In a previous article on the construction industry’s distribution of roles, I demonstrated that centuries of cumulative trials and errors have led to a clear delineation between the main stakeholder’s responsibilities, all to the benefit of the paying customer and the public in general. In corporate IT, as we saw in the following article, things are quite different: the paying customer deals with a single desk that plays all roles.
The healthy segregation between those that define the solution and those that build it, those that set standards and those that use them, those that deliver excellence and those that control that quality, is unquestionably absent.
It would be a mistake to believe this is due to the nature of the solutions being built, as segregation of roles was not always present in the construction industry either. Roles definitions were once an issue, as we can see by this citation from Philibert Delorme [1514-1570], architect and thought leader of the Renaissance:
“Patrons should employ architects instead of turning to some master mason or master carpenter as is the custom or some painter, some notary or some other person who is supposed to be qualified but often than not has no better judgment than the patron himself […]”
In my career in IT, I have seen it all: projects without architects, improvised architects with skills issues, true architects without any architecting accountability, architects left to themselves with no organizational support, IT managers architecting, project managers architecting, customers architecting, programmers architecting. These cases are not exceptions, but rather the norm, in one form or another.
There are two main reasons for so much laxity in the execution of such an important function as IT architecture: conflicting roles and lack of measures.
First, the conflicting placement of the architect, often located in a quarter where he/she isn’t able to truly defend the customer’s interests, is subordinate to line managers or project managers that have higher priorities than architecting solutions the right way.
Second, expectations towards the quality of the architecture are neither set nor gauged, again, because there are more urgent and measured accountabilities hanging in the balance.
With little consequences for wrongdoings, it’s no wonder the architect’s role is so easily hijacked by whoever wants to have a say in that area.
IT architecture is a field where anyone can be elected, or self-elected, to the status of an architect, as long as he/she can make things work. But as we saw in a previous article, a working solution doesn’t prove much. Everyone can have an opinion on the right way to design but is never held accountable for the quality of it. Opinions without accountability on the subject are as relevant as any other conversation around the coffee machine.
Fortunately, by balancing the distribution of roles with healthy segregation, measures of performance can move toward a healthier equilibrium, so that coffee machine discussions don’t become IT strategies that put at risk million-dollar projects. The architect’s role will stop being usurped, for doing so will then entail being accountable for it. An in-depth analysis of these insights and more will be available in my upcoming book, to be published soon.
 Catherine Wilson, “The New Professionalism in the Renaissance,” in The Architect: Chapters in the History of the Profession, University of California Press, 1977, p. 125.