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Book Review: Systems Architecting, Creating & Building Complex Systems

System Architecting, Creating and Building Complex Systems, by Eberhardt Rechtin is an excellent resource for Architecting in the large...years of technical and organizational experience provided as examples, references, and over 100 heuristics.

When I first pick up a book I like to open it to random locations and start reading...I came upon the following:

Process discipline, more than anything else, is the avoidance of goofs.  A goof is a straight out, unintended lapse of attention.  Again using examples from the space business:

 - Dropping satellites on the factory floor
 - Putting for lifts through a satellite
 - Crushing and warping fairings
 - Setting off overhead sprinklers above exposed satellites
 - Interchanging identical type connectors and applying power
 - Moving satellites into obstacles in high bay areas
 - Leaving contaminants in propellant lines
 - Putting a shorting plug into a charged battery
 - Moving the launch stage into a highway overpass
 - Leaving tools in the satellite when launched
 - Dropping tools and safety rails onto a launch vehicle
 - Launching with expended ignitor in a solid rocket motor
 - Reversing of sensor inputs to the range safety plotting board 
 - Using a wrong size crimp tool on wire connections
 - Cleaning "excess" adhesive off edges of solar cells; protection lost.
Embarrassing and expensive as these goofs were,....

Now there are many ways to emphasize process discipline and make the point that we all need it, it needs constant improvement, and even the very best, with national attention in the balance, have to work on it. 

With this passage I knew I would enjoy learning from the entire book.  Critical subjects, plain language (goofs!), and memorable real life examples. 

A key contribution is the attention paid to the social end of Systems Architecting.  Rechtin spells out the relationship and responsibilities an architect has in this comparison with systems engineers:

There is one area where engineering and architecting are very similar - ethical principles.  The code of ethics of engineering and architecture, as published by their societies, are virtually identical. ...
... The engineer, for example, is more likely to face dilemmas related to profit; the architect, dilemmas related to confidentiality.  The architect must be trusted both by the client and by the builder, their natural conflicts of interest notwithstanding.  If not, critical information will be withheld.  Options will not be proposed.  Yet premature disclosure can be harmful, too.  The dividing line between confidentiality and coverup can be a matter of perception.  In the architect's world of complexity, uncertainty, and ambiguity, following ethical principles can be more difficult than in the more structured one of the engineer.

The strength of Systems Architecting is in the deep examples, the extensive references and recommended reading, and in the over 100 heuristics: 'common sense in context' that make the lessons learned from Rechtin's 40 years of experience memorable.  Yes, this has been described as the first Architecture Patterns text.  Here are a couple of examples:

From chapter 3, Modeling, Simulating, and Prototyping:
Don't assume that the original statement of the problem is necessarily the best, or even the right, one.

From chapter 5, Information Systems:
In introducing technological and social change, how you do it is often more inportant than what you do.
If Social cooperation is required, the way in which a system is implemented and introduced must be an integral part of its architecture.

About the Author

Dr. Eberhardt Rechtin is a Professor of Engineering at the University of Southern California with joint appointments to Electrical Engineering Systems, Aerospace Engineering and Industrial and Systems Engineering. He is also President Emeritus of The Aerospace Corporation, the architect-engineer firm for the preponderance of American national security satellite and space launch systems.
      In his 40 year career he has also been the chief architect and director of the NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory Deep Space Network, the Director of the Defense Advance research Projects Agency, and Assistant Secretary of Defense, and the chief engineer of Hewlett-Packard, the instrument and computer company. He has received the Department of Defense Distinguished Public Service Award, the Navy Distinguished Public Service Award, the Air Force Exceptional Service Award, and the NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement. He continues to advise the government on space, command, control, communications, and intelligence systems.
      Dr. Rechtin is a Member of the National Academy of engineering, a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and an Alexander Graham Bell Awardee, a fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and a Robert Goddard Astronautics Awardee, and a fellow of the Institute of Environmental Sciences. he is a Distinguished Alumnus of the California Institute of Technology and an ex-Naval officer.

Highly recommended.
Tom Evans


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