PowerPoint Architecture

It’s a mildly sunny April morning in 2002 when I park my car outside of a huge government agency office in a small suburban city near Utrecht. I am invited for a brainstorm session with the agency’s enterprise architects. Although I do not consider myself an enterprise architect, and explained that upfront, they were eager to discuss their architecture with me. Ok.

After registering at the reception, I enter the meeting room. Now this might be specific for the Netherlands, but the enterprise architects are sitting at an oval table, all equal in our consensus world. “So what is it you’re doing?” I ask, while looking at the architect who looks more equal than the others. Happy to be addressed the architect, bearded and all, stand up and walks to the whiteboard, picks up a marker and starts telling their story.

Rectangles and arrows

While talking our bearded architect starts drawing the different application and systems in their system landscape. Each represented by a rectangle with a three to five letter acronym on the white board. The big challenge for this government agency, so I understand, is to from a tightly integrated system landscape to a service oriented landscape with an enterprise service bus.


Next my bearded friend starts to discuss the connections between the different systems and the enterprise service bus. Here come the arrows! “So we connect each system to the bus, and we will have upgraded our landscape for the future,” the architect smilingly concludes. I nod my head willingly. “Looks good,” I start complimenting the architect. “But,” I continue, “how are these arrows implemented?” “Well, that’s easy,” says the architect. Without saying a word he picks up the marker again and slowly adds the acronym SOAP to one of the arrows on the white board. “That’s all.”


Now, from an enterprise architect’s point of view that might be all, but from a developer perspective drama begins here. I roughly estimate that each of these fancy little SOAP arrows likely represents about 4 to 8 weeks of work – note: it is still 2002. And there are quiet a few of these arrows on the whiteboard; and the view is likely not the complete picture.


Concluding: what might seem insignificant and trivial from an architectural perspective, might be complicated and elaborate from a developer’s and tester’s point of view. Or as Scott Ambler so eloquently puts it: everything works on a PowerPoint slide. And sorry dear architects, it just doesn’t, no matter how brightly colored and great looking your PowerPoint presentation are.

Wouldn’t it be good if enterprise architects actually participate in projects to see in real life what these simple drawn decisions. Actually, it is good. For some years now, in the agile projects I am coaching enterprise architects, business and information analysts take part during the actual iterations. Instead of upfront, untested architectural demands or long review periods afterwards, they actually participate in the design workshops of the project. And you know what? They love it. It’s simply great to actually see directly what comes out of what you so cleverly think of. And even better: you, as an architect are totally rid of these long and cumbersome review period, and you directly get to influence the way the software is built. Please do.

The penultimate goal

Can you do even better? Well, there’s a penultimate goal. In September 2003 I did a talk at a large software development conference in Denmark. During the speaker’s dinner I found myself at a table with some great names in this field – think of Bjarne Stroustrup, Jos Warmer, Kevlin Henney – and even bigger glasses of cool Danish beer. Nerds as we were, by the end of the evening we concluded that this particular conference should have a panel discussion with 42 panel members, and we would name it The Panel at the End of the Universe. Great thinking!


And about an hour and many glasses of beer later, we agreed upon an even bigger contribution to the field of software development. We thought that the penultimate solution to developing software is to be able to generate software directly from the rectangles and arrows in the architect’s PowerPoint presentations. That would sure boost productivity!  Then we could actually say that everything does work on our PowerPoint slides.

3 thoughts on “PowerPoint Architecture

  1. Another good quote from Martin Fowler is: "An architects dream, a developers nightmare."
    I put this quote up next to my screen, always reminding me to keep a foot on the floor when designing stuff.

  2. Nice post Sander. I totally recognize that "aloofness" of the enterprise architects in your story. I think it is a great idea to have the EA's actually participate in the projects implementing their visions. Being an architect means that you are supposed to be able to view things from a high altitude. The thinner air we get up there may affect our thinking. Oxygen shortage in the brain can lead to hallucinations…hey, that reminds me of this great article titled "Achitecture as a Shared Hallucination" by Grady Booch (was he at that dinner too?): http://domino.watson.ibm.com/library/Cyberdig.nsf

  3. Thought Jos Warmer had already put things in practice with some attempt to MDA. Seems that MDA (Model Driven Architecture, what's in a name) doesn't meet expectations after all…

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