The Final Pillar: Designing for Cost

For the OCD readers of this post, defining cost as a pillar of good architecture seems like a poor choice of words as the picture below illustrates.

Cost is the most important aspect of any good architecture because it is cross-cutting across the other 4 pillars.  If you have enough money, you can build anything, but this is not always a good thing.  You can end up not making conscious decisions about where you spend your money and can end up over-engineering a solution to its detriment.  Most projects (and hence architectures) will almost certainly be constrained by budgets.  However, cost not only acts as a constraint on the architecture, conversely it can also help reinforce any of the other 4 pillars.

So how does one design for cost?

The most logical approach would be to apportion cost to each of the other 4 pillars equally and start from there.  But that may put you in a situation where you have overinvested in a certain pillar that is not a priority for the target solution.  For example, if you were building a solution that allows people to share cool cat photos you may not want to invest as heavily in the Security pillar as you would say in the Availability and Recoverability pillar.  On the other hand, if you were building a financial system you would want to invest heavily in the Security Pillar.

The key to determining this balance is by looking at the solution’s Non-functional Requirements.  At Global Kinetic, we group our NFRs into the following categories.

Some of the NFR categories above span multiple architectural pillars, like for example Operational Excellence spans the Performance and Scalability Pillar, the Availability and Recoverability Pillar and the Efficiency of Operations Pillar.  On the other hand, Security NFRs will be focused on the Security Pillar.

Another factor to consider is the stage at which your solution or product is in terms of the market or user base that the solution is targeting.  For example, if you are an early-stage startup, you may want to invest more heavily in Efficiency of Operations which will allow you to pivot and be more nimble in order to respond to changing customer/user demands while you get your product market ready, and invest more heavily later on in Performance and Scalability once your product or solution starts getting traction and the feature set starts to mature.

The most important thing to ensure is that you apportion at least some budget into each of the four pillars at the start so that you are making a conscious decision of which pillar has the highest priority and which has the lowest.  This budget and its apportionment to the 4 pillars must either meet the solution’s NFRs or come with a roadmap or plan of how meet the solution’s NFRs for the system over time.

And there you have it, the Five Pillars of good solution Architecture.  A final note is that a good architecture is one that can meet the demands of the product and market throughout the life cycle of the product without requiring a major redesign.  This means that a good architecture comes with a roadmap of when you will build each part of the architecture out to its full capability, because you can’t build everything up front and on day one.  I hope the blog series has been helpful, and if you need some help working through an architectural design for a new digital product that you are looking to take to market, you know where we are.

Building things right and building the right things.

The Sinclair C5 was a three-wheeled electric vehicle designed to be an alternative to traditional cars and bicycles. It was lightweight, compact, and had a top speed of 15 miles per hour.

Sinclair was confident that the C5 would be a huge success, and he predicted that it would revolutionize transportation in the UK. However, the product was plagued by quality issues and design flaws that made it impractical and unsafe to use.

The C5's low profile and lack of visibility made it difficult for other vehicles to see, and its small size and low speed made it vulnerable to accidents. The vehicle's battery life was also limited, and it struggled to handle hills and inclines.

Finally, the quality of the vehicle's construction was also an issue. The C5 was made of lightweight plastic, which was prone to cracking and breaking. The battery compartment was also poorly designed, and many units experienced problems with the battery leaking or overheating.

All these quality issues contributed to the failure of the Sinclair C5. Despite being a unique and innovative product, it was ultimately unable to overcome the practical challenges and safety concerns that plagued it.

We will never know if the Sinclair C5 would have ended up revolutionising transportation in the UK because it wasn’t built right.  But if you are building things right from the start, how do you know you are building the right thing?

Building the right thing.

In 2012, Airbnb was struggling to gain traction and growth. The company realized that they needed to improve the user experience on their platform to make it easier for people to find and book accommodations.

To address this challenge, Airbnb turned to Design Sprints to quickly test and iterate new ideas. They assembled a cross-functional team, including designers, developers, and product managers, and began conducting week-long sprints to prototype and test new features.

Through this process, the team was able to rapidly iterate on ideas and gain valuable feedback from users. One notable outcome of the Design Sprints was the creation of the "Wish List" feature, which allowed users to save and share properties they were interested in.

The Wish List feature was a huge success, and it helped to significantly improve the user experience on the Airbnb platform. This, in turn, led to increased growth and adoption of the platform.

Since implementing Design Sprints, Airbnb has continued to use the process to develop new products and features. This has helped the company to stay ahead of the competition and maintain its position as a leader in the sharing economy.  Design Sprints has ensured that the company is building the right thing.

Designs Sprints at a glance.

A Design Sprint is a structured process for quickly exploring, testing, and validating ideas for new products, features, or services. It typically involves a cross-functional team working together over the course of a week to develop a prototype and test it with real users.

The goal of a Design Sprint is to rapidly prototype and test a new idea to determine whether it has potential to be successful in the market. By working in a structured and collaborative way, teams can quickly identify potential issues and address them before investing significant time and resources into development.

From a technology perspective, a Design Sprint can be especially helpful in ensuring that the team is building the right thing. By prototyping and testing with real users, the team can gain valuable feedback and insights about the user experience, which can be used to inform the technology decisions that are made during development.

For example, if the team discovers during the Design Sprint that users are struggling with a particular aspect of the prototype, they can use that information to adjust the technology implementation to better meet user needs. This can help to ensure that the final product is not only technically sound, but also meets the needs and expectations of the target users.

A fall from grace.

In the early 2000s, Blockbuster had the opportunity to acquire a small DVD-by-mail rental service called Netflix. However, Blockbuster declined the offer, believing that the DVD-by-mail business was not a significant threat to their brick-and-mortar business model.

Blockbuster also failed to recognize the growing trend of online streaming, and when they eventually launched their own streaming service in 2010, it was too little, too late. Their service was clunky and difficult to use, and it could not compete with the more established streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu.

Blockbuster's lack of foresight in the changing technology landscape ultimately led to their downfall. In 2010, Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy, and by 2014, the company had closed all of its remaining stores.

The importance of building the right thing from a technology perspective whilst at the same time being open to adapting to changing technologies and consumer preferences cannot be overstated. Failing to do so can have serious consequences, even for well-established companies with a large market share.

In summary, you need to do both.  Build the right thing AND build it right!

At Global Kinetic we pride ourselves in this approach that we take in to all our projects.  Our Discovery process is designed to ensure this and includes Design Sprints as a tool to facilitate building the right things.  Our Delivery process has been refined over many years through continuous improvement to ensure we build things right.  To find out more about how we can help de-risk your technology investment and build an award-winning product, contact our sales team now.