What triggered the recent discussions is around understanding how architecture fits in with the Agile process. Before people who think themselves Agile Aficionados (Agileficionados) singing praise that architecture can be done just-in-time, please remember the context which I refer to: Embedded Set-Top-Box or Backend Systems Engineering.
We are not in the business of writing web applications, smart phone apps, tablets, or any desktop application, or even a web site -- where these environments are usually proven, solid and stable that fosters rapid application development cycles.
Digital TV projects, especially Set-Top-Box projects are a little more complicated than iterating through web page developments, switching versions easily through redirecting URLs, eliciting real world customer feedback for alpha/beta sites or apps, etc. STB projects generally involved multiple vendors or software suppliers, each with its own development processes. Testing is often done in a limited lab environment, whilst real world customer feedback demands an end-to-end engineering system to be deployed in a live broadcasting environment (which is currently in active use, generating revenues for the PayTV operator, so engineers better be damn sure they're not going to disrupt business operations, etc).
So some STB project teams are indeed embracing Agile (or at least trying to be Agile in the context of their component-worlds). I have written about the difficulty of doing Agile in these projects that I'm not going to repeat here. How then does one deal with the concept of architecture in Agile? Do we stick to Just-in-time, just enough or do we embrace a little structure and discipline, in keeping with Mile-wide, Inch-thick view of the future, but not waste time with too futuristic features??
For Digital TV projects, I prefer the mile-wide, inch thick approach, where we're looking at least a year ahead into the future, to develop new features and enhancing the roadmap. This is especially true for long lead features, like Recommendations, Targeted Advertising, Home Networking, or even designing the next evolution of your Middleware or EPG. And I believe that Architecture, can still be done incrementally, in an Agile-manner, although with a little discipline called foresight and pragmatic proactivity. To support this picture, I created the Paving-the-Road analogy: