Architecture and Planning

“Action without planning is folly but planning without action is futile.”

In this write-up, we explore the intimate connection between architecture and planning. At first blush, they seem to be completely separate disciplines. On closer examination, they appear to be twoArchitecture and Planning sides of the same coin. But in the final examination, we find that they are intimately intertwined but still separate and potentially independent. The motivation for this paper was an observation that much of our work deals with system planning of some variety. And yet, there is virtually nothing on a web site on this topic.

On one level that may be excusable. There is nothing drastically new about our brand of planning that distinguishes it from planning as it has been practiced for decades. On the other hand, system architectures typically are new and evolving and there are new observations to be made. But there’s more to it than that. We have so baked planning into our architectural work that we no longer notice that it’s there. This paper is the beginning of an attempt to extricate the planning and describe it as a sub discipline of its own. Are architecture and planning the same thing? Can we have one without the other? This is where we begin our discussion.

Certainly, we can have planning without architecture. Any trivial planning is done without architecture. We can plan a trip to the store or a vacation without dealing with architecture. We can even do a great deal of business planning, even system planning, as long as the implicit assumption is that the new projects will continue using any existing architecture. So certainly, we can have planning without architecture. But can we have architecture without planning? Well, certainly it’s possible to do some architectural work without planning.

There are two major ways this can come to be. One is that we can allow developers to develop whatever architecture they want without subjecting it to a planning process. The end product of this is the ad hoc or accidental changes that so characterize the as built architectures we find. The other way, which is as common, is to allow an architectural group to define an architecture without requiring that they determine how we get from where we are to where we want to be. Someone once said, “Action without planning is folly but planning without action is futile.” The architect who does architectural work without doing any planning is really just participating in an exercise in futility.

An intentional architecture requires a desired “to be” state, where some aspect of software development, maintenance or operation is better than it currently is. There are many potential aspects to the better state in the “to be” architecture: it could be less risky, it could be more productive, it could scale better, it could be more flexible, it could be easier for end-users to use, it could be more consistent, etc.

What they all share is that it is not the same as what exists now and in order to migrate from the “as is” to the “to be” requires planning. In the nineties, we seemed able to get away with a much more simplistic view of planning. “Rip and replace” was the order of the day once you determined what the target architecture looked like. Most organizations now have far too much invested in their legacy systems to contemplate a “rip and replace” strategy to improve either their architectures or their applications. As a result, the onus is on the architects to determine incremental strategies for shifting the existing architecture to the desired one. The company must continue to run through the potentially long transition period.

The constraints of the many interim stages of the evolving architecture and applications create many challenges for the planner. In some ways, it’s much like the widening of the heavily trafficked highway: it would be quite simple to widen it, if we could merely get all this traffic off of it but given that we can’t, there is often an extremely elaborate series of detours that each has to be planned, implemented and executed. In conclusion, I think we can see that architecture desperately needs planning. Indeed, the two are inseparable. While planning can certainly live on in the absence of architecture, architecture will not make any meaningful progress in any established company without an extreme commitment to planning.

By Dave McComb

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