TMMM: Aristocracy, Democracy, and System Design

Michael McKenna

May 16, 2023

This chapter describes the importance of conceptual integrity and how to achieve it on a big project with hundreds of implementers. To help achieve consistency throughout the entire project Brooks proposes seperating the architectural effort (what is to be done) from the implementation effort (how it is to be done) so that the architecture is designed by a small number of people. By limiting the number of people involved in the architectural effort the implementers will be left to build a solution that conforms to a core set of basic concepts. To achieve this consistency someone must control the architectural design process; hence an aristocracy is more suited.

Granted this book talks from the perspective of system design in regards to projects such as the IBM System/360 where an aristocracy sounds more suited, I do think there are other projects such as standards which are more suited to design by committee. This is because standards generally require buy-in from a diverse set of stakeholders to become accepted; it’s beneficial to make sure all viewpoints are heard.

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