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Architectural Homeopathy

by Mark Little on Jan 27, 2013 |

Last year CapGemini's Steve Jones wrote about how in his opinion "thinkins is dead" and how IT values technologies over thought. At the time our article generated a long and lively discussion, with many people agreeing with Steve. In order to illustrate what he meant, Steve used REST as an example of a technology that is discussed and used far too much, in Steve's opinion, without sufficient thought or evidence behind its benefits in a particular area. This was something which caused a lot of discussion in the comments, with a number of people disagreeing with the example and comparing it more favourably to technologies such as Web Services, which in the past Steve has preferred.

Well recently Steve has come across another aspect of this unthinking approach with a very concrete example:

Sometimes when you are in a meeting someone says something brilliant, I had that experience today when someone said 'We have a sick body, can we please stop pretending everyone is a surgeon'.  Her point was simple, historically in the company they have had challenges of people having opinions and critically of decisions being made without data and whose implementation success isn't tracked.

For the world of IT, Steve terms this Architectural Homeopathy, where people make architectural decisions which are based purely on an individual's opinion, are not backed by facts or examples as to why the decision will result in a success, and where the implementation success is not measured other than it is deployed. It is this lack of facts to drive the decisions which Steve focuses on to illustrate his point:

A good architectural challenge is to say that 'X won't work because we don't work in a centralised way, we need to do Y because we are federated and Y has already been proven to work here', the Architectural Homeopathy challenge is 'X won't work, we should do Y'  or more likely just 'X won't work'.  No evidence will be proposed to support this 'feedback' and no constructive change can be based around it, but if any issues occur the Architectural Homeopaths will say 'You should have done as I said'.

Steve believes that these so called Architectural Homeopaths can build an entire career out of this approach, using "it worked for me" and yet failing to understand the larger choices that may have driven the success. He also believes that these people typically criticise proven approaches based on perceived flaws and also argues that it is precisely Architectural Homeopaths who argue for using REST for enterprise integration without understanding fully the problem space or why other techniques are far more suitable.

These are the folks who propose great views of architecture without actually having delivered it themselves into operation and coached others how to use that approach.

No matter whether or not you believe there is such a thing as an Architectural Homeopath, everyone should agree with Steve's assertion that all architectural decisions need to be based on facts (data) and even if the choices eventually turn out to be wrong then that adds to the data and you can learn from it.

What I object to is people promoting architectural approaches (or indeed business approaches) which are based on a series of powerpoints and opinions with all of the real support evidence of Homeopathy.  These Homeopaths throw in comments based on this ignorance and personal 'belief' and disrupt progress and love to claim that 'it would have been better my way' while not explaining in detail what their way really would have entailed.

Now although Steve's reference to REST in the article could easily become the focus, that would perhaps divert attention away from the more central point that he is trying to make: that there are some architectural decisions made which are not based on sufficient evidence and that perhaps there are a group of individuals propagating this approach.

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