1.2 Software Processes and the Architecture Business Cycle

Software process is the term given to the organization, ritualization, and management of software development activities. What activities are involved in creating a software architecture, using that architecture to realize a design, and then implementing or managing the evolution of a target system or application? These activities include the following:

  • Creating the business case for the system

  • Understanding the requirements

  • Creating or selecting the architecture

  • Documenting and communicating the architecture

  • Analyzing or evaluating the architecture

  • Implementing the system based on the architecture

  • Ensuring that the implementation conforms to the architecture


As indicated in the structure of the ABC, architecture activities have comprehensive feedback relationships with each other. We will briefly introduce each activity in the following subsections.

Creating the Business Case for the System

Creating a business case is broader than simply assessing the market need for a system. It is an important step in creating and constraining any future requirements. How much should the product cost? What is its targeted market? What is its targeted time to market? Will it need to interface with other systems? Are there system limitations that it must work within?

These are all questions that must involve the system's architects. They cannot be decided solely by an architect, but if an architect is not consulted in the creation of the business case, it may be impossible to achieve the business goals.

Understanding the Requirements

There are a variety of techniques for eliciting requirements from the stakeholders. For example, object-oriented analysis uses scenarios, or "use cases" to embody requirements. Safety-critical systems use more rigorous approaches, such as finite-state-machine models or formal specification languages. In Chapter 4 (Understanding Quality Attributes), we introduce a collection of quality attribute scenarios that support the capture of quality requirements for a system.

One fundamental decision with respect to the system being built is the extent to which it is a variation on other systems that have been constructed. Since it is a rare system these days that is not similar to other systems, requirements elicitation techniques extensively involve understanding these prior systems' characteristics. We discuss the architectural implications of product lines in Chapter 14 (Software Product Lines: Re-using Architectural Assets).

Another technique that helps us understand requirements is the creation of prototypes. Prototypes may help to model desired behavior, design the user interface, or analyze resource utilization. This helps to make the system "real" in the eyes of its stakeholders and can quickly catalyze decisions on the system's design and the design of its user interface.

Regardless of the technique used to elicit the requirements, the desired qualities of the system to be constructed determine the shape of its architecture. Specific tactics have long been used by architects to achieve particular quality attributes. We discuss many of these tactics in Chapter 5 (Achieving Qualities). An architectural design embodies many tradeoffs, and not all of these tradeoffs are apparent when specifying requirements. It is not until the architecture is created that some tradeoffs among requirements become apparent and force a decision on requirement priorities.

Creating or Selecting the Architecture

In the landmark book The Mythical Man-Month, Fred Brooks argues forcefully and eloquently that conceptual integrity is the key to sound system design and that conceptual integrity can only be had by a small number of minds coming together to design the system's architecture. Chapters 5 (Achieving Qualities) and 7 (Designing the Architecture) show how to create an architecture to achieve its behavioral and quality requirements.

Communicating the Architecture

For the architecture to be effective as the backbone of the project's design, it must be communicated clearly and unambiguously to all of the stakeholders. Developers must understand the work assignments it requires of them, testers must understand the task structure it imposes on them, management must understand the scheduling implications it suggests, and so forth. Toward this end, the architecture's documentation should be informative, unambiguous, and readable by many people with varied backgrounds. We discuss the documentation of architectures in Chapter 9 (Documenting Software Architectures).

Analyzing or Evaluating the Architecture

In any design process there will be multiple candidate designs considered. Some will be rejected immediately. Others will contend for primacy. Choosing among these competing designs in a rational way is one of the architect's greatest challenges. The chapters in Part Three (Analyzing an Architecture) describe methods for making such choices.

Evaluating an architecture for the qualities that it supports is essential to ensuring that the system constructed from that architecture satisfies its stakeholders' needs. Becoming more widespread are analysis techniques to evaluate the quality attributes that an architecture imparts to a system. Scenario-based techniques provide one of the most general and effective approaches for evaluating an architecture. The most mature methodological approach is found in the Architecture Tradeoff Analysis Method (ATAM) of Chapter 11, while the Cost Benefit Analysis Method (CBAM) of Chapter 12 provides the critical link to the economic implications of architectural decisions.

Implementing Based on the Architecture

This activity is concerned with keeping the developers faithful to the structures and interaction protocols constrained by the architecture. Having an explicit and well-communicated architecture is the first step toward ensuring architectural conformance. Having an environment or infrastructure that actively assists developers in creating and maintaining the architecture (as opposed to just the code) is better.

Ensuring Conformance to an Architecture

Finally, when an architecture is created and used, it goes into a maintenance phase. Constant vigilance is required to ensure that the actual architecture and its representation remain faithful to each other during this phase. Although work in this area is comparatively immature, there has been intense activity in recent years. Chapter 10 (Reconstructing Software Architectures) will present the current state of recovering an architecture from an existing system and ensuring that it conforms to the specified architecture.

    Part Two: Creating an Architecture
    Part Four: Moving From One System to Many