Sports and Architecture

Back in the late 1980s, I read a book on business that correlated different sports with different approaches to business. It postulated that there were three primary business models that could take their approaches from sports; baseball, basketball, and football.

The Baseball model was one where individuals within the business were very distributed and, while there was some interaction between members of the team, they were essentially on their own little islands. Basketball was a much more fluid business model where the individuals were highly interactive but also not particularly specialized. Each individual was able to take on some component of each other individual’s role, and was probably the best correlation for small businesses. Football, as you can probably guess, was a parallel for those businesses that were larger and more regimented. Each individual has a specific role and they get really good at that role with little change in responsibilities.

I’ve always remembered that book, though not the name (sorry!). But, now, when I think about that book, I wonder if there’s a correlation between sports and architecture. I’m really into sports (my happy place is sitting in a gym watching or coaching basketball) and see parallels all the time. So let’s see if we can figure out a correlation.

When I look at the way various businesses deal with architecture, I see a few different approaches. Organizations that are “mid-sized” (ie. In the range of 2000 – 4000), I see them treat architecture as that associated specifically with projects. Architects do design as well as implementation and work closely with PMs, and seldom do the projects get so large that there are multiple Architects involved. In fact, it’s such that the Architect and the PM will split the duties for a project between them and support each other. If I was going to pick a sport, I’d almost say it’s like Doubles Tennis.

For larger organizations, I typically see a situation where Projects will have a lead Solution Architect and then support from the individual domain architects. The lead Solution Architect is almost more of a team lead than they are the actual solutionist/designer. They make sure the individual domain architects understand the needs that need to be dealt with by their own individual domains but also how those individual domains interact with each other. So, one core architect and multiple supporting architects but such that those supporting architects overlap with other domains. If I was to pick a sport, I’d almost say Volleyball – you have a core player in the setter who will distribute the ball to the appropriate Spiker, the back line will save and funnel the ball to the setter.

Finally, I see situations where the Architect is by themselves without a PM and, in fact, the individual will do both the PM and the Architect role. This is typical of the small business where they want one person to create a design, implement it, and make sure they stay on budget and time. It’s an organization that doesn’t have a very structured architecture practice and the Architect has to be a jack of all trades, really good at some things but good enough at all things. I would pick Gymnastics as this sport because the Architect has to be able to do each skill and the combined skillset will determine if that Architect is successful or not.

So I guess there are parallels. What do you think? Are there parallels that you can see?

Hope this helps …


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