A Frenchmen once said to me ‘I know it works in practice but does it work in theory?’ He asked me in English, though I was in Paris at the time and it seemed a very funny thing to say. It was a long time ago and I have only just come to realise what he meant.
What has made me come to understand is the work that we have been doing with our new architecture group. It is quite common in our industry to have an architect in place, an individual with responsibility for designing the way that the technology hangs together. I’ve resisted such a move for a long time on the basis of experience. Putting such authority and power into an individual can lead to a lot of conflict and mistrust.
My idea therefore was to set up an architecture group. Rather than an individual responsibility there would be a collective. The group would comprise people from across the service with different experiences, different opinions and different visions. In this way all ideas would be challenged and shaped into something that can be agreed and accepted by the while organisation.
It is early days yet but I am happy with the progress that this fledgling group is making.
They are making good progress in defining how our architecture should be. They are making good progress in identifying the areas we need to address and they are making good progress in articulating what needs to be done.
Where we’re not quite on the right road though is in those areas where things are working well enough now but could be better. The temptation is to leave those things well alone. Why fix it when it ain’t broke? Yet these could be perfect examples of where something is working in practice yet does not fit into the future direction of the organisation. They work now but will hold us back in the future.
This is what my French colleague meant. These things are working fine in practice but if we go back to the drawing board, do they work as well as they could. The theory showed that improvements could be made yet we’re happy to rest with what we have got. It is very tempting in this hectic world, where time is at such a premium, to stop whenever you arrive at a working solution though the Toyota Production System and Dave Brailsford’s to marginal improvements have shown us that this work never stops.
So this is the work that we need to do in the architecture group. If we could start again (which we can’t) what would we have done differently? If our future architecture is to be different from today what can be done to move us in our preferred direction? At each opportunity we need to reflect upon what our original intentions were, check whether they have changed or not and look to take a step along our chosen path.
Things are working fine in practice but do they stand up to our original plans. Do they work in theory?