The incomplete architect vacancy

I find LinkedIn a great medium. Of course, It has its downfalls, but I check it out a couple of times a day. Often, LinkedIn is suggesting me a career opportunity or I have a message from a recruiter. Although I am not looking for a new job, I am really happy at Xebia currently, I do find it interesting to read the vacancy. Especially when it is concerning an Enterprise Architect role, as they make me raise my eyebrows every time. To me, something is fundamentally wrong in the characteristics companies are looking for in an Architect. Before I address it, we need to talk about Conway’s Law.

Conway’s Law

So, Conway’s Law bubbles up in my articles and presentations regularly as it is close to my personal beliefs. In essence, it states that the architecture you will design for any system mimics the communication structure in the organisation. From personal experiences, I have experienced how changing the organisation structure resulted in better system architecture, by that time I wasn’t aware this was called an Inverse Conway Manoeuvre.

Any organization that designs a system (defined broadly) will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization’s communication structure.

Conway’s Law

Respecting and understanding the communication structures in the organisation is an essential characteristic of an architect – and actually any team member. Using this information helps to design architectures that are optimised for flow, reducing the number of dependencies and better suited to the cognitive load of the responsible team. You might guess what I miss in those architect vacancies.

Where are the socio-technical capabilities?

Up to this moment, I haven’t seen any vacancies that mentioned any remark with regards to the social aspect of the architect role. All of the vacancies I have seen are describing the technical aspects of the role. Whether it is architectural patterns or governance practices. I must say there are often remarks around the communication with the business. Speaking both languages, meaning the language of the business and the technical organisation. For the record, I believe organisations should strive to speak one and the same language, but let’s leave that for another article.

Team assignments are the first draft of the architecture

Michael Nygard

The problem I have with the missing socio-technical characteristics has to do with laws as that from Conway, but also Dunbar’s Number. The knowledge and insights behind these laws are essential to design an architecture that is optimised for flow. Delivering functionalities swiftly with a team that feels ownership and pride in what they have built.

However, architects are often not involved in organisational design and team compositions. By the looks of the vacancies, that I have read it is also exactly what companies want. Organisational design is something for HR and managers. As a consequence, it is also the people that are creating big constraints for good software architecture. Up to the architect to work around that, and without any proper knowledge on socio-technical systems, I feel it will be a hard fight. Perhaps let’s add another micro-service?

Time for a different approach

Things need to change if it is up to me. Organisational Design is something that involves the architect as well. Perhaps not the solution architect, but definitely enterprise architects that have oversight on multiple areas of the companies. Work closely together with the leadership to design an organisation and an architecture that brings flow to teams. Use it to reduce dependencies on teams so they can work in autonomy and spend all their energy on creating software that impacts your business goals.

Luckily, great resources exist around this topic. Seminal work for me is Team Topologies by Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais. The book combines a lot of research, experiences and information regarding team design. Recommended reading for any architect or IT leader that wants to help their teams to focus on the problems they are solving.

So, the next Enterprise Architect vacancy I read hopefully talks about socio-technical characteristics. Not to please me, but to help your own organisation evolve. I am looking forward to it!