Yes, it is true that architects, especially us enterprisey types, often get accused of being ivory tower academics. I will admit, at least in my case, that is sometimes true although that is certainly not my intent. However, I while I try hard to not work in the tower, I just spend time thinking in it. There's nothing wrong with a little bit of professional dissociation from a problem. In fact, it often aids objectivity. One thing a tower does provide me with is a very different perspective and a much longer horizon. That perspective allows me to think and plan ahead or, even see a way out of the maze. When lost in the middle of Mirkwood, the best thing to do is climb a tall tree to get some reference bearings.
When we were kids, how often would we remark that people looked like ants when we were looking down on them from a tall building or even an aircraft? Of course, it would be nice if large groups of people would be as well organized and cooperative as ants instead of being a meandering herd but, that's another post. To continue, some might even call this top down perspective the "big picture" or "the reason why" for the situation at hand. From a bit of a distance, it is easier to see all the interactions, the real scope, shortcuts, dead ends, pitfalls and approaching problems. Those are all benefits of retreating into the tower. Naturally the main drawback to retreating into the tower is that (most) towers are static. The second is that they are difficult to build or tear down. Both of those drawbacks are contrary to the principle of agility.
Is there such a thing as an agile ivory tower and is there a need for one? I think so, as long as a few key requirements are met, including:
- the benefit must be visible
- its occupants must be in step with the rest of the team
- staying in it too long is uncomfortable
- there is a direct communication and feedback loop
That's why I like the idea of a crow's nest or lookout. It provides the benefits of a tower but it's also strictly utilitarian. Now, if we could only convince businesses of the value of having a lookout place high enough to see beyond the next quarter ....