Posts Tagged ‘conceptual integrity’

Invisible, Thus Irrelevant

October 19, 2011 Leave a comment

A system that has a sound architecture is one that has conceptual integrity, and as (Fred) Brooks firmly states, “conceptual integrity is the most important consideration in system design”. In some ways, the architecture of a system is largely irrelevant to its end users. However, having a clean internal structure is essential to constructing a system that is understandable, can be extended and reorganized, and is maintainable and testable.

The above paragraph was taken from Booch et al’s delightful “Object-Oriented Analysis And Design With Applications“. BD00’s version of the bolded sentence is:

In some ways, the architecture of a system is largely irrelevant to its end users, its developers, and all levels of management in the development organization.

If the architecture is invisible because of the lack of a lightweight, widely circulated, communicated, and understood, set of living artifacts, then it can’t be relevant to any type of stakeholder – even a developer. As the saying goes: “out of site, out of mind“.

Despite the long term business importance of understandability, extendability, reorganizability, maintainability, and testability, many revenue generating product architectures are indeed invisible – unlike short term schedulability and budgetability; which are always highly visible.

Where Elitism Is Proper?

November 22, 2010 4 comments

Ever since I stumbled upon Fred Brooks‘s meta-physical idea of “Conceptual Integrity” in his classic book, “The Mythical Man Month“, I’ve strived mightily to achieve that elusive quality in the software work that I do. Over twenty years ago, Mr. Brooks stated that the greatest conceptually integral designs were the product of one, or at most two, human minds. Fred asserts that his “one or two minds” principle still holds true today:

My fictional alter ego, Bulldozer aught aught, would’ve re-worded the beginning of the statement to “Most, if not all… “, but Fred’s message stills rings loud and true.

According to Fred, in today’s world of exponentially growing complexity and team sizes, conceptual integrity is more difficult to achieve than ever:

Why the increased difficulty? Because as a team grows larger, more minds will collide with each other to express and manifest their incompatible design ideas. Big projects can, and usually do, devolve into “design by committee” fiascos where monstrously over-complicated contraptions get created and foisted upon the world.

Ok, Ok, you say. Enough disclosure of the pervasive problem – we get it Yoda. What’s the solution, bozo? Here it is:

Even though it sounds simple to enact this policy, it’s not. The role of “Chief Designer” in a group of highly educated, independent thinking people is fraught with peril. It requires a dose of discipline imposition that can be perceived as “meanness” to external observers. Too much perceived meanness can cause a supporting team to morph into an unsupporting team and lead to the ejection and ostracism of the chief designer. Too little meanness and the possibility of achieving conceptual integrity goes right out the window – it’s Rube Goldberg city. Bummer.

Does your org explicitly recognize and implement the “Chief Designer” role – which is not the same as the softer, less technical, more politically correct, and more administrative “software lead”, “project manager”, “product manager”, and…….. “software rocket-tect” roles? If your org does formally implement the “Chief Designer” role, are your chief designers kept on a tight leash by higher ranking BUTTS, BMs, BOOGLs, SCOLs or CGHs that have no idea what “conceptual integrity” means? Worse, do your “Chief Designers” (again, if you have any) handcuff themselves in order to increase their promotability?

I’m not into corpo caste systems or stratified command-control hierarchies and I struggle endlessly to fight the instinct to play the “I’m smarter than you” game, but I agree with Mr. Brooks when he asserts that world class product design is one of those rare situations…..

How about you? Where do you stand…… or sit?

Note: The snippets in this blarticle were copied and pasted from Fred Brooks’s “The Design Of Design” pitch at the Construx Software Executive Summit. You can download and study it in its entirety from here:  Summit Materials.

Open Loop

I’m currently working on a really exciting and fun software development project with several highly competent peers. Two of them, however, like to operate open loop and plow ahead with minimal collaboration with the more disciplined (and hence, slower) developers. These dudes not only insert complex designs and code into their components without vetting their ideas before the rest of the team, they have no boundaries. Like elephants in a china shop, they tramp all over code in everybody else’s “area of ownership”.

“He who touches the code last, owns it.” — Anonymous

Because of the team cohesion that it encourages, I’m all for shared ownership, but there has to be some nominal boundary to arrest the natural growth in entropy inherent in open loop systems and to ensure local and global conceptual integrity.

Even though these colleagues are rogues, they’re truly very smart. So, I’m learning from them, albeit slooowly since they don’t document very well (surprise!) and I have to laboriously reverse engineer the code they write to understand what the freak they did. Even though feelings aren’t allowed, I “feel” for those dudes who come on board the project and have to extend/maintain our code after we leave for the next best thing.

Supported By, Not Partitioned Among

April 24, 2010 Leave a comment

“A design flows from a chief designer, supported by a design team, not partitioned among one.” – Fred Brooks

partitioning == silos == fragmented scopes of responsibility ==  it’s someone else’s job == uncontrolled increase in entropy == a mess == pissed off customers == pissed off managers == disengaged workers

“Who advocates … for the product itself—its conceptual integrity, its efficiency, its economy, its robustness? Often, no one.” – Fred Brooks

Note for non-programmers: “==” is the C++ programming language’s logical equality operator. If the operator’s left operand equates to its right operand, then the expression is true. For example, the expression “1 == 1” (hopefully) evaluates to true.

Knowing this, do you think the compound expression sandwiched between the two Brooks’s quotes evaluates to true? If not, where does the chain break?

Conceptual Integrity

April 8, 2010 1 comment

Like in his previous work, “The Mythical Man Month“, in “The Design Of Design“, Fred Brooks remains steadfast to the assertion that creating and maintaining “conceptual integrity” is the key to successful and enduring designs. Being a long time believer in this tenet, I’ve always been baffled by the success of Linux under the free-for-all open source model of software development. With thousands of people making changes and additions, even under Linus Torvalds benevolent dictatorship, how in the world could the product’s conceptual integrity defy the second law of thermodynamics under the onslaught of such a chaotic development process?

Fred comes through with the answers:

  1. A unifying functional specification is in place: UNIX.
  2. An overall design structure, initially created by Torvalds, exists.
  3. The builders are also the users – there are no middlemen to screw up requirements interpretation between the users and builders.

If you extend the reasoning of number 3, it aligns with why most of the open source successes are tools used by software developers and not applications used by the average person. Some applications have achieved moderate success, but not on the scale of Linux and other application development tools.

%d bloggers like this: