The general mistake of architects

New year, new ideas. Look into the details of a new dimension of architecture measurements, extending the minds of The immortal temporary solutions article. The new dimension is Success, based on the definition described in new book from Albert-László Barabási: Formula - the Universal Laws of Success.

In the past years I have been actively researching about the essence of architectures. This activity has the aspect of reading about wide range of different disciplines, which was the source of many article here at Architect Archers, while there are others are still in the back. Some examples are: evolution related topics, which are extended to memes (the evolution of culture) and mones (the evolution of economy); science of networks; biology, where the most interesting book for me the Life on the Edge from JohnJoe McFadden and Jim Al-Khalili and many others.

Last November I found the book Formula, which gave a great value and pushed me forward.

I strictly believe that the solution we need is inter-disciplinary, since the certain ones, like well-documentation, structural dependency description, use-case modelling, budget comparison were not help. Beyond reading I invested lot of resources to test the ideas in practice, working on real-life projects to avoid becoming a room-scientist.

Definition of success

Success is not about you. It is about us.

Barabási says that „the success is a collective phenomenon rather than an individual one“. By other words success is what others are thinking about your performance, where other is the network of people around you.

The first law

Performance drives success, but when performance cannot be measured, networks drive success.

There is still no consensus what is good performance of applications or the architecture. You remember the ability to change factor, which was referred in many articles here. It is a great target but still not measurable. Complexity is another factor, which is measurable on a way, but declaration of the baseline is still problematic therefore the approach is far to be perfect to use.

Like it or not, there is no other way to the time we will have common performance-measure for the architecture to build the network of people about the components are important for you.

The second law

Performance is bounded but success is unbounded.

Assume, that you have an application about the order management. The best performance is when the application will not slow down the ordering process and will have zero error with zero touch of operations on low price. The only variable aspect here is the low price, but if the low price is 100.000 kEUR TCO a year, no one will care about cutting it to the half. Is this application successful? By the main basic definition of success it is maybe, but on long run it will be not. It will be boring. Like the mailing system, which is a well-performing utility in most of the companies.

Bringing another example, still an order management: the application is slow with uncountable response time, large amount of people is needed to operate the servers, databases behind that, generates non-processable orders requiring dozens or hundred of people in the back-office resolve the front-office orders and execute them… We agree, that this is a bad performing application. But everyone speaks about it, everyone knows some rumours of breaking down in the middle of the day, unhappy shouting customers at the shops, crazy order results and so on. The emphasis is on everyone! By our definition this application is „successful“, although its success has negative charge.

The third law

Previous success x fitness = future success.

Here we arrived the field of understanding the long-living workarounds and bad performing applications.

If you have something what is well-performing (means high fitness value), but nobody knows about that the future success goes to be zero. The result is still the same if the fitness is low…

This formula gives you the answer why you cannot replace a work-around or retire an old application which is not performing so well, but this low performance is not painful to the company.

The other answer you may see here is why the best-performing application cannot be extended to new fields in the company or cannot replace the bad ones.

Those applications, which are not performing well and are in the „news“ every day are „successful“, while the well-performing ones are not.

The common mistake of us as architects is that we are usually focusing on the „fitness“ factors:  lower TCO, better process speed, modern technology and so on. The decision makers would compare and decide between a good fitness but „never heard“ application and a bad fitness and „everyone knows“ one. Since the fitness of the bad-performing applications are still not zero and by the second law their success is unbounded it is almost impossible to win a case of replacing a bad-old application with a great new one.

The formula helps us to know where to develop ourselves: build the „previous success“ factor of the challenger application before you try to win a match!

This journey will not be simple, since you would build the success based on positive messages therefore the bad old application will have some advantages:

“Nothing travels faster than the speed of light, with the possible exception of bad news, which obeys its own special laws.” 

― Douglas Adams, Mostly Harmless

The good news is, that the next mind was in the Mostly Harmless, that the spaceship powered by the bad news was "so extremely unwelcome" everywhere.

Beyond the jokes I highly recommend to read the book Formula, to understand the referred 3 rules in details and to meet with the forth and fifth rule also!

Before reading this great book from Barabási I had the persuasion that architects could be a good salesman - now I know it.

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