Balancing Consistency and Autonomy in Agile Architecture

Aviral Vaid

Aviral Vaid

Sep 28, 20233 min read

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Balancing Consistency and Autonomy in Agile Architecture

Introduction:

Agile architecture has become a popular approach in software development, allowing teams to deliver value quickly. However, it often leads to messy and emergent architecture, challenging the notion of consistency. This article explores the trade-off between consistency and time to value, the role of microservices in achieving this balance, and the importance of paying attention to differing perspectives.

Consistency vs. Time to Value:

Consistency and alignment within a software architecture are often seen as desirable traits. However, prioritizing consistency can hinder the ability to deliver value quickly. In my experience, applying consistent architecture practices has usually increased operating costs rather than lowering them. It's crucial to strike a balance between the two.

Structuring Architecture around Teams:

To achieve this balance, we should structure our architecture around our teams, rather than forcing teams to conform to a predetermined architecture. By allowing autonomy, teams can move faster and adapt to changes more effectively. This approach may involve deliberately duplicating code to enable autonomy and speed to market. While it may seem counterintuitive, it can be a valuable trade-off.

Microservices as Lego Blocks:

Microservices have emerged as a popular architectural pattern to break down applications into smaller, decoupled parts. However, the challenge lies in dividing the application into logical pieces that can act as lego blocks. Versioning offers a solution to avoid duplication while allowing teams to work independently. By creating new versions of each microservice, teams can avoid the snowball effect of changes and maintain compatibility with previous versions.

The Trade-Off: Messy and Inconsistent for Autonomy and Adaptability:

There is no perfect solution when it comes to balancing consistency and autonomy in agile architecture. It is a trade-off between cost, reuse, and consistency versus autonomy, adaptability, and time to value. Organizations must decide what they value more and align their architecture accordingly. While consistency provides stability, autonomy and adaptability enable responsiveness and faster value realization.

Advice 1: Define Clear Communication Structures:

To enable autonomy within teams, it is crucial to establish clear communication structures. Conway's Law states that the design of a system reflects the communication structures of an organization. By aligning the architecture with team communication, teams can work more effectively and independently.

Advice 2: Embrace Versioning and Compatibility:

In the context of microservices, versioning plays a vital role in maintaining compatibility while allowing teams to make changes independently. By building on top and creating new versions of each microservice, teams can avoid conflicts and ensure smooth transitions.

Advice 3: Foster a Culture of Objectivity and Learning:

To make informed decisions, it is essential to pay attention to differing perspectives. Francis Crick's approach of knowing what to ignore and Darwin's practice of disconfirming ideas can be valuable lessons. When someone you admire disagrees with you on a fundamental level, pay close attention, as this may provide valuable information to broaden your knowledge.

Conclusion:

Balancing consistency and autonomy in agile architecture is a challenge faced by organizations today. While consistency offers stability, autonomy enables adaptability and faster value realization. By structuring architecture around teams, leveraging microservices, and fostering a culture of objectivity, organizations can find a suitable balance that aligns with their goals and values. Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and the trade-off will vary depending on the organization's priorities.

Resource:

  1. "Agile Architecture — the rise of messy, inconsistent and emergent architecture | HackerNoon", https://hackernoon.com/agile-architecture-the-rise-of-messy-inconsistent-and-emergent-architecture-e6801ab25b61 (Glasp)
  2. "Paying Attention", https://collabfund.com/blog/paying-attention/ (Glasp)

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