Information Technology Dark Side

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Seagull Architects and the Tumor Model

August 29th, 2007 · 3 Comments

I’ve picked up a couple of new phrases from reading and meetings lately that put nice tags on concepts I’ve understood but couldn’t name easily. Here they are:

Seagull architect is a term I picked up from Johanna Rothman’s book, Manage It! (awesome read – I’ll review it soon). A seagull architect swoops in, poops out a lot of powerpoints, then flies off to let others implement it, evolve it, and solve the real problems. You should avoid seagull architects like the plague. They are useless.

The tumor model is a model for supporting IT systems across business domains, i.e. using the billing system of a larger business unit to support the needs of a smaller unit. The smaller unit becomes the tumor, growing on the flesh of the larger unit, the host. This model was provided by a colleague in a conference I recently attended.

Other models he mentioned were the leaky pipe model and the urban sprawl model, two ways of describing how systems evolve over time. In the leaky pipe model, the system is kept fundamentally the same but the innards are constantly being patched every time a problem (leak) occurs, rather than gutting the system and starting from scratch. In the urban sprawl model, an application’s scope grows every time a new problem is identified until it encompasses a far broader problem space than initially intended or imagined.

I thought these were cool additions to my vocabulary because they capture an idea in a way that is easy to understand but also illustrates the problems associated with them.

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3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Dennis Gorelik // Aug 30, 2007 at 12:45 pm

    There is another term for Seagull architect:
    “Blah-blah architect”.
    Just talk and no action. I meet these parasitic species quite often, especially in buerocratic environment, when career success does not depend much on project success.

    I think the major reasons for encountering Blah-blah architects are:
    1) Software development is quite complex.
    2) The outcome of bad or good architecture is not visible immediately.

    As the result — it’s a tricky task to distinguish between practical architect and blah-blah architect.

    BTW, where did “Seagull architect” name come from?

  • 2 David Christiansen // Aug 30, 2007 at 4:37 pm

    I came across the term in Johanna Rothman’s book, Manage It! It comes from the tendency of seagulls to swoop in, poop vociferously, and fly away with no concern for the mess they left behind. Why is it seagull architect and not pigeon? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because it sucks more to get crapped on at the beach than downtown?

  • 3 Five Measures of Competency // Apr 1, 2008 at 4:54 pm

    […] talk in abstractions – instead they get involved in the actual problem at hand, avoiding seagullery. A person who avoids dealing with problems by appealing to higher authority, delegating, or […]

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