September 28, 2010

Architects are funny animals. They generally like to complete the grand vision, put the parts in motion, make sure everything looks good and plays well, and let the “others” do the rest–the “others” being the programmers or the employees or the consultants. But often they get hung up on details.

Why are the details important? First off, in many cases they aren’t. If the detail in question lays smack in the middle of an individual component, then the architect can forget about it. For example, in a complex software project, the way a  programmer writes an argument within his block of code doesn’t necessarily matter all that much. Or in a building, what tools a carpenter chooses to cut the wood to length really doesn’t matter. Or in an organization, the way an employee spends his lunch hour.

Details become important when the details lie between the components–the API calls in code or the hold-downs in the building or the meeting format in the organization. These details are critical. The brilliant architect knows these details inside and out. He memorizes them, speaks about them in his sleep, breathes them. The more complex the system, the more the components will interact; the more the components interact, the more details will need to be known about.

Courtrooms are chock full of lawsuits stemming from missed construction details. In a recent case, an architectural firm in my very own Pacific Northwest was handed a multimillion dollar judgement because, among other things, the structural drawings of a high school didn’t match the architectural drawings in a few key areas.  In a client’s organization, one employee would occasionally work on a project for the better part of a week before finding out that management had killed the project, because there was no clarity in the communication of information. A recent Inc. magazine article highlighted yet another web startup that nearly failed due to their four programmers’ individual pieces not playing well together.

But really, it’s quite simple: If you want to have a good end product, identify the components, find out how the components interact, and understand the details of the interaction. There’s where the problems with your design will lie–components can be switched out if they are bad, but the interfaces will remain.


5 Responses to “Details”

  1. Haywood Jablomie Says:

    I agree. Details are important but one must be careful to not overlook the overall image by concentrating on the small details. Take a painting for instance. If one looks at the details, the painting is roughly layed out and will have very sharp lines and transitions. On the contrary, if one steps back and looks at the painting as a whole, all the lines flow together to the overall product.

  2. Kyle Broski Says:

    My! This is indeed interesting conceptual material! Golly gee i like to read your material and dream about someday owning a company myself, with a superb system of its own. Fap!

  3. Sivananda Says:

    A mountain is composed of tiny grains of earth. The ocean is made up of tiny drops of water. Even so, life is but an endless series of little details, actions, speeches, and thoughts. And the consequences whether good or bad of even the least of them are far-reaching.

  4. Dewey Obst Says:

    Have you ever heard people say ‘don’t sweat the details’? Well, they’re wrong: sweat the details. They have a name for people who sweat the details: millionaires.

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