The show-off moment: a danger for developers

ICT architects need to make connection between business and design, says Unisys ICT architect

ICT architects need to learn “expectation management” skills, so what they deliver coincides with what the client expected in terms of services and payback to the business, says Unisys ICT architect Dermot O’Brien.

O’Brien says that, even in these days of “service-oriented architecture”, it is easy for a system design to become too tied to a methodology of “lines and boxes”. These may communicate well to other architects and code developers, but don’t necessarily enthuse the end-users and managers who vote money for projects.

Even at the early requirements-definition stage, an ICT architect can lose sight of the business benefit that the system is designed to achieve, said O’Brien, in his recent address to a Wellington meeting of the Worldwide Institute of Software Architects (WWISA).

O’Brien’s presentation was entitled, “Mind the Gap”, implying that failing to make the connection between business and design is as serious as stepping off a station platform and failing to make contact with the train.

Modelling in strict logical terms is fine, but it does not replace on-going communication with users and managers. If developers work in isolation towards a climactic “ta-da moment”, when the finished system is revealed, they could fall flat on their faces. They could well find their beautiful system hovering, like a foot in mid-air, with the business “train” having moved on.

“When modelling the infrastructure you need a model of the service,” says O’Brien. Formal modelling languages, such as UML, typically do not communicate with the businessperson, he says.

“The real art lies in knowing the limitations of modelling”, and when to replace structured formats with less formal tools such as meetings and email.

The “ta-da moment” is itself a mistake, he says.

Demonstrations to users and managers should be on-going. And there should be something to demonstrate that they can appreciate and critique — a prototype, a set of metrics, or even just some screen-layouts.

“When the user says, ‘Can you please show us something?’ that’s a danger signal,” says O’Brien.

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