One of the nice features of WordPress is the “Site Stats” page. In addition to presenting information about hit counts, it also shows search word combinations used to find pages on your site. The combination that was displayed the other day piqued my interest: “form follows function and structure follows strategy”. If you’ve read the Why “Form Follows Function” page, you know know the provenance of the phrase “form follows function” and why I felt it made a fitting title for the blog. The second phrase, “structure follows strategy”, was unfamiliar, but apropos. A quick session with Google provided the background.
It turns out that the phrase was a quote from Alfred D. Chandler’s Strategy and Structure: Chapters in the History of the American Industrial Enterprise. Wikipedia led to the site ProvenModels, which summarized Chandler’s thesis as follows:
He described strategy as the determination of long-term goals and objectives, the adoption of courses of action and associated allocation of resources required to achieve goals; he defined structure as the design of the organisation through which strategy is administered. Changes in an organisation’s strategy led to new administrative problems which, in turn, required a new or refashioned structure for the successful implementation of the new strategy.
The same search yielded dissenting views as well. One counterpoint was titled “Strategy Follows Structure”. The thrust of this paper was that the existing structure of an enterprise would restrict its strategic options.
In my opinion, both viewpoints are correct. Both creation and major change imply extensive structural work. Once established, architecture will then constrain future changes. Strategic shifts will require considerable justification for the effort and cost involved.
Although the context of both Chandler’s work and the opposing view is in the realm of enterprise architecture, these same principles apply to solution and application architecture as well. Investment yields inertia. The takeaway from this is that flexibility is critical. The more agility that an architecture can provide without extensive, expensive, and disruptive re-work, the better that architecture serves the needs of its users.
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