Why do software projects fail? There might be over budget that might exceed the time allocated to the team, or they might not meet the end user’s expectations. Iterative and agile techniques can help solve some of these problems by making the software development more transparent which means you can track the costs and the budget, and time much easier but there are other problems related to a quality of software.
The quality of software architecture is one of the most essential factors determining whether a project will end up successfully or not. Yet, there are still many discussions and misconceptions about the definition of this term. This eventually leads to the situation in which a role of a software architect is either misunderstood or undervalued.
In this article, we’ll dot the i’s and cross the t’s, and explain the fundamentals of software architecture, as well as clarify how it differs from a software design. We’ll also try to give you some insights about what a software architect is and why you may want to have one on your project (even if it costs you a lot).
What is software architecture?
If you have ever googled “software architecture”, you’ve probably found tons of different articles describing this term at different levels of complexity. It might be quite confusing especially for people who do not work in the field of software development. But basically most of the definitions may be roughly shortened to the following text:
Software architecture is a model of a software system depicting the most crucial elements of such system and the way they relate to each other.
The first question that probably popped up in your head after reading the above paragraph is: what elements of a system are actually considered most crucial? And this is where all the confusions come from since, unfortunately, there is no any exhaustive list of elements that have to be included in software architecture. Every system has its unique properties so it’s just impossible to determine a unified set that would be equally applicable in all instances.
Yet, there are two categories of elements that are usually deemed most essential in any system and, as a rule of thumb, are covered in software architecture:
- elements that are hard to change once implemented
- elements that are relevant to failure risks
So, basically, software architecture is about making fundamental decisions that are crucial for the ultimate success of a system. Software design, in its turn, covers all the details required to develop a system. More specifically, software architecture constitutes the highest level of abstraction (e.g. how different components interact with each other), while software design focuses on the implementation details (e.g. how to design a separate component).
So what does software architect do? Let’s talk about this.
The roles and responsibilities of a software architect
If you have ever read job description of a software architect, you probably saw the long list of tasks these professionals should perform. In short, a software architect is a development expert responsible for the decisions related to the software architecture. But creating a high-level structure of a system is not the only role a software architect plays on the project–they support the development process from the very beginning and up to the product release.
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So what specifically do software architects do? To answer this question, let’s look at their responsibilities at every stage of software development.
First of all, a software architect communicates with product owners to help them define the requirements to a system or make such requirements more accurate and clear. This also includes collaboration with business analytics and designers. In particular, a technical architect controls the process of writing software requirements specifications (SRS) to ensure that the envisioned functionality is possible to implement in practice and the way it’ll be implemented is indeed efficient. Here is a simple example to make it more clear:
A designer created a web page layout with many fields in which different calculations are to be performed simultaneously. If an architect reviews such layout, he/she will make a conclusion that such complex functionality on one page may cause the website overload and, thus, make such website work slowly. As a result, an architect may suggest to distribute the envisioned functionality among different web pages.
Further, a software architect supervises the development process meaning that he/she constantly reviews a code to avoid complexity and ensure a high quality. Although typical software architect engineers don’t write a code themselves (or at least are not involved in the day-to-day coding), they oversee the work on a project, give developers necessary instructions and provide team members with mentoring if required. On top of this, software architects solve any technical issues occurring in course of software development before such issues turn into serious and expensive errors. In other words, they lead the development team and drive the creation of a product.
Lastly, a software development architect is responsible for a quality of a final product at the release stage. Specifically, he or she ensures maximum performance of a product, its scalability, reliability and security.
Why do we need software architects?
The answer to this question probably stems from the previous section, but let’s talk about this in more details.
The implementation of every project starts with the end goal in mind since no one wants to spend a fortune on a product that doesn’t satisfy their needs. Hence, there should be a person who sees the big picture and can manage the development process accordingly. Software architects understand how different components of a product should work together and share this vision with other team members. This ensures the consistency of a system, as well as its high performance.
Besides that, a good software architecture reduces costs required for the creation of a product. As we mentioned previously, a software architecture covers critical decisions that are essential for the product success, as well as the aspects that are costly to change at the later stages of the development process. Hence, wrong decisions related to the fundamental elements of a system can lead to additional expenses and the necessity of extra time for fixing the errors. A professional software architect not only guarantees that a system is scalable, efficient and productive, he or she is responsible for making cost-effective choices in terms of tech solutions.
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So, summing up, if you don’t want to jeopardize the quality of your product, having a good software architect on a project is of utmost importance. Indeed, these professionals usually have high rates and it’s no wonder considering the skills and expertise every software architect should have, as well as the responsibility they take. For this reason, the architect’s participation in the development process may cost you a lot, but, as we see from the practice, such investment always pays off in this end. This is because it’s usually much cheaper to avoid critical errors than to fix them or, in the worst-case scenario, start the development process all over again.
Why is Software Architecture Important?
An organized software architecture makes it easy to maintain internal quality, which further enhances the software.
Let’s review the case that shows the importance of software architecture.
Consider two similar products launched with difference per month and require the addition of new features when they complete three months. There are two scenarios:
- One [Launch — 21th April 2020] — The code is tangled and messy. This has nothing to do with the users, but tracking the scope of change and implementing it becomes tricky.
- Second [Launch — 18th May 2020] — The code is carefully organized. This has nothing to do with the users, but the development team can easily manage and make the changes.
How do you think what would an software development company choose?
Generally, the development team may prefer an earlier launch whether the messy code blocks only the time – faster the launch, the better chances to roll out the solution successfully.
In the second point, the developers need more time because quality code and quality performance are given equal priority. This would affect time-to-market negatively.
But, its well-defined software architecture model in the form of microservices will make the maintenance easier. Not only will your organization save time, but it will also delight the users with regular and quick updates.
As a result the messy code might help to go to the market fast, but will take more than necessary to implement the new features. On the other hand, the organized code might have suffered from a delayed launch but will be able to provide timely and determined updates.
Good and efficient software architecture helps to reduce cost for maintaining the software throughout its lifetime. It helps in dividing software into microservices that make management more effortless.
Even the best of software product development projects experience challenges, but a team of agile-driven professionals can identify and resolve those issues.
In any case, good software architecture is profitable in the long run, as it is easier to modify it. This can save developers’ time while it serves the customers’ changing requirements.
Although a software architect doesn’t usually do coding, he or she is one of the most important people on every development project. Software architects take the responsibility for a system being created and ensure that a client receives a quality, reliable, high-performing and scalable product at the release stage. So if you don’t want to spend a fortune on a void solution that doesn’t satisfy your needs, make sure you have a professional tech architect in your development team.
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