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How To Be A Tracer Bullet Architect

Filed Under Architecture, Better Teams

tracer bullets

As Spiderman once put it, “With great power comes great responsibility”… well unfortunately there are a ton of roles and people that have never heard that phrase because I continually run into people who believe their current position entitles them to bossing people around while providing little value in terms of leadership. I am a huge believer of leading by example and as a result I have modeled my architectural duties around the Tracer Bullet Development tactic.

If you have never hear of tracer bullet development, it was a term coined in the classic The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master. In short, it is very important to trailblaze unknown territory through activities such as mockups, prototyping, and spiking.

However, I sometimes find “architect” level people providing no more worth to their team than a whiteboard full of boxes and arrows and a mouthful of hollow words of encouragement (sarcastic quotes explained). What teams need is clear direction on a clear path.

If what I just said wasn’t clear enough, let me be more blunt – whiteboarding and diagramming are the lowest forms of architecture and they provide the least amount of worth. I realize that I will receive some comment on how in their company is special and creating BUFD UML diagrams is key, blah blah blah. The point I am trying to make is, these activities 99% of the time are nothing more than echoes of the obvious – as a leader it is your responsibility to give direction to the non-obvious!

For example, the current project I am on we need to provide a very rich search capability. As an architect you could really suck and throw some buzzwords at your developer and send them on their way. You could suck less by throwing a couple of real technologies to a developer to give them a launching point for research, but more than likely you are delegating a very important architectural decision to someone who is not veteran enough to make the correct choice. The final option is, you do your job and lead by example by researching the alternatives yourself, picking the path, creating a prototype to validate your hypothesis, and then hand it off with a pre-cleared path.

In order to become a trailblazer, you have to blaze trails. Good architects do not blaze trails with their bossyness and whiteboard markers, instead good architects do it with their intelligence, code, and ability to communicate.

PS – Here are a few more tracer bullet resources, here and here.

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3 Responses to “How To Be A Tracer Bullet Architect”

  1. Ray on August 3rd, 2009 9:44 am

    I’ve long believed that leadership by example is the only way to lead. Men and women will struggle to take the hill when the Lieutenant is hollering at them from its bottom. But they are willing to charge up the hill following the Lieutenant who is running up it before them.

    Your statement about blazing trails reminded me of something else I heard long ago: If you think you’re leading but no one is following you’re only taking a walk.

    Nice job.

  2. Charles Darke on August 3rd, 2009 2:56 pm

    Really disappointed that this wasn’t about real tracer bullets. What is it with IT and strange names (e.g. ‘surfing the web’).

    Can’t IT types just concede that it’s a dorky subject and name things appropriately? Maybe borrow terminology from Star Trek or something? 😀

  3. How to suck less as an architect by being agile « The Agile Architect on June 2nd, 2010 5:57 am

    […] found this blog – How to be a Tracer Bullet Architect –  which I’d like to rename as how to suck less as an […]

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