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Software Architecture: Quality Attributes

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Software Architecture: Quality Attributes

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Quality is what all software engineers should strive for when building a new system or adding new functionality. Dictonary.com ambiguously defines quality as a grade of excellence. Unfortunately, quality must be defined within the context of a situation in that each engineer must extract quality attributes from a project’s requirements. Because quality is defined by project requirements the meaning of quality is constantly changing base on the project.

Software architecture factors that indicate the relevance and effectiveness

The relevance and effectiveness of architecture can vary based on the context in which it was conceived and the quality attributes that are required to meet. Typically when evaluating architecture for a specific system regarding relevance and effectiveness the following questions should be asked.  

Architectural relevance and effectiveness questions:

  • Does the architectural concept meet the needs of the system for which it was designed?
  • Out of the competing architectures for a system, which one is the most suitable?

If we look at the first question regarding meeting the needs of a system for which it was designed. A system that answers yes to this question must meet all of its quality goals. This means that it consistently meets or exceeds performance goals for the system. In addition, the system meets all the other required system attributers based on the systems requirements.

The suitability of a system is based on several factors. In order for a project to be suitable the necessary resources must be available to complete the task.

Standard Project Resources:

  • Money
  • Trained Staff
  • Time

Life cycle factors that affect the system and design

The development life cycle used on a project can drastically affect how a system’s architecture is created as well as influence its design. In the case of using the software development life cycle (SDLC) each phase must be completed before the next can begin.  This waterfall approach does not allow for changes in a system’s architecture after that phase is completed. This can lead to major system issues when the architecture for the system is not as optimal because of missed quality attributes. This can occur when a project has poor requirements and makes misguided architectural decisions to name a few examples.

Once the architectural phase is complete the concepts established in this phase must move on to the design phase that is bound to use the concepts and guidelines defined in the previous phase regardless of any missing quality attributes needed for the project. If any issues arise during this phase regarding the selected architectural concepts they cannot be corrected during the current project. This directly has an effect on the design of a system because the proper qualities required for the project where not used when the architectural concepts were approved. When this is identified nothing can be done to fix the architectural issues and system design must use the existing architectural concepts regardless of its missing quality properties because the architectural concepts for the project cannot be altered. The decisions made in the design phase then preceded to fall down to the implementation phase where the actual system is coded based on the approved architectural concepts established in the architecture phase regardless of its architectural quality.

Conversely projects using more of an iterative or agile methodology to implement a system has more flexibility to correct architectural decisions based on missing quality attributes. This is due to each phase of the SDLC is executed more than once so any issues identified in architecture of a system can be corrected in the next architectural phase. Subsequently the corresponding changes will then be adjusted in the following design phase so that when the project is completed the optimal architectural and design decision are applied to the solution.

Architecture factors that indicate functional suitability

Systems that have function shortcomings do not have the proper functionality based on the project’s driving quality attributes. What this means in English is that the system does not live up to what is required of it by the stakeholders as identified by the missing quality attributes and requirements. One way to prevent functional shortcomings is to test the project’s architecture, design, and implementation against the project’s driving quality attributes to ensure that none of the attributes were missed in any of the phases.

Another way to ensure a system has functional suitability is to certify that all its requirements are fully articulated so that there is no chance for misconceptions or misinterpretations by all stakeholders. This will help prevent any issues regarding interpreting the system requirements during the initial architectural concept phase, design phase and implementation phase.

Consider the applicability of other architectural models

When considering an architectural model for a project is also important to consider other alternative architectural models to ensure that the model that is selected will meet the systems required functionality and high quality attributes. Recently I can remember talking about a project that I was working on and a coworker suggested a different architectural approach that I had never considered. This new model will allow for the same functionally that is offered by the existing model but will allow for a higher quality project because it fulfills more quality attributes. It is always important to seek alternatives prior to committing to an architectural model.

Factors used to identify high-risk components

A high risk component can be defined as a component that fulfills 2 or more quality attributes for a system. An example of this can be seen in a web application that utilizes a remote database. One high-risk component in this system is the TCIP component because it allows for HTTP connections to handle by a web server and as well as allows for the server to also connect to a remote database server so that it can import data into the system. This component allows for the assurance of data quality attribute and the accessibility quality attribute because the system is available on the network. If for some reason the TCIP component was to fail the web application would fail on two quality attributes accessibility and data assurance in that the web site is not accessible and data cannot be update as needed.


As stated previously, quality is what all software engineers should strive for when building a new system or adding new functionality. The quality of a system can be directly determined by how closely it is implemented when compared to its desired quality attributes. One way to insure a higher quality system is to enforce that all project requirements are fully articulated so that no assumptions or misunderstandings can be made by any of the stakeholders. By doing this a system has a better chance of becoming a high quality system based on its quality attributes.

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Published at DZone with permission of Todd Merritt, DZone MVB. See the original article here.

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