A Trace in the Sand

by Ruth Malan





Architects Architecting Architecture  

November 2014


What's a Trace?

Hell if I know, any more. I thought it was worthwhile. But if no-one bothers to find it so, no-one bothers to say so. Well. It is depressing. At least.

I know. This is an unusual format. That it has been shown generous kindness is amazing!

"The absence of any positive feedback, by implication, suggests that there is nothing the person is doing right." -- Kevlin Henney

From time to time, someone is extraordinarily kind. Moreover, attention takes time and the compliment it pays is the more sincere since it is a side-effect. I am grateful.

But. If I want an audience of more than 4 or 5 clearly exceptional people, I shall have to write for that audience. Hm.

Well, would you miss gems like this:

We can go to the usual place, and look for the key under the lamplight wikipedia shines

Isn't that worth the price of admission right there?! Okay, I know. The price is high. So many words.

Still, I guess my sense of humor is a little too... referential... for most people... ??? Many (possible, and possibly ambiguous) relationships under uncertainty, characterize complexity... So. It depends what is being named. You see? It's complicated. ;-)



So, does that mfeathers teaser decode to:

Agile estimation is the Achilles heel of velocity <=> technical debt is the Achilles heel of attempts at earlier time to value or monetization.

which may be visualized as:

Using the past to predict the future under conditions of growing entropy is... let's just say... hard? At least. Growing pressure to meet schedule predictions and attendant commitments increases entropy... Spiral.

It's for SCIENCE!

Will you please help me help my son get lab rats (that's you -- please) for his science research seminar project in high school. Thank you. Here you go..




Stunningly Humbling Week!

and a kind shout from Grady Booch! That mention was especially kind, given that Grady has a wonderful long-running column in IEEE Software (first on architecture and now on computing, especially as it relates to the human experience), and in the Sept/Oct edition he contributes to the "learn to code" discussion with a wonderful historical perspective, and observations about where we are at:

And this happened, followed by this and this:

So kind

Thank you!

Of course, Grady, the SEI team and Philippe Kruchten, the Hofmeister, Nord and Soni team at Siemens, and Dana Bredemeyer and I. and our colleagues at the Software Initiative at HP, along with others, were doing field shaping work in architecture in the last millennium. We might hence be cast by the uninformed in BDUF caskets. However, those familiar with visual architecting know that we have taken a more agile than Agile approach since the mid-90's. Minimalist, just enough, participatory, messy and non-linear, evolutionary, these were all part of the orientation we advocated long before the Agile Manifesto. We, and others like Rebecca Wirfs-Brock, should be among those who leap to mind before the good Mr. Fowler when it comes to architecture in any context, Agile included. Martin Fowler is very good at packaging up what is at the cusp of a major "happening" in our field, but it is in the wake of pioneers who made that wave happen. Oops. Did that put a target on my back? I mean that with enormous respect, because it takes non-trivial insight into our field to be able to do that, and he does it superbly! Further, we're all learning from each other, so what Martin does is what we do.

11/25/14: Craig Jordan added another two posts to his series:

I can't see the third in the series. Can you? Not sure if it is LinkedIn behavior on my end...


Perlis on Style and Idiom in APL

Lyrical, indeed:

"The virtues of APL that strike the programmer most sharply are its terseness — complicated acts can be described briefly, its flexibility — there are a large number of ways to state even moderately complicated tasks (the language provides choices that match divergent views of algorithm construction), and its composability — there is the possibility to construct sentences — one-liners as they are commonly called — that approach in the flow of phrase organization, sequencing and imbedding, the artistic possibilities achievable in natural language prose.

The sweep of the eye across a single sentence can expose an intricate, ingenious and beautiful interplay of operation and control that in other programming languages is observable only in several pages of text. One begins to appreciate the emergence and significance of style and to observe that reading and writing facility is tied to the development of an arsenal of idioms which soon become engraved in one’s skull as units."

-- Alan J. Perlis, In Praise of APL: A Language for Lyrical Programming, 1977




Organizational Effectiveness

Under the principle of facing realities (elephant in the room stuff), we went with "organizational politics" in the architect competency conceptual framework (rather than alternatives like organizational dynamics). And it falls in the general rubric of Organizational Effectiveness (in our updated model, featuring Strategic, Organizational and Technical Effectiveness as the three legs of the tippy stool of architect qualities and focal areas). Anyway, my eye fell on this in a trace from 2013, and I wanted to pull it out from under the pile of past words:

While a coder can shrug politics off as the machinations of the insufficiently talented, the architect is much impeded if his political capacity is all crusted over with that kind of hubris. Leading is much about creating enabling context for the team to do great work, and this means advocating and leading up and across in the organization, maintaining the organizational will to do the big thing the development team is talenting away at. And otherwise avoiding swamps.


11/30/14: A "coder"? Hm. Well, I don't like stereotypes, or glib labels in danger of becoming stereotypes. Stereotypes are Procrustean frames -- they hack people down to the size of our (culturally absorbed) internal framing of them, rather than letting them be their full and unique selves. But we also have to get by with trying to communicate with less rather than more, and assume goodwilling in the writing, allowing goodwilling in the interpretation. By "coder," I was simply shorthanding those who, by the cast of how their organization (dis)empowers them, or their own preference and predilection for avoiding the messy social dynamics of working across organizational boundaries, focus on writing code. It can be hazardous writing in our field, because words are trip-wires for fury. But it isn't (always) clear which words, for which people. It is simply an organizational reality for many, that roles get cleaved and conscribed along communication and responsibility boundaries. We confuse many things, description and prescription among them. And we can choose not to perceive the smiles that convey exploration rather than didactic assertion, too. (Hint: that's a smile.)



Can We All Just Take a Moment

No, that was not an echo in that Ruffyan creature's tweet. Sheesh. It was taking a moment to appreciate someone who takes a moment to appreciate. A girl who represented her school in astronomy at the middle school state Science Olympiad, and who is vying to be on her high school's team, again focused on astronomy, among other things including projectiles. So, she was right thrilled at the history made today.



This Trace, and my exploration, is addressed at the challenges faced by architects -- of complex systems, in complex organizational situations. These traces should set the stage for talking about leadership in that context:

Yesterday I presciently tweeted a link to Cory Booker's talk on leadership. See my tweetsream for lots of great pointers from today, focused around Linda Rising's talk and the tweet-outs about, and responses to, it. The notion that leadership is something that happens throughout the organization, at different scopes and scales of impact, is not new to us. There is this from 2011: Playing Leap Frog

And this is from our Fractal and Emergent paper (2010), which you probably still need to get around to reading (smiles):

Growing Grounds for Leaders

When we see leadership as something that happens in change fractals, we realize that a smaller project scope is a practice ground for many of the leadership skills architects will draw on as they progress through their careers and their scope of influence broadens. The need (opportunity embracing or threat avoidance) is context dependent, which also means dependent on scope of accountability (set by work context or moral context).

The notion of fractal leadership pushes empowerment throughout the organization. It gives each of us a place to start, as we lead the changes that help our organization become more adaptive, able to catalyze opportunity, and negotiate threat — within our current charter and job scope.

What is more, a leader may be nominated or chartered to lead, or a leader might step into that role because she (or he) perceives an urgent and compelling opportunity to add or create value, a “cause” like entropy that is pulling some part of the organization under with its inertial weight, or some other significant “itch” of dissatisfaction with something in the status quo. We tend to think that in organizational settings (business, nonprofits, government agencies, etc.) leaders are given a mandate, while in social change leaders emerge, touched by destiny, to change history. It is interesting to look at history and realize that even among the leaders we recognize for leading significant social change some saw a need and stepped up to the plate of leadership without any specific solicitation to that role — James Madison, for example. Others were actively persuaded to change their position, influenced to see a need for change as a moral imperative; this was the case with both William Wilberforce and Abraham Lincoln, both of whom saw slavery as morally wrong but needed persuading to take up the cause of abolition. So these leaders were invited, coaxed, inspired to investigate the cause, and seeing the compelling urgent need, they used their personality, vigorous dedication to the cause, and talent at persuading, influencing, and strategizing, to enroll others and bring about change. What is important is that wherever the initial impetus comes from, the leader sees what is needed in the world, becomes inspired with a sense of what to do about it, and rallies and aligns others to get it done.

What Makes a Leader

It isn’t enough for the leader to be impassioned by a cause that will take many people to address. Others need to be drawn in, inspired and enabled so that their contributions add up to achieving the outcome that is sought — a bigger outcome than any individual could achieve on his or her own or working without alignment. The art of the leader then, is to inspire more leaders to unfold and build out the strategy in ever more tangible, focused ways. This is a job of inspiring and aligning and of transmitting the core unifying, integrating principles and the shaping context and strategy. These in some ways constrain but in important ways empower so that the system, while emergent through an adaptive evolutionary process, also has the unifying stamp of a single coherent design aesthetic expressed as far as possible in decisions made with intentionality. Now, while an autocrat might be able to use threats and punishment to coerce change in process and decision making to achieve unifying design integrity, this is not typically an option for an architect!

"Early in my career I lamented to an older and wiser colleague that if I only had a higher position with authority, then I could make our software projects go much more smoothly. She set me straight stating that authority is earned through a person’s actions, not through their position. She went on to say that trying to influence the work of software developers is much like herding cats. They’ll do what they want to do and will follow your lead only if you gain their respect and trust through consistent, credible, and gentle means rather trying to lay down the law." — Rob Daigneau, “The Hard Skills Are the Soft Skills”

In a down economy with jobs in short supply, uncertainty causes more restraint, but even so, people who need to be highly creative can’t simply be commanded. We have used the image of pushing versus pulling string; you have to pull string if you want it to go where you want it to go. This is an image of being out front, and a facilitative, servant leader isn’t necessarily out front all the time. What is out front is the vision, the compelling thing that needs to be done. Moreover, including those impacted in elaborating the vision draws them in — literally and figuratively.

If the role of the architect is limited to a slice in the lifecycle of the system, we get what is status quo for many organizations — architects who are heroes of crisis intervention. But truly agile businesses need architects who are heroes of crisis prevention and, more, architects who are leaders in innovation and value creation through matching technology capability to business opportunity.

So, That was circa 2010 and I've learned a lot since. But it is still a leading set of ideas, no?

Oh. And I used the string image rather than my quip about the elephant. "If we put the architect behind the elephant, we may as well just give her a shovel because all she can do at that point is damage control..." I call it 'Getting Past "But".

Naturally we have been exploring leadership for as long as we have been working in this space -- Bredemeyer Consulting is 16 years old this month you guys!!! For example, there's "Leaders, Warts and All" from 2008 -- my kids, illustrating rapport, were so darned cute, weren't they?! Plotting against dad in the acorn wars -- I'm so glad I jotted that down; what memories it recalls to mind. Smiles.

Oh. And. The Paola Antonelli: Walk the walk talk is awesome. Rebels ftw.

Again, the focus above is on leadership and architects. Opportunities to create coherence and energizing import around doing something that can't be done alone, are all over; they are by no means limited to architecting. Obviously! But architecting is about getting things that need to happen from a broader, system outcomes perspective, to happen when they don't just happen on their own. The architect doesn't need to lead in every case -- shouldn't even. But the architect does need to lead when no-one else is, and there is no other way to accomplish the strategically significant system outcomes. Outcomes that are make or break have consequences. Quality of life and perhaps even jobs on the line for the team. Consequences -- maybe even safety or security-- for customers. And so on. Things that matter. A lot.

11/18/14: It is hard to talk about leadership, it seems. One wants to avoid implying leadership is strong on command and control, dictatorship and autocratic directorial styles that veer to the extreme in the dominance direction. But one also wants to reserve a place for decision making under urgency to move things forward. So it is not a uniform terrain. Sometimes charismatic and inspiring. Sometimes assertive and directorial -- just enough as fits the moment (at least, that's my preferred model of leadership, but I grant that there are other styles). Sometimes empowering, delegating, including, convening conversations, leading or enabling explorations that lead toward consensus. Stepping it up to making decisions unilaterally if time and lack of progress towards consensus means some decision must be made to move. Being aware, including self-aware. So decisions are revisited. Direction is set, and adjusted, and reset. As fits the moment, and the context, its forces, constraints, emergent outcomes and intents become more clear. And so on. Etc. Yadda. You get the picture. Books -- no shelves of books -- are written on this! :)

Also, conversations around partnering, collaboration, participation, and followership and facilitative leadership and so on, belong here too.


Boot Me Off

If you see me on Twitter, ridicule me mercilessly for giving in. I have way too much to do. As a bulletin board for pointing to people's work, Twitter does pretty well, but my "Serendipity feed" is overflowing as it is.

to dont

(Oh. Let's just take a moment to appreciate that someone gets my very dry sense of humor. I know, I know, it is so dry California should probably bar me from entry, lest I worsen their drought. Harhar? No, no. You know how it ends.)

(Yes, the last line is, among other things, a meta-comment on how twitter has become a medium not just for telling and selling, but also for meting social "normalizing" often with the big stick of social shaming... I do pack rather a lot into a line.... ;) Plus also To Don't lists, for those who missed that that is a thing. ;)

(What? If you'd known it meant all that, you'd have retweeted it too? ;)

11/27/14: "Plus also"?!? I know. I know. I flagrantly break the rules, so that when I do so by accident, you'll just assume it was"art." ;) Um, no. That's not it. I bend grammar. Tolerance workout much? Well, reading here is like, oh, the highest level of difficulty. :) It's really just training for the supergalactic levels of "translation" one has to become good at, being the parent of teens. Uh. No. Translating across all the different languages of the various stakeholders one has to not just make sense of, but sense to, architecting complex systems, with complex environmental inputs and impacts.



Leadership, Abe and the Arc of Architecture

(via the ever awesome Dana Bredemeyer, who introduced it to me long back, but I re-remembered to trace-note it only now, in the context of the leadership discourse we're having single-mindedly; wink)

This, if we allow it, can lead our thoughts germanely and germinatively:

"The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves - in their separate, and individual capacities.

In all that the people can individually do as well for themselves, government ought not to interfere.

The desirable things which the individuals of a people can not do, or can not well do, for themselves, fall into two classes: those which have relation to wrongs, and those which have not. Each of these branch off into an infinite variety of subdivisions. The first - that in relation to wrongs - embraces all crimes, misdemeanors, and nonperformance of contracts. The other embraces all which, in its nature, and without wrong, requires combined action, as public roads and highways, public schools, charities, pauperism, orphanage, estates of the deceased, and the machinery of government itself. From this it appears that if all men were just, there still would be some, though not so much, need for government."

-- Abraham Lincoln, Fragment on Government (1 July 1854?) in "The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln", ed. Roy P. Basler, Vol. 2, p. 220-221.

I don't mean to suggest heavy-handed governing, nor weighty governance (in organizations, around architecture). It is a way of thinking about minimalist architecture, and a wonderful statement and reminder of the great thinking we have to draw on.

Minimalist architecture? Dana's conception (minimalism and the arc of architecture), which I wrote up here (so credit Dana with the good ideas, and me for errors like using the word "asset"):


("long back".. re-remember... -- I know. I abuse grammar. Whaaaat? I don't get to break some grammar now and then? One has to take certain liberties, to bend words into the form of feelings and states. To open the conversation in a mind to include others in its comfy circle, informally exploring and trusting-non-judgmental... ;)




By Dana Bredemeyer


Oh, okay. Dana only took the photo, he didn't actually make the sun rise. ;)




Design, Delight and Kano

A twitter-sized convo on design and delight, and this response:

Design, delight and Kano

reminded me of a trace from 2007, which I will reproduce here:

Charlie Alfred, in his inimitable style, is also furthering the value/delight discussion:

"Here's my view of value and delight.  I see them as non-identical twins - as close as you can get without being the same.  I see delight as a special case of value, the special case that has surprise, excitement, or urgency.  Delight is a women getting a dozen long stem roses for no reason.  Delight is what somebody feels right at the top of a steep rollercoaster.  Delight is when you are next in line at the keg after a hot summer softball game.  Delight is always valuable, always heightened, and nearly always transient.

Value (the non-delight variety) is satisfying, enduring, and more level in its intensity.  Value is the companionship you find in a long-term relationship, or the knowledge that your car will just work the way you expect, even though it has 100,000 miles on it.  Value is knowing that your favorite NFL team will not be eliminated from playoff contention with 7 weeks remaining in the regular season.

Is one better than the other?  Hardly?  Can you do without either?  Not and be better off for it.  What's the difference in providing it?  Providing delight requires imagination, creativity, and the ability to know what another wants at a particular moment.  Providing value requires imagination, creativity, and the ability to know what another wants in general, or over a longer period of time.

Agree or disagree?"

-- Charlie Alfred (email, 1/25/07)

Well put. I see delight as a special kind of value. I realize I've been alluding to something without naming it. That something is the Kano model, and when Sara Beckman (UC Berkeley) introduced me to the Kano model, she talked about factors that delight (or excite), and I've been talking about the Kano model that way ever since.

I do that. I integrate powerful influences and they become part of the way I think and communicate. Which reminds me, every time I say "architectural challenge" and "use contexts" and pretty much anything about value, you should really read that as a reference to Charlie Alfred (I highly recommend his blog, as well as his superb papers on Product Strategy and Architecture and Architecture Challenges).

While Twitter does much to help ideas find mates, I do feel wistful about missing out on the social networking that really delved into ideas in longer-lived and respectful conversations. Like this.

Twitter is just so... flighty. :)


11/29/14: We have Paul Harland to thank for this:

'“Not that you’re trying to make every scene a great scene, but you try not to annoy the audience,” Hawks tells McBride on page 36.' -- Jeffrey Wells, Annoyance Experts,

And this

bad acting

Evidently I'm very in tune with the paradox of imperfection as foil for delight. This Trace? No? I'm stung.

Remind me to add a scan of Dana's photo of one of Antoine Bourdelle's sculptures of Beethoven -- it sparks, and so illustrates, delight at perfection in imperfection. Oh, my Trace is a poor imitation, to be sure. But still. Delight doesn't mean absolutely everything is perfect. Only that some essence hits a zing. :) What? My Trace doesn't? You're just odd then. No worries. You're in good company here. :)


I also write at:

- Bredemeyer Resources for  Architects

- Trace In the Sand Blog




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I also write at:


- 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

- EA and Business Strategy: Enterprise Architecture as Strategic Differentiator, 2005

- The Role of the Architect:: What it Takes to be a Great Enterprise Architect, 2004


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 emphasizes: architecting for agility, integrity and sustainability. Creating architectures that are good, right and successful, where good: technically sound; right: meets stakeholders goals and fits 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

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Page Created:October 1, 2014
Last Modified: December 1, 2014