just apply to the system concept but also to the structural concepts and key mechanisms of its (internal) design.


How to Use Conscious Purpose Without Wrecking Everything

by John Gall

If you haven’t read John’s keynote/paper, I’m going to… uh, whack you with my feather (that’s architect talk – for situations in which a person has no authority). Seriously, I’m really quite disappointed in you. Awe sensors all silted over with “too little time” or is it just a jaded view/low expectations of me?
Just kidding. Wanted to draw your attention to John’s paper is all. I think his paper deserves/warrants the attention; you be your own judge, but at least give it a chance.

7/5/12: It is a lesson in storytelling -- personal storytelling with humility and wisdom, and drawing on rich oral traditions of story retelling and weaving into a new narrative that gives both a sense of urgency and of what needs to be done. It draws on art and parables writ in Nature, to inform our engineering path.

Seriously, the title is worth the price of admission (to your attention slate), is it not? We are at such a point of crisis of confidence in humanity, with a mess of evils unleashed on the world by our collective striving. Intentionality distinguishes us, and threatens, verily to wreck everything. How indeed?

7/8/12: What I like about this essay/keynote is that a life of inquiry -- and dealing with people -- hasn't left John bumping against a glass ceiling of cynicism and hopelessness. Our collective confidence has taken a battering, as well it should, but we need a sense that there is hope even for a humanity frail with foible and vanity or we spiral into a more ugly place, full of destruction and despair. We need to aspire, to put conscious purpose to good use.

Dana came up with the phrase "glass ceiling of cynicism" and I like it. We can get too cynical. Too critical and want to tear into and tear down and that becomes too much of a focus, a distraction from figuring out how we want to be, and being more what we value. For really, do we value being destroyers of the status quo or builders of a better present as portal into a beautiful future?



So Cool

Whoo! I have such a cool use case for the system we're developing! It came up in the context of architecting, but it applies to many. Exciting to open up new avenues to play in!


Boring... Oh!

I read

and it is very... thorough. Then I read

Why things fail is exciting to me; I have a peculiar interest in the details. But Amazon wants this statement to be boring -- except to its customers' ops teams, who have a "need to know" interest. So. Open, communicative. Apparently. Yet... a drag through detailed minutiae so those without a special concern here will shove off until Amazon is ready to talk about something less boring...

It makes sense.



Heads Up Chicago and Providence: Arieb Azhar

Arieb Azhar and his band are amazing musicians, on tour to bring the music of Pakistan and south India, with lyrics from Sufi poetry and compositions by Arieb and others, to the USA. This is the end of their tour, with just a stop in Chicago (July 7) and Providence, RI (July 10) remaining. But if you can make either event, I highly recommend it! Musically, poetically and spiritually this is a high-point-in-life sort of experience!

What a compelling, uplifting experience such wonderful music is!! Rapture as a musical form. Just what we need, in this age where cynical manipulation (Barclays, GlaxoSmithKline, Monsanto) and unintended consequences of just pursuing our daily lives mounts threat enough to disabuse us of our joyful optimism... Art and music lets us see ourselves as we are. Human. With a capability for transcendence that is sublime, too.



Irony? At the end of the article, Andrew Keen asks us to follow him on Twitter. LOL!




I've missed Brian Foote's blog -- he was on a roll there for a while, and though he's not much of a fan of the comics role in software thinking/exploring/problem finding-solving, his is one of the powerful minds in our game and I missed that window on what he was thinking about. So, wahoo!, he's put slides and speaker notes from his QConNY talk here: Seventeen Secrets of Great Makeover Masters.

Anyway, I'm half way through and am enjoying it tremendously. The section on metaphors is wonderful -- a must-read, but the build-up to it is marvellous too. You doubtless remember my bit on analogies. Well, read Brian on metaphors. He's good like. Really. I love his writing-thinking! I even respect it when he's tipping my sacred cows. ;-) Well, back to work with me. I look forward to returning to it later.

Oh, I did jump to the end and read the section on testing. It reminds me... In my first programming class, we still had to use punchcards (when, even in Africa, punchcards were no longer in use) because the CS faculty nostalgically believed that that taught a self-discipline in thinking things through and benchchecking that was invaluable. Ah, now I'm being nostalgic -- the good old days, when thinking was valued. ;-)


Sketchy Stuff

As for comics, I like these: maps and timelines. ;-) We've played our part with steadfast passion, sticking to our story that visualization matters -- in conception and in evolution. Sketches, hand-drawn. And models using the tool you love to love/hate -- as fits the demands of the organizational and system complexity and challenge. It isn't just that it helps us to see, it also helps to shift perspective, change cognitive gears, notice different relationships and angles and think without the obfuscating detail of code.

What I stand for is target practice for the Agile camp. But that's because they haven't bothered to find out what I stand for. That is, if they have me pegged at all, it is cuffed to a BDUF ball and chain. That's ok with me. It let's me get on with changing interesting pieces of the world under their radar, doing some sacred cow tipping of my own. :-)

7/9/12: As for this map, do this for your architecture and I will honor you (still more)! ;-) (You know... The "kitchen sink" component, the "vacuum", the cat's litter box,... just kidding... Goodness!)




Yes, tweeps and bloggers, speakers, whatever -- this is not just for news media:

Connections enable flow. Of trust, information and attention, ideas, value.

7/22/12: My sketch-note/cartoon of the evolution of mutualism on social media -- from MEgaphone attention-getting, to adding more of an element of attention sharing/directing and "curation" to actual co-creation and collaboration. The punchline being that the emergent global mind... is... evil! Oops. Ok. It's dark... foreboding... but that's so we can be more careful not to put our worst selves into this building, so that the emergent global mind is beauty beyond our possible conceit.

the eolvution of mutualism on social media :-)

7/28/12: This is a perfect footnote:

'Malcolm Gladwell, a noted and talented endorser, pointed out this self-­aggrandizing side of blurbing when I reached him. “People always ask me why I don’t tweet,” he said. “And my answer is that I blurb. They are, after all, conceptually identical: the short, targeted judgment in which the initiator draws attention to himself while seeming to draw attention to something else.”' -- A.J. Jacobs, How to Blurb and Blurb and Blurb, July 27, 2012

And this is most comforting (in the misery loves company sense):

'Third, frankly, it’s good for my wobbly ego. I enjoy getting praise for my praise.' -- A.J. Jacobs, How to Blurb and Blurb and Blurb, July 27, 2012

That is altogether a wonderful article about living in the me-tensive cenozoic digi-social era. ;-)

Playfulness aside. We have to contend with an info-glut, and navigating it can be time-consuming if not onerous. Trusted scouts become important. And trust flows through relationships. So the "curatorial" role is a valuable one. As pointed out in the article, one can dilute the value of one's advocacy if it is not sufficiently discerning. But there is also the matter of making connections in webs of relationships, expanding this global brain-of-connected-brains-thing we're creating.


Help! Source Please!

Who said that "to design a system, it must be seen in the context of the larger system of which it is part"? We recall Russell Ackoff making that point, but I haven't found the exact quote, and I also have a sense I have seen it ascribed to at least someone else.


Oh Yeah And

I can't wait to be done with this chapter. I'm thinking of doing an animated music video for kids next. Something for people who say nice encouraging things. It features a jolly skunk, and Ryan singing Cindy Kallet's song "Skunk Don't Care." See, I have it all thought through. I'm serious about this.





I read Hal Hildebrand's most excellent post:

which does an awesome job of getting to this point:

"It's not a hard jump to the conclusion that diversity in the workforce, diversity in our society, diversity in our friends is not a terribly bad idea that results in emergent properties that are quite valuable to the systems that make use of these human cultural constructs. Enumerating these properties isn't exactly easy, for much the same reason that it is hard to explain to someone that adding Chromium and Nickel to Iron produces a material which has an order of magnitude more tensile strength than the sum of the tensile strength of these three elements alone. It's these synergetic effects - emergent properties of systems - that provide tremendous value." -- Hal Hildebrand

I highly recommend it! And of course, feel you should definitely use it to recommend my Trace. ;-)

Well, I love Hal's "current status" series -- his pics of places we loved to hike and hang out when we lived in Moss Beach, and who he identifies with. Like this! Gotta admire a guy who calls his blog tensegrity and uses women in his "current status" pics! Requisite variety folks. It makes for great architects.


It's... a Whale!

I realize what my problem is! I have been working on the material for a book, and I'm supposed to deliver a chapter. It is like trying to fit a whale in a tea cup -- hard, hard, hard!

Well, at least someone is eager to read it, right? No?


Right then. Skunks up next.

And developing a system that will change the world. ;-)




Ruts form. It is, as I understand it, how we even learn -- pathways getting laid down in the brain. Our design structures become ruts, too. And at an even bigger level, the system starts to carve ruts in the world. Expectations get cast around it. Usage patterns. Relationships form. And that is what I was going after with:


Enterprise Architecture -- IBM and Microsoft Weigh In



Europe in Late September/Early October

Good news (well, I'm excited) -- I'll be in Germany in late September and The Netherlands in early October.

A number of clients are doing really exciting things in terms of architect development programs, and this is an encouraging indicator of concerted investments in innovation and vitality in Europe. It is a reminder that, despite the betrayals of trust and shaken confidence in the wake of the (growing) LIBOR and other scandals, most of us are engaged in real honest-to-goodness value creation, and there is ever so much good in the world.


Rescuing the Future: Starring Imagination And Engineering Excellence

This is such an exciting time for innovation -- failures of integrity and sustainability may have rattled our confidence, but we must not give way to failures of imagination, as that is our route to exciting realms of societal and technological advancement and environmental renewal (Nature is a good self-healer, but in Nature's timescales we wouldn't have grown external memory, megaphones to blast our self-image around the world, etc.)! As for imagination and where it, together with a collaboration of deep expertise in various areas of engineering and science, can take us -- the Mars Curiosity videos (via @Grady_Booch) are mega-anticipation boosters! :-) 7 minutes of terror indeed! It feels like engineering has a chance to hold up to humanity an inspiring image of itself. I hope we make it! :-)



Keepers from the Stream (and Beyond)

I often bring up patents in workshops -- especially in companies where top execs don't think of the company as a technology company. As an architect and technical leader, at a minimum you have to have a sense of what patents you have to contend with in your arena, and (even though patents sadly causes all sorts of behavior we may find unfortunate and distasteful) how to use patents strategically. They're a fact of competitive life, shaping the game in many fields. Just like Bill Gates reportedly (if I recall correctly) kept an eye on what competitors were hiring for, as a strategic window, I've done patent searches to take a look at what new clients are working on ahead of time, and what their competitors are doing in the same space, and how they're thinking about that particular form of "walled garden." Patents are a double-edged sword, but they are also an indicator of whether a company is looking at technology strategically. Even in IT. At an insurance or drug store company. ;-) [Personally, if I were influencing how the system was set up, I'd lean to an open innovation environment. Still, creating a way to be rewarded for substantive inventiveness is important, I think; not sure if the benefits outweigh the costs, but I'm open to the argument] At any rate, this article struck me as one to keep a link to:

This is also interesting:

"The word architecture derives from the Greek αρχιτεκτονική – arkhetaektoneke, which etymologically stems from αρχή – arkhe (principle) and τέχνη/τεκτονική – taekhne/taektonike (construction/creation). A common misconception is that architecture derives from the Greek αρχιτέκτων – arkhitaekton, (architect) which etymologically derives from αρχι – arkhe (master) and τέκτων – taekton (builder)."

-- Vasilis Boucharas, Marlies van Steenbergen, Slinger Jansen and Sjaak Brinkkemper, The Contribution of Enterprise Architecture to the Achievement of Organizational Goals: Establishing the Enterprise Architecture Benefits Framework, 2010

7/21/12: As patents go, things just get ever worse. Patenting a new technology capability is one thing, patenting an implementation of lists is another -- that's not even "standing on the shoulders of giants," that's trampling the shoulders of the common man!

7/22/12: Patents. Eloquently describing the slippery slope...

"Most other crimes require intent, patent infringement does not." -- Markus Persson, Word of Notch

It seems like too many patents are filed for ideas rather than specific inventions (actual implemented proven solutions, not hand-wavy descriptions of problems).


Modularity and Evolution


"modules generally are components, parts, or subsystems of a larger system that contain some or all of the following features: (i) identifiable interfaces (usually involving protocols) to other modules, (ii) can be modified and evolved somewhat independently, (iii) facilitate simplified or abstract modeling, (iv) maintain some identity when isolated or rearranged, yet (v) derive additional identity from the rest of the system." -- Marie E. Csete, John C. Doyle, Reverse Engineering of Biological Complexity, 2002

There is a bunch of interesting stuff down in the resilience space that draws from across biology and engineering.

Funny how Serendipity works. Following the collision between Hal Hildebrand's (Hal is my scout du jour -- interesting diversity in what he draws attention to) pointer and my chapter writing/dives into ecosystem/evolution-related material, I read:

And following John Allspaw (etsy devops, so high on my smart goodfellow follow list) to Michael Nygard (fav devops author) and this podcast, and being that resilience and agility are pivotal concepts in said chapter I'm (still, le sigh) busy with, I poked around in

  • Resilience Engineering Perspectives: Remaining Sensitive to the Possibility Erik Hollnagel, Christopher P. Nemeth, Sidney Dekker, 2003

on Google books, deciding if I should spend (choke) that much on it, and stumbled on the optimality-fragility tradeoff and Csete and Doyle. And took a detour to read both

Which also led me to:

where the section on modularity speaks to the evolvability blog post Hal pointed to, closing the loop. :-)

All of which relates, as you no doubt recall, to my flexibility-disruption thread from the ecosystem exploration, also central to this chapter.

Ah yes. The chapter? The longer it takes, the more it becomes a deadly embrace -- the longer I take, the more important it is that it is good, the longer it takes... And. It is an exciting space, with so many avenues to explore down!

Back to writing!

PS. Oh wow -- Dan Prichett is now Director of Engineering @google. When did that happen? Awesome!

7/25/12: API Design, Matt Gemmell, May 24, 2012 (via Jordi Cabot)


Upcoming Workshops

Just in case you and/or your colleagues may be interested in our workshops, I thought I’d pass on the heads-up while there is still (but barely; sorry) time to take advantage of the early enrollment discounts:

Software Architecture Workshop in Chicago/Schaumburg, IL, on September 17-20 -- the early enrollment discount of $400.00 applies to enrollments completed by July 30. If you haven't taken a look at the Conceptual Architecture write-up, you might like to do so as it will give you a glimpse of our approach.

Enterprise Architecture Workshop in Chicago/Schaumburg, IL, on November 13-16.-- the early enrollment discount of $400.00 applies to enrollments completed by August 15. For more on our approach to EA, see "Enterprise Architecture as Strategic Differentiator," Enterprise Architecture Executive Report, Cutter Consortium, June 2005. And "The Art of Change: Fractal and Emergent," 2010

The early enrollment discounts are there for two reasons: i. to help in the venue price setting, as it gives us more leverage if we have a minimum attendee count we can guarantee. ii. to help with our schedules. Our Q3/4 is already pretty jammed with in-house workshops and ongoing client work. Several people have asked for an open enrollment EA workshop, so I've carved out a slot for it but if it doesn't get to critical mass pretty quickly I will need to free that slot up on Dana's schedule. So it is one of those "if you want it, you need to enroll so you make it happen" sorts of things. You have the power. Whoo! ;-)




"The purpose of abstraction is not to be vague, but to create a new semantic level in which one can be absolutely precise." -- Edsger W. Dijkstra, ACM Turing Lecture, 1972: the Humble Programmer (via Jordi Cabot)


CS Needs a Reboot

"If technology is the future, however, we are doing a woeful job of preparing our kids for it. Computer science is the only one of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields that has actually seen a decrease in student participation over the last 20 years, from 25% of high school students to only 19%, according to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics." -- Keith Wagstaff, Can We Fix Computer Science Education in America?, 7/19/12


Narratives and Other Mind-Benders



Makes It All Worthwhile!

"I used to read articles from this website when I started my career in software. I am coming back after long time. That shows how much impact it has on me. This was one of the first site on internet that talked about software architecture in so many ways. Thank you for sharing the knowledge." -- feedback on a Bredemeyer mailing list signup, 7/20/12

It is so wonderful when someone takes the trouble to give back a little. It is not expected, but does reward with a glance of warmth in return for passion poured into sharing experience and perspective.



Charles and Ray Eames, And Partnerships

The movie is awesome! I want to watch it again to pull out quotes. :-)


Checklists (Again)

Letting Serendipity guide a collection of "appeteaser" links on the July 1st entry of this Trace, I linked to this post: The Power of Checklists. There are other posts on checklists, such as:

Which complement Tom Graves post today:

Indeed, there is strong case to be made for "checklists in the face of complexity." I want to underscore that point. And add: checklists are useful in situations that are attention-sappingly complex because they catch "obvious" things we might neglect in the tumult of dealing with high degrees of novelty (though not so entirely new that the checklist is irrelevant) and surprise, ambiguity and/or just plain muchness coming at us from multiple directions. Checklists are for freeing up some "RAM" to focus on what is new/tricky in a situation, assured that due diligence will be paid to the essential (and tried and tested) in what carries over from one situation to another because the checklist will direct attention there.

As I mentioned in one of the postlets linked above, we can use checklists to direct our attention -- they become "To Do" lists or sequences of actions we follow. Or we can use checklists to verify that we did do all we needed to, or at least to remind ourselves to consider whether we needed to do something we haven't done yet. That is, we can use checklists in action planning, during the heat of action (where another, even a less skilled person, may be checking that items on the checklist are being done), or in review (in an iterative process, so they are caught in good time to attend to them). An alternative cast might be: we can use checklists to guide or to verify; to direct attention (proactive) or to check/confirm that attention was paid. Or to prescribe/conscribe or to suggest. It is important to be clear which kind of checklist we are creating or recommending if our checklist might be taken to be the other kind -- for example, if it is taken to be prescriptive when it is intended to be a diligence check that an expert will take under advisement and use discretion about sidestepping or ignoring, that can be quite harmful. That is, harmful if it gives rise to thoughtless following of a checklist in "to do" mode when it is intended to be used in a more expertise-intensive "did we do? and if not, do we have a good reason why not?" mode. You may think that is rather too trite to be devoting a paragraph too -- especially when you'd rather see a checklist! Well, follow my links for that. Let me just say, though, that this was a lesson I had to learn the hard way. I worry about checklists when we defer too much judgement to them, letting them drive. Design isn't preparing for takeoff... But that doesn't mean checklists aren't useful to help us discover even obvious things we missed, just because what we are paying attention to, determines what we see and pay attention to. Attentional blindness and bounded rationality are only among our rationality deficits!

As for SCARS, here's a related postlet:

If you know my style, you'll recognize that such a postlet is an invitation to explore an idea. Of course, if you do, by all means let me know where you go with the idea, especially if you come up with a list of gestalt principles for architecture!! :-)

Christopher Alexander, as quoated by Alan Shalloway

7/29/12: Alan Shalloway's "Can Patterns Be Harmful" reminds me (not that Alan says this, but it is what it recalls to mind) of the points we make using the Tao story of The Master Butcher (along the lines of, but preceding, points Grady Booch makes in his On Architecture IEEE column on the professional architect). The master doesn't have to follow the process or pattern step-by-step because "feeling the forces" and resolving them elegantly has become natural. But the Checklist Manifesto reminds us that in complex situations even masters can "forget to wash their hands" or otherwise overlook something important. Further, as the Master Butcher reminds us, not all butchers attain the same level of mastery... but patterns can be part of the "tide that lifts all boats." As Alan Shalloway points out, in good part by creating more awareness of the issues and design considerations, or forces, we need to consider or weigh and address and balance and make tradeoffs among.


A Shout Out for CRC-Rs

Oliver Baier tweeted a heads-up to my Conceptual Architecture -- What? blog post, demonstrating that he is an architect of discernment and merit and really worth following. Please consider this a follow recommend -- and let's extend that to Ernest Buise as well, as he collegially retweeted the shout-out. Much obliged t'ya for the gesture gentlemen. :-)

Of course, it is not demure of me to retweet the shout out, but I assume I can mention the kindness in this quiet backwaters spot where it's just you and me -- and we'll assume a friendly orientation from anyone who gets past my "shy bookish girl" image-guard (a "gargoyle" of sorts, designed to carry unfriendly otherwise detractors away from this site) and curtain of words. ;-)



Memory Wall

The main thing -- Stephen R. Covey

My office wall is mostly filled with 13x19 prints that hold memories of places we've been and people closest to me. But there are a few other bits of "texture" besides. Right above my desk is a collection of drawings and notes, mostly from the kids. Amongst the sentimental rubble, there's a note I jotted in a hotel room (I was in Boston, talking about an architecture workshop I was doing on the phone with Dana, and he quoted Stephen Covey and I jotted it down to remind me to bring that up when we started up the next morning). Anyway, it was Stephen Covey's memorable "The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing." Sure, it is a scrap of paper, in my scrappy handwriting. At face value, it is not exactly an aesthetic add. Except I'm much more about meaning, and meaningful, and attach my aesthetic thereto. And when paired with a message from Sara (then 6 or so) that began "Mommy, I think it is time I'm telling you that," it is a collage to orient a life!!

RIP Stephen Covey.


(Please don't think I've written off real-time (design) patterns -- I was just checking that item off! ;-) And hopefully (those who care most about) the late Stephen R. Covey will forgive my misspelling of his first name.)

PS. As things "Main" go, The Main Squeeze is our favorite jazz-funk band. Ok, that's not exactly the most forthright framing -- because were it not for The Main Squeeze, I would not know I liked jazz-funk!!! ;-) (Don't hold that against me; I just hadn't thought to explore funk, and wouldn't have known where to begin.)

7/29/12: Take note -- because South Africans know how to hear music! ;-) Sugar Man -- oh man does that take me back! I must have worn my Cold Fact LP out! I never knew that Rodriguez wasn't popular except in small countries in the Southern hemisphere! Good heavens, how did anyone come of age without I Wonder? I Wonder, like Sugar Man, was important in the development of a value system that is about freedom and restraint rather than constraint.

"I wonder about the tears in children's eyes
And I wonder about the soldier that dies
I wonder will this hatred ever end
I wonder and worry my friend
I wonder I wonder wonder don't you?"
-- Rodriguez, I Wonder lyrics

"It was Mr. Segerman who introduced Mr. Bendjelloul to the implausible story of how Rodriguez, after copies of “Cold Fact” hit South Africa in the early ’70s, became an anti-establishment inspiration there and something of a political cause. Rodriguez, with his soft guitar strumming and lyrics that hit hard, blunt notes (“I’ve tasted hate street’s hanging tree”), became a star." -- Manolha Dargis, Rock Musician Shrouded in Mystery of What Might Have Been, July 26, 2012

The sound, and the lyrics, are amazing. So glad the movie will bring a now 70 year old Rodriguez to the attention of the rest of the world -- if we talk about it! Anybody who's coming to my workshop in Chicago simply must plan to fly out the next day -- because Rodriguez will be performing September 20, at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, Illinois!! How's that for Serendipity?

The story is important in many ways, but it makes the point that the audience has a responsibility, too. Every person whose greatness is known owes much to themselves (and the giants whose shoulders they stand upon), but also to those who embraced, advocated and encouraged their work.


One-Stop Variety Shop

So why is it that architects don't advocate my Trace as a one-stop requisite variety shop? ;-) Yeah, it has the flavor of a work in progress. That's the point! We are each our own most important work-in-progress -- no matter what else we're building in the world, we are building our own self. And it is our degrees of responsiveness, our multifacetedness and the range of sensibilities and capabilities we have built within ourselves, that enables us to sense, to perceive, to make sense and respond effectively to the high variety of demands placed on us in our role as architects. Ok, sure, I'll grant that who you allow to pour thoughts into your mind is a shaping choice, but remember too that diversity is important and my Trace is like a healthy salad ...for your head. Now, you might prefer to assemble your own salad, and I respect that, if you really are seeking out diversity. But if you're not paying attention to bringing diversity into your thoughtscape, you're not building the flexibility you need to be a great architect. And oh do I challenge your flexibility... uh... and your ability to accommodate challenge and respond with graceful equanimity.

Playfulness aside, when I read back over a prior month of Trace entries, I wonder why this Trace is so little recommended, brimming as it is with insight. (A wink as warning: slow satire at play.) Naturally I figured that all it needed is a little sloganeering. So, wallah: One-stop variety shop. All your requisite variety building in bite sized chunks served daily.


So, there you have it. Ross Ashby by allusion, applied to organizational systems by observing that we need to build variety within ourselves to meet the variety without. If you were reading here back in October last year, you have a head-start on those who are only just getting this point. ;-)

As for variety in my empathy-building, perception enhancing, meaning conceiving diet: tonight we went to see The Taming of the Shrew at IU's Summer Festival Theater and it was AWESOME!!! Standing ovation awesome! The way it was staged and directed; the acting; just wonderful! Humanity is amazing. The other night we saw the same cast do You Can't Take It With You, and that was great too. And fun for Dana because he was Tony when his high school did the play. We all -- the kids included -- enjoyed both plays immensely. And I'm sure that it is doing my chapter writing a lot of good to have taken two nights off. I was able to carve out time to write today, and happily broke a barrier that was holding back my "flow" on a critical remaining section. I was getting worried there, I do confess!

Oh don't worry. I'm confident (given the history) that no-one is actually going to recommend my Trace. :-) I guess people just aren't that image conscious when it comes to what their minds consume... ;-)

Or... maybe they are image conscious and it's just that requisite variety building through short-cut diversity sourcing isn't trendy yet... But I'm working on it. ;-)

7/29/12: This site has been a quiet backwaters place for 6.5 years -- by design. So you should know that I'm just kidding about the promotion thing. The warmth of encouragement is energizing; I don't get much affirmative feedback on my writing (the few exceptions are the more treasured by me), so mostly my energy has to come from the small hope that of those who don't immediately bounce off, at least a few people enjoy and get value from what I do here. I realize full well that for the most part people who bounce by here go "oh gawd" and barf on. But if you've read here a while, you presumably know that the price of admission to an insight of significance is looking beyond the "wards" of personal story, of ruffian playfulness, or some such headfake.



Software Architects Worth Following

Simon Brown brought Gene Hughson's blog to our attention in the last week or so and I read -- and much enjoyed/valued -- a number of his blog posts. And today I read his post distinguishing architecture from other design. Anyway, Gene's blog belongs on a short list of architect blogs. (Along with Charlie Alfred's -- we need him back in the groove of more regular blogging!) I also much like Tony DaSilva's blog, which is playful and insightful and documents much of Tony's curious questing. Tony has Dana's tendency to read the founding fathers (sadly, for the most part, yes, men, but that's not Tony's doing, nor Dana's!!!) of fields that have a bearing on effectiveness as architects (systems thinking and design, but also interpersonal effectiveness). I do too, but I also read a very broad swathe including -- and with great relish -- the work of practitioners. Dana is especially drawn to the first works of pioneers of fields and I see his point. One life is really not enough!!!

7/31/12: Of course, I recommend Martin Fowler's blog most highly!


The Man Calls It

The LIBOR economy-terrorists among the foremost, but we're all implicated. Well, maybe not the Amish, or at least less so the Amish. :-)


Solutionism is the New Optimism?

Dow circa 2011: Solutionism is the New Optimism and the GiantChalkBoard. I hear about it today? Sheesh tweeps. I rely on you! All I get in the stream these days is more news that the human barrel is full of rotten apples. And that is important for it's raised our sense of urgency around the need to adjust our moral compass, and solve the problems we've loosed on this planet. Now we need to fix this thing. We can make the world sing! Or Eric Whitacre can. And we can do other amazing stuff.

So, yeah, I had this big insight today around control systems and values, and such and its a big deal but... I'm late, I'm late... I'm... ever... so ... late...



In the "What's Wrong With the World?" Category

Why on earth don't Grady Booch and Hal Hildebrand have huge numbers of followers on Twitter? I seriously need to up the "new optimism" quotient on Twitter, but if I had to choose just two people to follow, I have to think it'd be those two. Well, Brenda Michelson's tweets always catch my eye -- she is sharp-insightful and witty. Ok. It'd be hard to cut to just two. But you surely get my point. Follow them!

8/5/12: Right. It always surprises me how unsusceptible people are to suggestion... Well, the good news is -- inertia is alive and well on Earth. Curiosity? Well, we're hoping to land that on Mars.


Or not. Your prerogative of course. :-)



By way of orientation, let me add -- given the range of factors, the complexity, uncertainty and challenge, that the architect deals with both technically and interpersonally/organizationally, I believe that sufficient variety or requisite flexibility (or, if you prefer, the Ashby term requisite variety) has to be brought within the architect's compass. That gives me great latitude in terms of where I explore and what I feel is fit to be Traced here.


I also write at:

- Bredemeyer Resources for  Architects

- Trace In the Sand Blog

- Follow ruthmalan on Twitter



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More Archives


July Posts





- How to Use Conscious Purpose


Strategy, Innovation, Ecosystems

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Enterprise Architecture



Software Architecture



Scanning Trends and Other




Chief Scientists

- Grady Booch

- Michael Feathers

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Enterprise Architects

- John Ayre

-Peter Bakker

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- Brenda Michelson


- Sethuraj Nair

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- Randall Satchell

- Praba Siva

- Serge Thorn

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- Richard Veryard

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Architects and Architecture

- Charlie Alfred

- "Doc" Andersen

- Tad Anderson

- Jason Baragry

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- Peter Cripps

- Rob Daigneau

- Udi Dahan

- Tony DaSilva

- Matt Deacon

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- Todd Hoff (highly recommended)

- Gregor Hohpe

- Gene Hughson

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Architect Professional Organizations




Software Visualization

- Adrian Kuhn

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Domain-Driven Design

- Dan Hayward

Agile and Lean

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- hackerchickblog

- Johanna Rothman


Agile and Testing

- Elisabeth Hendrickson

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Software Reuse

- Vijay Narayanan

Other Software Thought Leaders

- Jeff Atwood

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CTOs and CIOs

- Rebecca Parsons

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CEOs (Tech)


CEOs (Web 2.0)

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Innovate/Tech Watch

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- slashdot

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- Marci Segal


Visual Thinking

- Amanda Lyons


Social Networking/Web 2.0+ Watch


- Mashable


Visual Thinking

- Dave Gray

- Dan Roam

- David Sibbet (The Grove)

- Scott McLoud


Leadership Skills

- Presentation Zen


Strategy, BI and Competitive Intelligence

- Freakonomics blog

- Tom Hawes

- Malcom Ryder


Um... and these
- Nick Carr

- Tom Peters


Green Thinking

- Sylvia Earle, TED

- CNN Money Business of Green videos

- Matter Network


- xkcd

- Buttercup Festival

- Dinosaur comics

- geek&poke

- phd comics

- a softer world

- Dilbert




I also write at:

- Resources for Software, System and Enterprise Architects

- Trace In the Sand Blog

- Follow ruthmalan on Twitter



- Strategy, Architecture and Agility: The Art of Change: Fractal and Emergent, 2010 

- Innovation and Agile Architecting: Getting Past ‘But’: Finding Opportunity and Making It Happen, 2008


Ruth Malan has played a pioneering role in the software architecture field, helping to define architectures and the process by which they are created and evolved, and helping to shape the role of the software, systems and enterprise architect. She and Dana Bredemeyer created the Visual Architecting Process which emphasises: architecting for agility, integrity and sustainability. Creating architectures that are good, right and successful, where good: technically sound; right: meets stakeholders goals and fit context and purpose; and successful: actually delivers strategic outcomes. Translating business strategy into technical strategy and leading the implementation of that strategy. Applying guiding principles like: the extraordinary moment principle; the minimalist architecture principle; and the connect the dots principle. Being agile. Creating options.

Feedback: 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! I can be reached at

Restrictions on Use: If you wish to quote or paraphrase original work on this page, please properly acknowledge the source, with appropriate reference to this web page. If you wish to republish any of my or Bredemeyer Consulting's work, in any medium, you must get written permission from the lead author. Also, any commercial use must be authorized in writing by myself or Bredemeyer Consulting. Thank you.


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a deer in the headlights sort of look is just perfect next to an expression of openness to feedback ;-) [dry sense of humor alert]

Copyright © 2012 by Ruth Malan
Page Created:July 1, 2012
Last Modified: August 10, 2014