Understanding complexity in architecture-based analysis

Publication Type:
Thesis
Issue Date:
2007
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NO FULL TEXT AVAILABLE. This thesis contains 3rd party copyright material. ----- As computer-based systems become more embedded in organisations and integrated into organisational activity, they also become proportionately more complex. Telecommunications networks in particular are facing significant challenges as their infrastructure combines to form one of the largest, most heterogenous systems around. The increase in complexity, coupled with the cost of late changes to system designs, elevates the importance of being able to reason about system designs from the earliest artefacts onwards. Software architecture is a discipline designed to address the increase in complexity by facilitating early design reasoning and providing a complimentary focus on system quality as well as function. The following thesis reports on a research project aimed at addressing the complexity of the telecommunications design task with the techniques of software architecture. A particular focus is given to architecture-based analysis, the motivation for which arose from reconciling experience in design meetings against the focus of the analysis methods. Combining this experience with a diverse examination of systems literature realised the 'hypothesis' that the existing analysis literature did not address the true complexity of the task. Using a collaborative design project as a platform, the research made use of the situated method of inquiry called action research to explore the complexity of the analysis task. The learning outcomes present the manifestations of complexity observed in the AT AM process in terms of a people and systems dimension. These aspects of complexity are shown to affect some of the most important ATAM objectives. Insight is also offered on the use of the method with respect to the design lifecycle, discussing how the elements of the design situation and situational complexity conspire to diffuse the efficacy of the ATAM. Some future resolution to this is suggested in terms of splitting out the analysis objectives and maintaining two streams of analysis, as well as paying attention to the content aspects of the process that drive its direction from within. While all the individual learning outcomes are important, the most enduring outcome stems from the rich understanding obtained by entertaining a 'soft' perspective of the analysis task. This is perhaps no better summed up than by Bucciarelli. "attempts to improve the engineering design process by critics and assessors of that process have been, for the most part, couched wholly in instrumental terms ... these instrumental approaches are deficient when applied to design process considered as a social process awash in uncertainty and ambiguity. They miss many of the trees in the forest." (Bucciarelli, 2002, pp 221)
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