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Einstein (probably) never said, "if you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough yet." He was a master at creating conceptual understanding though. When designing systems, Diana argues that if you can't make a case for it, you (probably) don't understand it well enough yet.
Systems architecture is the art and science of conceptual decision making. What is the best possible solution under the circumstances? The circumstances are always uncertain. And the people considering them usually have disparate views of “best” and “possible”.
Yet, people must make interdependent and interrelated decisions if the goal is conceptual integrity. Fred Brooks says that conceptual integrity is “the most important consideration in system design.” The value is clear: the quality of your conceptual thinking becomes the quality of the system itself.
The antithesis to integrity, Brooks says, is a system with “many good but independent and uncoordinated ideas". Isn't that how many projects approach product development? Products that might seem, conceptually, independent are, more and more often, a coordinated part of an emergent system.
The success of those systems depends on building bridges between business and technical, strategy and implementation, product engineering teams and other product engineering teams. To do this, you stretch your thinking beyond specific technology solutions, into the world in which the problems exist. And you become very, very good at making a strong collaborative case for how to solve those problems.
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Keynote: Making a Case for Conceptual Integrity
If you’ve read The Economist, donated to Wikipedia, or contributed to The World Monuments Fund, you’ve interacted with systems that Diana helped to architect.