Use the force, Architect


The scene where Luke shuts off his targeting computer during the death star trench run has always resonated with me.

The moment where Luke is about to take the shot….”Stay on target….”, when he reaches a state of calm amidst the chaos (explosions, friends dying, Vader on his tail), has parallels in projects.

I was once parachuted onto a death march of a project. It had been two years since project inception; every month it was falling two months further behind schedule; no design documents had been done; the previous architect and project manager hated each other and were not on speaking terms; no development (or any other) environments existed; sub teams within the project were producing different kinds of documents and following different processes to accomplish the same thing; the reference architecture was an over-wrought, unimplementable disaster.

Morale was horrible. Of the twelve manager/leader/architects in the first meeting I was invited to, half (including the project manager, test manager, and previous architect) left the project and company within a week. In the following weeks we lost most of our development leads.  You could smell the money burning and the project imploding.

Choosing the dark or the light side of the force

The one thing that I knew after a cursory review when I joined the project was that I had to choose one of two paths:

  1. Follow the existing reference architecture and not delivering project – or –  (the dark side)
  2. Ignoring reference architecture and deliver the project  (the light side)

Following the reference architecture was the easy out. I could blame failures on the previous architect and could probably milk the project for a lot of money for a long time.

Ignoring the reference architecture and delivering the project by any means necessary was the harder path. If it was a failure, I would become the scapegoat for going against the reference architecture, corporate standards, and ordering a bunch of re-work (basically tossing out existing designs two years into the project).

As any self-respecting professional would, I chose the “light side” and decided to deliver the project, ignore the broken reference architecture, and implement an architecture that would meet our needs. And I would trust my instincts (the force :)) on what the correct architecture should be.

You’re a traitor and a member of the rebel alliance

If your on a project where the architecture must be changed, you will be assaulted by people who don’t like change. Too much risk. Your causing re-work. We have concerns. You must not falter. Fear feeds the dark side. On no project will you ever make everyone happy. Make the right people happy. Deliver quality and the naysayers will die away like stormtroopers being shot at by Princess Leia.

We destroyed the death star

When we started trusting our instincts on design, and started ignoring what people who were not on the project, or people who were previously on the project had told us, when we started to believe in each other as opposed to standards, references, and guides, we began to deliver. Like  X-Wings assaulting the Death Star, we started to hit home. The cries of “your not following the reference architecture” faded away once we started to deliver.

We ended up delivering the project on time on budget.

As a boy watching Star Wars, the message I took home when Luke switches of his targeting computer and nails the target, was to trust yourself. That’s the best advice I could give any architect… yourself, your knowledge, and your experience in the end. Use the force.