7.3 Forming the Team Structure

Once the first few levels of the architecture's module decomposition structure are fairly stable, those modules can be allocated to development teams. The result is the work assignment view discussed in Chapter 2. This view will either allocate modules to existing development units or define new ones.

As long ago as 1968, the close relationship between an architecture and the organization that produced it was a subject of comment. [Conway 68, 29] makes the point as follows:

Take any two nodes x and y of the system. Either they are joined by a branch or they are not. (That is, either they communicate with each other in some way meaningful to the operation of the system or they do not.) If there is a branch, then the two (not necessarily distinct) design groups X and Y which designed the two nodes must have negotiated and agreed upon an interface specification to permit communication between the two corresponding nodes of the design organization. If, on the other hand, there is no branch between x and y, then the subsystems do not communicate with each other, there was nothing for the two corresponding design groups to negotiate, and therefore there is no branch between X and Y.

Conway was describing how to discern organizational structure (at least in terms of communication paths) from system structure, but the relationship between organizational and system structures is bidirectional, and necessarily so.

The impact of an architecture on the development of organizational structure is clear. Once an architecture for the system under construction has been agreed on, teams are allocated to work on the major modules and a work breakdown structure is created that reflects those teams. Each team then creates its own internal work practices (or a system-wide set of practices is adopted). For large systems, the teams may belong to different subcontractors. The work practices may include items such as bulletin boards and Web pages for communication, naming conventions for files, and the configuration control system. All of these may be different from group to group, again especially for large systems. Furthermore, quality assurance and testing procedures are set up for each group, and each group needs to establish liaisons and coordinate with the other groups.

Thus, the teams within an organization work on modules. Within the team there needs to be high-bandwidth communications: Much information in the form of detailed design decisions is being constantly shared. Between teams, low-bandwidth communications are sufficient and in fact crucial. (Fred Brooks's contention is that the overhead of inter-team communication, if not carefully managed, will swamp a project.) This, of course, assumes that the system has been designed with appropriate separation of concerns.

Highly complex systems result when these design criteria are not met. In fact, team structure and controlling team interactions often turn out to be important factors affecting a large project's success. If interactions between the teams need to be complex, either the interactions among the elements they are creating are needlessly complex or the requirements for those elements were not sufficiently "hardened" before development commenced. In this case, there is a need for high-bandwidth connections between teams, not just within teams, requiring substantial negotiations and often rework of elements and their interfaces. Like software systems, teams should strive for loose coupling and high cohesion.

Why does the team structure mirror the module decomposition structure? Information hiding, the design principle behind the module decomposition structure of systems, holds that modules should encapsulate, or hide, changeable details by putting up an interface that abstracts away the changeable aspects and presents a common, unified set of services to its users (in this case, the software in other system modules). This implies that each module constitutes its own small domain; we use domain here to mean an area of specialized knowledge or expertise. This makes for a natural fit between teams and modules of the decomposition structure, as the following examples show.

  • The module is a user interface layer of a system. The application programming interface that it presents to other modules is independent of the particular user interface devices (radio buttons, dials, dialog boxes, etc.) that it uses to present information to the human user, because those might change. The domain here is the repertoire of such devices.

  • The module is a process scheduler that hides the number of available processors and the scheduling algorithm. The domain here is process scheduling and the list of appropriate algorithms.

  • The module is the Physical Models Module of the A-7E architecture (see Chapter 3). It encapsulates the equations that compute values about the physical environment. The domain is numerical analysis (because the equations must be implemented to maintain sufficient accuracy in a digital computer) and avionics.

Recognizing modules as mini-domains immediately suggests that the most effective use of staff is to assign members to teams according to their expertise. Only the module structure permits this. As the sidebar Organizational and Architecural Structures discusses, organizations sometimes also add specialized groups that are independent of the architectural structures.

The impact of an organization on an architecture is more subtle but just as important as the impact of an architecture on the organization (of the group that builds the system described by the architecture). Suppose you are a member of a group that builds database applications, assigned to work on a team designing an architecture for some application. Your inclination is probably to view the current problem as a database problem, to worry about what database system should be used or whether a home-grown one should be constructed, to assume that data retrievals are constructed as queries, and so on. You therefore press for an architecture that has distinct subsystems for, say, data storage and management, and query formulation and implementation. A person from the telecommunications group, on the other hand, views the system in telecommunication terms, and for this person the database is a single (possibly uninteresting) subsystem.

Organizational and Architectural Structures

We had just written Section 7.3, about the relationship between organizational structure and architectural structure, when someone who has experience in the telecommunications area proposed a counter-example. The organization he described is committed to responding quickly to customer complaints and requests for changes. In this scheme, every customer-generated change request is assigned to an individual to implement the change. Any particular change may require modifications to a variety of architectural components, and so the individuals on the customer response team make modifications to the whole system and must be outside of any team responsible for any particular group of components. For this reason, an organizational structure aligned only with the architectural structure is not adequate.

At first blush, this counter-example made us nervous, but on further probing we discovered that the organization in question actually made each modification twice: once by the customer service organization to provide quick response to the customer and once by the organizational entity that owned the components affected. Any other possibility would result in rapid degradation of any architecture that is not based strictly on separate components to implement each end-user function.

To explore the argument somewhat: an architecture, as we have emphasized repeatedly, must satisfy many conflicting demands. An architecture that is based on a separate component to implement each end-user function is very good with respect to the modifiability of these functions as long as the modification is not based on a physical element that affects other functions. In the maintenance phase, as in the counter-example, this architecture enables modifications to a particular function to be limited to a single component. Of course, such a function-based architecture does not allow re-use of components or sharing of data and is not very efficient with respect to implementation.

The organization under discussion, in fact, had an architecture that attempted to maximize re-use and had organizational units that mirrored component structure. Because modifications would (potentially) involve separate organizational units and the activities of these units had to be coordinated (read this as saying that the reaction time of organizations is slow when multiple units are involved), a separate rapid response unit was established at the cost of making each modification twice.


We discussed in Chapter 1 how organizational issues, prior experience, and a desire to employ or develop certain skills will have an effect on the architecture. The scenario above is a concrete example of how that effect might be manifested. As an organization continues to work in a particular domain, it develops particular artifacts to use as a means of obtaining work, and it has organizational groups whose purpose is to maintain these artifacts. We will see this in Chapters 14 and 15, where we discuss software product lines.

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