As engineers at GitLab, we lead the evolution of software, constantly working to find the right balance between proactive work, reactive work, preventive work, and innovation. We strive to determine what work is important and what work is not, leveraging knowledge from those that know the most about GitLab, and empowering people to work on things that make everyone more productive. Experimenting and innovating are core to how we work, and we focus on collaboration, results and iteration to achieve our goals.
With growth, however, comes complexity. An organic approach to our work sometimes requires help to ensure we are most effective. Help may be in the form of validating our technical approaches, ensuring organizational alignment across teams and departments, and driving priorities to key decision makers. Technical Engineering Leaders take on the task of helping engineers through these challenges. The Architecture Evolution Workflow is intended to provide influence amplification to drive the solution of complex problems both technically and organizationally.
As an engineer, you and your manager determine whether to invoke the Architecture Evolution Workflow. When in doubt, do not hesitate to reach out to an Architecture Evolution Coach for input.
Most (if not all) work begins with an issue or epic (which we will generally refer to as a domain issue in this document) in a project as part of you regular workflow. These are everyday issues and epics created in their relevant projects. Engineers and managers use a domain issue to scope problems and possibly outline solutions. If the domain issue uncovers significant complexity (in terms of the problem domain itself or the organizational involvement required to solve it), engineers and managers may decide to invoke the Architecture Evolution Workflow to enlist help from technical Engineering Leaders and other relevant experts.
#architecturechannel on Slack
doc/architecture/blueprintsdirectory in GitLab project and its corresponding discussion
At this point, problem scope (domain and organizational) is known and documented, as are stakeholders. The Architecture Evolution Workflow is complete. From this point on, we're focused on execution: the management Engineering Leader will assign new DRIs, who will take full control of the work and drive towards results. The AEC will continue to be engaged as you deem necessary to help in any way possible.
Anyone can propose a change they believe we should work on, which can happen on a domain issue or epic. When these changes turn out to be too intricate for a single individual contributor to handle (complex backstage improvements, architectural changes, productivity or efficiency improvements), or they span multiple teams, it may be necessary to invoke the Architecture Evolution Workflow, as the change may not be something directly actionable. The issue author may loop an Architecture Evolution Coach, and through the workflow, we ensure that we engage the right DRIs, domain experts, stakeholders, and decision makers.
Collaboration ensures that only proposals that are achievable get described in a blueprint merge request. This fosters knowledge sharing and avoids the cost of iterating on the product architecture improperly.
The primary outcome of the workflow is a blueprint published on
For any given proposal, the following people should be involved:
During the process of working on the proposal, the author collaborates with an Architecture Evolution Coach and, optionally, one or more Domain Experts to create a blueprint of the change. The blueprint merge request will be then either approved or rejected by the appropriate management Engineering Leader.
In order to choose the right stakeholders, the author and their manager will first need to understand what is the scope of their proposal, what departments and teams will need to help to get the work done and how important it is for the organization.
The first step is to find a management Engineering Leader that will be responsible for approving the proposal and adding the blueprint to the architecture roadmap. The management Engineering Leader needs to be someone who works on an appropriate level in the organization to carry on the vision described in the proposal. For example, changes that involve only one team can be approved by an Engineering Manager; when multiple teams within a one section are involved, a Director of Engineering. Changes that span more than one department might require approval from the Executive VP.
Domain Experts are people with deep skills on the topic at hand, and they can work anywhere in the organization (it can even be the author themself). Functional Experts get involved to ensure we have input and functional domain expertise available (from, for instance, Infrastructure, Security or QA).
All these people are here to amplify the influence of the author of the proposal in an environment that fosters creativity and knowledge sharing.
Once the blueprint of the proposal gets approved, DRIs will be assigned to carry on the vision and coordinate work required to get it done.
There are three role types associated with the Architecture Evolution Workflow and the generation of a blueprint:
As the original author of a proposal, you are the primary DRI.
Architecture Evolution Coaching is an expertise assigned to team members, visible on their profiles on the team page. All Engineering Fellows and Distinguished Engineers are Architecture Evolution Coaches by default.
The purpose of involving a coach in the process of creating a blueprint is to allow people that know most about GitLab to share their knowledge and perspective on introducing complex architectural changes, help navigate organizational, ensure the proposal is aligned with our roadmap, and help management Engineering Leaders prioritize the work.
The AEC will help you identify the right management Engineering Leader to evaluate the proposal. Managers are key decision-makers, and, ultimately, will determine how to include your proposal in the stream of work that is always in-flight. This entails prioritizing and staffing to execute the work at the appropriate time.
Domain Experts are engineers with a deep understanding of one or more particular areas. Domain Experts:
A Domain Expert is an engineer, usually an individual contributor, who knows most about specific aspects of the codebase and a domain in the area of proposed changes, but might still lack the deep understanding of the process behind introducing complex architectural changes, hence the collaboration between a Domain Expert and an Architecture Evolution Coach might be very useful.
Sometimes there is an Architecture Evolution Coach available who is also a Domain Expert in a particular area. In that case there is no need to involve another person.
Functional Experts are engineers with deep knowledge across specific functional areas, which include Security, QA, and Infrastructure. You should always involve these functional experts during the generation of blueprint so that we generate awareness early in the cycle and so that they can provide appropriate input into the blueprint.
The Security Expert is an engineer, usually an Individual Contributor, who is part of the Security Engineering and Research sub-department, and can evaluate the impact of the blueprint on our security posture and perimeter. It is important to assess and identify risk as early as possible, as workarounds to security design issues can lead to a lot of expensive changes. The Security Expert evaluates edge-cases and prevents later corrective actions. They can also specify some boundaries (example: list of allowed protocols) without modifying the design of the blueprint itself.
@gitlab-com/gl-security/appsec so that a specific Security Functional Expert DRI is assigned to the blueprint.
The QA expert is…
@gl-quality/managers so that a specific QA Functional Expert DRI is assigned to the blueprint.
The Infrastructure Expert is an engineer from Infrastructure's Reliability sub-department and can evaluate the impact of the blueprint on our reliability and availability posture. It is important to identify reliability aspects associated with the blueprint early, as workarounds to address availability, scalability and performance issues can be expensive, and directly affects GitLab.com's availability.
@gitlab-com/gl-infra/managers so that a specific Infrastructure Functional Expert DRI is assigned to the blueprint.
A blueprint merge request is a description of Why, How and What of the change that has been proposed in the issue.
Blueprints are mostly written by engineers, but their content should not be deeply technical. The audience are Product Team Members, management Engineering Leaders and the wider community. A blueprint should describe a clear vision that is easy to understand: use simple diagrams, and avoid technical jargon overload. Technical details will be fleshed out in subsequent epics and issues associated with a blueprint once we enter the execution phase.
A blueprint merge request gets created and made visible as a result of collaboration between an Architecture Evolution Coach, a Domain Expert and a person who had an idea. The author and coaches also need to be mentioned in the blueprint.
It describes the goal of the change and usually a 1-year forecast of how to make it happen.
Blueprints address complex cases, and they take a long-term view of the problem. Blueprints need to forecast iterations over a 3 to 6 month horizon. The result of this collaboration could be a description of three first iterations that can be done in a one milestone each. These iterations need to be two-way-door solutions with a measurable impact. Blueprints that cannot identify at least two well-defined, high-level iterations should not be approved.
Once the iterations are described, the blueprint needs to be approved by a management Engineering Leader.
The blueprint merge request needs to be approved by the management Engineering Leader who has been chosen as the final decision maker. Once the blueprint is ready, the author assigns it to an management Engineering Leader for approval. The choice of leader depends on the extent of proposed changes, the area that the changes apply to, and the estimated cost of the change. The Organization structure chart can be may be useful in determining the right DRIs.
The Engineering Leader can either approve and merge the merge request or reject the change.
Once the blueprint is approved, the management Engineering Leader who approved the proposal collaborates with people involved to find DRIs who will be responsible for delivery of results and decisions makes from now on.
The blueprint needs three people that will become DRIs:
The Engineering Leader who approved the proposal can become an Engineer Leader DRI, but they can also delegate this to someone else. It is important to choose people taking their area of interest and responsibility into account and the "How" description that depends on where the proposed change needs to happen, who knows the most about particular area of the product, service, and codebase.
Then DRIs will propagate the blueprint downstream, to respective teams that will need to be involved, and these teams will schedule the work based on their interpretation of 1-year forecast and proposed iterations that will happen in the next 3 months. If a Working Groups gets formed the list of DRIs can be extended according to the process of how Working Groups organize efforts around the work.
DRIs can decide to form a Working Group to structure the efforts related to the architecture change. Key considerations in deciding to form a Working Group are the size, complexity, and organizational impact of the change.
The concept of a Working Groups can be an extension of the Architecture Evolution Workflow, but if it is not applicable in a particular case, a different process can be followed, like the suggested one that is described below.
After the iterations described in the blueprint are done, the work can be extended to the next three iterations and the blueprint needs to be updated.
Alternatively the work can be concluded and the blueprint needs to be updated with results / outcomes.