Architect = Master Builder: A Common MIS-Conception…

A common misconception in the world of SharePoint is that the role of “architect” being synonymous with “master builder” – that is “master developer”. The two are neither equivalent nor interchangeable, yet company after company (even IT consulting firms) continue to advertize openings for “architects” when in fact what they’re really seeking are “master developers”. The result is … pain. And an inevitable departure of what is likely a genuine architect from a mis-named role.

Let me use numerous real-world examples to start to illustrate the distinction.

A city on an island just offshore from the mainland wishes to have a bridge built connecting the two. The city planners – mostly artists – together sketch out a beautiful, aesthetically-pleasing suspension bridge running from the southern part of the island well over 2 miles to the mainland on that side. The bridge will set records for longest distance over deepest crevices; the currents running in that area are among the swiftest in the world; winds howl through that windward side of the island, almost daily at over 40 mph. Toward representing the historic past of the island, the bridge has been designed to be bowl-shaped, with a gentle dip in the middle to represent the ceramic bowls which are a popular part of the culture of the island…

The Construction Firm tells The Architect and The Master Builder there’s a VP-ship as reward for accomplishing this feat.

The Master Builder sets about devising the world’s largest jig for achieving the bowl-shaped design in the middle of the bridge.

The Architect… explains to The City that with over 70 inches of rainfall annually, the bowl-shape will become a lake in the first rain of the season.

The Master Builder calculates the weight of the bridge, explains how new exotic materials will be required because of the depth, the winds, the shifting sandy bottom, and submits a Change Request quadrupling the cost of The Project.

The Architect… studies the sheer volume of traffic (small), notes that all that traffic comes from the east side of the island to the west mainland, finds a different location where the bridge span will be only 1/2 mile across, and over only 40 feet of water, under which is bedrock. This will permit a smaller bridge constructed of traditional, far-less-costly materials, and be completed in a fraction of the original time estimate.

The Master Builder encounters numerous problems along the way in building with the new exotic materials. Each time he devises terribly clever methods for cutting, assembling and joining the new materials. There’s no testing done on the long-term viability of either the material or the construction methods, since he’s there only to build the bridge.

The Architect looks at the economy of the village, comes to understand their true tax base for funding The Project, and pushes hard for the modified design as being more practical and affordable, while coming closer to serving the actual needs of The Residents. They get to spend a bit more time re-designing an aesthetically-pleasing smaller bridge, though it is without the rain-collecting bowl in the middle. The bridge goes up on-time and on-budget, both significantly smaller than the original bridge sketch and budget.

The Master Builder commences to build his record-breaking bridge. The bridge takes significantly longer due to changes in season forcing delays; the new exotic materials turn out to be more expensive than original (optimistically) estimated because the manufacturer came to understand The Project couldn’t be successful without them, and gouged The Village. More staff were required from The Firm. Dangerous & untested techniques for anchoring the bridge were tried, because it’s something The Master Builder read in a forum posting, and he was just itching to try that on a project. The Bridge was finally constructed, joining a nearly-uninhabited part of The Island to another nearly uninhabited section of the Mainland – one frequented by mudslides and tidal wave damage. Users of The Bridge now have to drive an extra 25 miles out of their way to use the bridge.

Just before the bridge was complete, The Firm arranged & promoted so that The Master Builder received numerous recognition & construction awards and a VP-ship from his firm for all the extra revenue he generated for The Firm.

The Firm fired The Architect, citing that he deliberately made decisions which reduced the possible revenue derived from The Project.

The Village went broke paying for The Master Builder’s bridge. They declared bankruptcy, and eventually only paid a fraction of the bill owed to The Firm. The Bridge was never completed, with 1/4 mile gaps remaining on both sides. It remained completely unused to this day. But The Master Builder has long-since used his awards and new title to jump ship, and was already seeking a CIO-ship at another firm.

The Architect… went freelance, continued to put the needs of The Customer at the front even if it meant vexing The Firm, continued to seek The Elegant Solution even if it meant changing The Customer’s mind… and started blogging.  😉

Yes, I suppose there IS a bit of darkness to the above illustration, but I’m convinced many of the points are valid:

  • Architects are not Master Builders; each fills a specific role, each supplements/complements the other; each is necessary;
  • Master Builders are not Architects; each fills a specific role, each supplements/complements the other; each is necessary;
  • Master Builders think from the bottom up;
  • Architects think from the top down;
  • Master Builders scope their thinking to The Bridge at Hand;
  • Architects scope their thinking to The Village, and even its future state;
  • Master Builders do not question what is asked of them;
  • Architects question everything they can think about what is being asked of them.
  • Firms want Master Builders.
  • Villages need Architects.

Here’s another way of thinking: Consider the converse of my original premise – that Architects ARE Master Builders, and vice versa.

Then it would stand to reason that:

Any craftsman who understood how to form & pour concrete, saw wood & pound nails, wire a light switch, and install a door handle is automatically qualified to architect a 100 story tall skyscraper in the middle of a large metropolitan region… right? This is especially true if The Architect he’s working with has never wired a fuse box in his life, agreed? Certainly being able to wire the fuse panel automatically makes the craftsman – the Master Builder – far more qualified to be an “architect” than The Architect, who only understands the geology under the 100 story skyscraper, then forces at work when the wind bends & twists the framing of the structure, who understands the natural frequencies to stay away from at these heights. Certainly the guy who install the A/C fan ought to be designing the entire building, right?


Do you start to get what I’m trying to illustrate?

For some bizarre reason the entire IT industry seems to equate “Architect” with “Master Builder”, yet each of us can readily observe real-life analogies which are indisputable – these roles are NOT the same… nor are they SUPPOSED to be.

  • Architects are supposed to think from The Big Picture down to The Solution;
  • Master Builders are supposed to think about The Solution;
  • Architects should not be expected to know everything a Master Builder does… although it can be a worthy goal toward which to strive;
  • Master Builders should not be expected to know everything an Architect does… although it can be a worthy goal toward which to strive;
  • Architects need Master Builders… and Master Builders need Architects.
  • The Customers need both in order to arrive at The Elegant Solution.
  • Firms should want both – if their priorities are truly aligned with that of The Customer.

Here’s hoping that the future will see a greater understanding of the distinction betwixt these roles, and the need for both.



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