Friday, May 18, 2007

On fragmented layers

In a previous post I described a layered approach to an organization. This time I'd like to extend the model a little and give some areas where it might be a useful decision-making tool. You can see a figure of the stack on the left. The point of the model is that different layers deal with different aspects of how an organization is built and that they are highly interdependent with changes in any of them causing a cascade of changes both upwards and down. It's also worth noting that, almost by definition, all projects impact all of the layers. Usually new pieces are added to the ends so somebody needs to make sure that the picture stays consistent, new pieces fit with existing stuff and do not cause discrepancies with others. All of this is pretty straightforward for the technical architecture but is often disregarded for the other aspects of a business.

How would one use the model in real life? One useful application I have found is explaining people why they should consider other things (like new processes or even teams) besides functionality when they are setting up a project. It also helps to visualize responsibilities (who deals with the functional architecture in your company?).

One use I'd like to focus a little more on, is the fragmentation aspect of the model. In short, the message goes: if you are to crack a layer, you better align it with cracks in neighboring ones.

Consider, for example, a scenario when you have two web applications supported by two different business organizations on two different continents. Which means there's a division in both business and organizational layers. Of course, the crack runs all the way and the applications are not integrated in any way. Now what if somebody up in the management decides, very sensibly, that it really sucks that customers would need to go to two different stores to get their SkypeOut minutes and headsets. Makes perfect sense and just making two systems talk to each other is not a fundamental obstacle. However, could you imagine two teams 4 timezones apart sharing responsibility for what the same piece of code does (i.e. integrating the technical architecture)? Or could you imagine an actual purchase flow (functional architecture) where you buy a SkypeIN number with all of it's details and finesse of all the legal requirements we have there and at the same time compare 4 headsets? Quite difficult, isn't it? Of course all of this could be done actually, but just linking the infrastructure without thinking of the organizational (how is responsibility shared among the teams?), functional (how do the different purchase flows fit together?), business (what about revenues and, say, marketing costs of the banners in the store?) or support (do our, say, release cycles need to be synchronized with the ones of our partner) dependencies are handled makes little sense.

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