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Growing, Pruning, and Spiking your Architecture
A Conversation with Luke Hohmann, Part I
by Bill Venners
March 15, 2004

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Luke Hohmann talks with Bill Venners about architecture and culture, the importance of completeness in new architectures, and implementing features in spikes.

Luke Hohmann is a management consultant who helps his clients bridge the gap that often exists between business and technology. In his past experience, he has played many of the varied roles required by successful software product development organizations, including development, marketing, professional services, sales, customer care, and business development. Hohmann currently focuses his efforts on enterprise class software systems. He is the author of Journey of the Software Professional: A Sociology of Software Development (Prentice-Hall, 1997), which blends cognitive pyschology and organizational behavior into a software development model for managing the human side of software development. He is also the author of Beyond Software Architecture: Creating and Sustaining Winning Solutions (Addison-Wesley, 2003), which discusses software architecture in a business context.

On March 8, 2004, Bill Venners met with Luke Hohmann in Sunnyvale, California. In this interview, which will be published in multiple installments on, Hohmann discusses software architecture in the context of business. In this first installment, Hohmann discusses architecture and culture, the importance of completeness in new architectures, and implementing features in spikes.

Architecture, Culture, and Goodness

Bill Venners: What is architecture?

Luke Hohmann: That's like asking, what is culture? Culture is the way you do things in a group of people. Architecture is the way you do things in a software product. You could argue by analogy, then, that architecture is to a software product as culture is to a team. It is how that team has established and chosen its conventions.

Which leads us inevitably to the question of "goodness". How do you know if an architecture is good? Consider an architecture that isn't built using a strong domain model, and instead relies heavily on stored procedures. That might be OK, or it might not be OK. You could have decided that part of your architecture is to use a really strong domain model and not use stored procedures, right? So an architecture is some reasonable regularity about the structure of the system, the way the team goes about building its software, and how the software responds and adapts to its own environment. How well the architecture responds and adapts, and how well it goes through that construction process, is a measure of whether that architecture is any good.

Bill Venners: In your book, Beyond Software Architecture, you write, "The system architecture determines how hard or easy it is to implement a given feature. Good architectures are those in which it is considered easy to create the features desired." That made sense to me, in that the way to judge whether an architecture is good is whether the architecture is good for the purposes to which it is applied.

Luke Hohmann: The definition of goodness has to be related to fitness for purpose. Is this glove good? I don't know. What are you doing with the glove? Are you throwing snowballs, cooking barbeques, or playing golf? There's a set of changes that are going to occur to a software system over time. Probably the utilitarian or most useful definition of goodness is the answer to this question: are the changes that will keep this system successful in this domain in this product line relatively easy? If they are, then it's probably a good architecture.

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