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An Evolving Architecture?

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An Evolving Architecture?

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Neal Ford from ThoughtWorks, recently wrote an article that is the first of a series related to architecturing and design called Evolutionary Architecture and Emergent Design. The first article is a revisit to the architecture and design concepts. In it, Neal describes the evolutionary architecture with these lines:

However, just because you can't allow architecture to emerge doesn't mean that it can't evolve. If you have created a flexible architecture and taken care not to create an irreversible decision, you can allow it to evolve over time as new concerns appear.

Let's talk about that idea...

Now, I wrote a comment on TSS where I think the "Evolutionary" name may be applicable to the architecture concept I have:

In several discussions I had had, the idea of an architecture is repeatedly presented as a bunch of paper with fixed ideas that will not come true after all. I argue that should not be true.

Granted, a bunch of paper may define the "architecture to be", but the architecture is not ideas but the actual structure of working software at the end. So, Architects must define the final goal not as an stone written truth, but as an ideal outcome which will be supported by principles and guidelines to succeed. Those guidelines should show the path of adjustments to the ideas depending on the construction evolution. And all that is aimed to solve the stakeholders concerns.

In that line, and architecture is what you get at the end, and you set your goals and guides to drive the solution at the beginning, and make your decisions not as late as you could but as soon as they are in the best moment to be taken. (Yes, it is not the same). Under that idea, the architecture is something alive, that will change over time while it is being developed. It "evolves", and that is what I like about the article.

Still, something feels not quite right with this. And that is the idea of thinking we have an architecture from the beginning to evolve. Yes, what we have is a goal with a nice idea of what the architecture will be, but no real architecture (remember the real architecture is what you have once the project is done).

Now, let's clarify this further:
Evolution: the process of removing and adding features or improvements so the new product is better. The natural evolution may be by chance, but the induced evolution is pre-defined. Evolution Rules:Evolution always follow a predefined set of rules. For architecture, these are the principles and guidelines defined at the beginning of the project.
Designed Architecture: The description of the Architecture-to-be that solves the stakeholder concerns.
Real Architecture: The one you have in every system, even if it is not documented. Of course, you need to finish the system first.

Using the above terms, you can have a set of concerns, the you design an architecture and a set of principles and guidelines to construct it. Those principles should allow for modifications based on a retrospective analysis of the results so far, at each step of construction. Once construction is over, you have the real architecture.
The thing that evolves, is the actual architecture design, the real architecture is emerging. Unless you construct whatever you think of first and then start changing all that is not working to improve. There you can have not one, but several architectures, one is the evolution result from the previous one.

Finally, you can have, as Neal mentions, an architecture designed to evolve (with flexibility included), which is different of what we are talking here. That would be an evolving system that has an architecture that allows it. Tricky!


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