A Trace in the Sand

by Ruth Malan





Architects Architecting Architecture  

August/September 2015



I'm going to give Twitter a break (with some exceptions), and (with some exceptions -- e.g., below) stop tracing again. I have so much work to focus on. It's exciting!

To get a sense of what this Trace was, here is a selection of traces collected by topic (roughly 2013 - March 2014). It was unusual, I'll grant. But in a field where we talk about empathy, vulnerability, trust, joy and kindness, it was those things and more. Where we talk about "bringing our whole self to work," it's been doing that for nine years. Well, of course there were the usual architects architecting architecture topics too. The usual topics, with field-leading, boundary-pushing insights. You think that claim is overblown? Well, you'll have to read some traces then, to see for yourself. Try this one -- it packs more than the usual payload of insight into just a few words and a couple of diagrams: Contexts

"Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity." -- Simone Weil



Parkour: Join Me?

What: Parkour for architects: a requisite variety workout: full day workshop at the Software Architect Conference, London, UK

When: October 13, 2015

Why: We design systems for fitness (to context and purpose). We engage in fitness training for our bodies. Why not our minds? Why not pay more explicit attention to our own fitness, to our capacity to do great design work, and to engage fruitfully with others in the doing? That's the idea.

We'll get technical about the soft skills, hack our wetware, work out in different areas of architect effectiveness, working the technical core some too. The overview gives an outline of my intention -- I mean that in the sense that I will come with a set of challenges to Work. You Out.

I can surmise other answers to "why?": Perhaps you're curious as to what someone who has being doing this for twenty years has to offer. Perhaps you're intrigued by the parcour (and parkour!) analogy playfully applied to the architect's skillset and capacity to be great in the various moments that challenge us. Perhaps the breakdown into personal, organizational, technical and strategic areas of capability, resonates with you -- or perhaps it doesn't, and you're curious to find out more...

I am up against some exciting alternatives, but I have a huge advantage -- your awesome. Bring it. Work with it. Build it. What is true for an athlete is true for a designer. We can get better at addressing the variety of challenges presented in architecting good, right, successful systems with great coaching, attention and challenge. And practice that isn't just about honing individual skills, but teaming. [Where good==built right; right==right system; successful==delivering value that contributes to the organization's strategic success.]

Who: Architects and tech leads (and those of any title who architect systems), and developers thinking about a career path of increasing scope of influence. And those who partner with and support architects, especially managers (besides, among the "hats" managers wear, is that of organization architect) and product owners (besides, they are architects of systems-in-context**).

What about senior architects? It is helpful for everyone when very experienced, talented, senior* architects participate in our workshops for they bring that rich experience into the workshop, but they also help to set the tone – they underscore the importance of the challenges we talk about, and their excitement about what we bring to the architect’s skillset helps those newer to the role/slate of concerns, see its relevance/importance. But senior architects typically also learn something new, that makes it worth their while. Of course, it helps even more when other architects on their team join us too -- in addition to exposure to and practice with the techniques, it also helps to get a common set of ideas and terminology in place and it is a way to further build the architects’ sense of community.

Anyway. I hope you'll join me. It's a rare opportunity for me to work with you. Nations are getting more and more restrictive and it is becoming harder to share expertise directly and work across borders.


* By senior, I mean broad scope of responsibility (complex systems, product lines, product or service portfolios, etc.), with high strategic impact. The broader the scope (leading and influencing many teams), the more demanding the role in all its dimensions -- organizational, technical, strategic, and personal. The technical decisions are of high consequence -- that is a defining characteristic of architectural decisions. If they're not, you wouldn't/shouldn't be involved in and ultimately responsible for them. They set direction, enable and constrain the business -- so senior architects had better have a keen sense of the strategic. They have impact across various "turfs" with their own purview and agendas, so the "political" aspects cannot be ignored -- or are, at the peril of the teams who depend on senior architects to help create and ensure the context for teams to be successful and thrive.

** Another word about product owners and the like: "requirements" are design decisions that have to do with what role the system plays in its use contexts, and these include highly architectural decisions -- what responsibilities are shifted from the context (persons or other systems) to the system, for example, is about boundary design (what's in, what's out). In that view, decisions about system capabilities and properties are architecturally significant for the system, and its containing systems. Not everyone will see it this way, and I don't belabor the point (except when I do ;-), but I simply wanted to open the invitation to other "flavors" of designers with the caveat that the technical core is different for software architects, but the system thinking translates well to other kinds of systems (social, and socio-technical, not just technical).

9/3/14: It'd be awesome, especially if you haven't done so already (thanks to those who have), if you could pass on word about the conference and my workshop. It costs a lot to haul me over to London, and the organizers have to commit to conference space and all that. When the economic climate gets a bit jumpy, we have to pull harder to keep the ship moving. Be excited about the conference, and my workshop in particular, okay? Thanks. Much appreciated!

“Attention is an intentional, unapologetic discriminator. It asks what is relevant right now, and gears us up to notice only that.” -- Alexandra Horowitz

"What we are paying attention to, shapes what we perceive and pay attention to." -- Ruffyanme ;-) [Also, gorilla!]



Distributed Development

Distributed development of systems is both hard and a way of life for global companies. I'm pulling together a report of what we've learned on what makes that hard and what to do about it. I am happy to share it with those who participate, so if you're interested in sharing experiences please let me know.




Parcour: Some More

This from Tom Graves (are you following @tetradian -- I hope so! If not, fix that, why don't ya? Tom is one of the most generous thinkers and coaches in our field, sharing his wisdom in countless ways.):

"Elaborate apparatus plays an important part in the science of to-day, but I sometimes wonder if we are not inclined to forget that the most important instrument in research must always be the mind of [the researcher]. It is true that much time and effort is devoted to training and equipping the scientist's mind, but little attention is paid to the technicalities of making the best use of it."

-- WIB Beveridge, The Art of Scientific Investigation (1950)

Ah, yes, the technicalities of making the best use of it! Also, in our case (architecture), we are sorely behind on the education part, for designing complex software systems is not part of typical CS or SW Eng undergrad programs.

As Tom Graves indicates, The Art of Scientific Investigation is highly pertinent (with particular relevance to the personal domain of effectiveness -- e.g., intuition, imagination, curiosity, productive thinking, .... --- in the parkour map, although there is some overlap with other areas too):





Visual Architecting

From an email:

"First of all I want to congratulate you for the great work you have done in developing the Visual Architecting Process, I'm sure soon it will be as useful and famous as RUP, SCRUM and other important software Development Methodologies. "

Well... It's like this see... Architecting is what architects do. We just try to help do it better. In the absence of a name, clients were calling what we do "the Bredemeyer Process" and that was even further in the wrong direction, so we called it visual architecting to put the emphasis back on visual (in the early days of Agile, when things modeling and visual were being swept out by the anti-BDUF wave). The sketching (informal systems modeling) we do is important --"a picture is worth 1000 words." But only 1000 and we need to add words too. So, a little lesson in architecture, from my twitter soapbox:

Federalist papers


The story of James Madison as architect of the US Constitution is told here: What it Takes to be a Great Enterprise Architect, 2004 -- yes, you have to pay the price of your contact information to get a great report (think free ebook). If you were paying by credit card, you'd be risking more data than that. ;-) We owe a lot to the Cutter editors -- not least of all, for asking us to write the executive reports, and encouraging me. When you're just trying to get solid work done, you don't make it above the attention surface of this field, and no-one is going to know about the work. So much is owed to those who notice, and encourage, and share, valuable work.

The architecting process, like "the peace process" or "the scientific investigation process," is a way, way different nature of process beast than a chemical process used in manufacturing where unit operations are carefully defined and staged. We have heuristics and principles like the "this extraordinary moment" principle (which is owed to Bucky Fuller, by way of Dana Bredemeyer who articulated it as a guiding principle for architects):

Extraordinary moment




Back to Focus Focus Focus

When I have something to show, I'll pop back up. :)

Of course, sometimes I'm reminded of some good work I want to give exposure to, or something else in the community needs some support. Like that Software Architect Conference -- bringing me from the US raises their costs.



I also write at:

- Trace In the Sand Blog

- Bredemeyer Resources for  Architects


Architects Architecting Architecture'


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- storylines tubemap by Peter Bakker



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My avatars look even more like me than I do, but conferences tend to want the less representative version:

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Copyright © 2015 by Ruth Malan
Page Created: August 8, 2015
Last Modified: November 17, 2015