November 2009
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Don’t Make Monoliths

Come gather ’round friends
And I’ll tell you a tale
Of when the red iron pits ran plenty.

Asterix was worried. Once again he’d woken up with his bed surrounded by water. It appeared that the melting polar ice caps were leading to a rise in the sea level, which was threatening to flood the whole of Armorica. The only solution would be to move the entire town further inland, and they’d run out of magic potion. He got up, got dressed, and went to find Overcomplix, the town’s architect. When he found him, Overcomplix looked worried too.

“So, Overcomplix, how are the plans to migrate the village inland progressing?”, inquired Asterix. “To be honest”, replied Overcomplix, “not very well. You see, when we designed this village, we opted for a tightly coupled, fully integrated architecture. The town hall is joined to the market by solid iron girders, and all of the houses are tightly welded to the market. If we could move one building at a time, we’d be okay. But if we try to separate them, the whole village will fall apart. I think Gantchartix is working on a plan, though.”

“That’s no good at all”, sighed Asterix. “I’ll talk to Gantchartix, but it sounds like we’ve built a monolith. Let me find Obelix. He’s helped us out of tight spots before.”


When Asterix found Gantchartix, he was surrounded by Microsoft Project Plans and grinning from ear to ear. “I’ve created a masterpiece”, smiled Gantchartix. “The village is saved. All we need to do is get one hundred thousand doves and connect them to the village with pieces of rope. Then, all the doves need to lift off at exactly the same moment, fly inland a bit, and land at exactly the same time. If one of them mistimes it, the village will fall apart. But look at my project plan – it’s perfect.”

Asterix wasn’t convinced. Once again, Gantchartix was living inside his plan instead of reality. “That sounds like a Big Bang approach to me, Gantchartix. Those never work. Your plan is a monolith. I really need to speak to Obelix. He has experience with these things.”

All this worrying had made Asterix hungry. He decided to visit Procurafix to grab a bite to eat.

“Sorry, Asterix, we don’t have any food,” explained Procurafix. “We are in the  middle of evaluating responses to our Supply Everything To Armorica RFP. The lawyers are embroiled in a battle over the Boar Hunting Rights clause, so the process might take a while yet. Rather annoyingly, this probably means we won’t have grain or water for a while either. It’s a single contract for everything.”

“That is annoying”, said Asterix. “In fact, your process sounds rather like another monolith. I’ll see if Obelix can move it forward. He is good at that.”

Building A Monolith

Obelix seemed to be the only one that could bypass Procurafix’s rules as when Asterix found him he was feasting on nuts and oysters. Asterix explained the sad state of affairs, and asked Obelix for help.

“Sorry, Asterix. I’m afraid I have some bad news. The Goths have offered me a much higher day rate as part of an extremely attractive package. Effective immediately, I’m working for them. You’re on your own.”

“Oh no! We’re doomed,” cried Asterix. “We should never have made those fucking monoliths.”

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70 comments to Don’t Make Monoliths

  • Duncan

    Inspired. Absolute genius (and true with it).

  • “Gantchartix” – genius… I think I have met him for real :)

  • Dejected at Obelix’s disloyalty and secretly jeleous that he’d found a way out of the villages problems Asterix pondered what to do next.

    Walking through the market he chanced upon Pragmatix who had already noticed how miserable Asterix looked. “Looks like you’ve been talking to Gantchartrix” says Pragmatix with an annoying twinkle in his eye. “Yes” says Asterix “It’s not good news – as you know, Overcomplix has created something that only he really understands and he’s run out of ideas about what to do next. The waters of the Opensourceous are rising fast and threatening to swamp us. Gantchartrix has a plan to relocate the village that is pure fantasy. We’ve been bringing in talented developers to try to help out too but they can only build things that float around the edges of the village – they work up to a point but don’t solve the main issues. They come, they try, they go. We’re not really any further forward and things are becoming desperate”

    Pragmatix look skyward and thought for a moment. “There is one thing I can think of trying” “What’s that?” said Asterix eagerly. “Try to sell the village!”

    “That’s a ridiculous idea” said Asterix, feeling even more dejected at the stupidity around him. “Who is going to buy a village that’s being swamped by the Opensourceous and slowly drowning us?”

    “Well” replied Pragmatix, “You know that town up the coast from us, it’s a bit further above sea level than our village and has some better coastal defences. The bigwigs that run it live in these strange ivory towers and are a bit detached from the reality around them. I reckon they’d buy this village”

    Asterix looked at Pragmatix with even more disbelief. “What in Gaul’s name would make them want to buy this village?” Pragmatix looked back with a smile growing across his smug face “I know two of our people who could make them want to buy it – Upto_oldtrix and Dynamix – together they could sell sand to the Egyptians”

    “What we’d have to do is put up a bit of a façade, you know, make things look a lot bigger and better than they really are. We can turn issues into features and Upto_oldtrix can do his usual ‘smoke and mirrors’ presentations that will wow them. Dynamix will be so tenanacious that they won’t dare to walk away without making a deal. By the time they see behind the façade we’ll be lying on that beach on that nice part of the coast earning 20%”

    Asterix started to look happier “You’re an evil bastard Pragmatix but I think you could be on to something I’m just a bit concerned that they’ll come after us when they’ve realised what they’ve bought”

    “No I don’t think so – I reckon once they’ve figured it all out they’ll sell both their town and this village to the Romans – they live in a different world altogether with their empire building. Mark my words, their empire will get bigger and bigger, the people will rise up and then it will fall apart around their ears!”

    “hmmm – want a coffee”

    “Yep – go on then”

  • Perhaps the last para should read…

    “No I don’t think so – I reckon once they’ve figured it all out they’ll sell both their town and this village to the Romans – they live in a different world altogether with their constant empire building. Mark my words, their empire will get bigger and bigger, the people will rise up in desperation and frustration – then it will fall apart around their ears. Empires full of monoliths always do… eventually”

  • Frank Cronin

    A disturbing and truthful parable on many levels. You could, for example, almost be talking about a proto-professional services organisation that bolted 5 or 6 different businesses and 12 different service lines together, painted itself red and called itself an agency. You’re not though, obviously. You’re talking about software architecture. Well, these are fast-moving times, and you’re right, there’s a lot of it about. It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there. Of course, what the Armoricans really need in the mix is the service of Accountmaniax – or needed, anyway – someone with enough of Upto_oldtrix’s blag but enough nous about Aterix and Obelix’s work to get realistic requirements right in the first place. Digging James’ ‘sell bugs as features’ getout line though – always a reliable Plan B.

    • I’m not just talking about software architecture. All monoliths suck. It remains to be seen whether the red painted proto-professional services organisation is one or not. I’m hopeful, but sometimes you don’t know something is a monolith until you try to move it …

  • Genius comment James :)

    So, I think the people in the village are eventually forced to abandon their familiar surroundings by the rising tide and they set off for higher ground.

    After a long, arduous yet exciting journey they come to the top of a hill and look down into a large and fertile valley filled with thousands upon thousands of villages as far as the eye can see. Some of villagers come up to greet them with gifts and offer to carry their luggage.

    They meet a village elder, Drupalix who explains that the people in this valley have made an amazing discovery. They have discovered a way to build villages and give them away for free. Asterix and the other villagers are incredulous and not a little suspicious. How can this be possible ?

    Asterix looks around the brand new village that they have been offered for free. It has all sorts of amazing buildings and features. Everything that Asterix had ever dreamed of and more. Drupalix explained that new buildings get added automatically all the time. Drupalix also explained that not everything would be free. The electricity still had to be paid for and sometimes you needed a plumber or a carpenter.

    Drupalix handed Asterix an Android SmartPhone and said that he had to be off now, but this little device would answer all his questions. As Drupalix headed back to his hut he added that they have any problems,to ask any of the others villagers – everybody is very friendly and willing help

    • Suddenly, out of nowhere, a little man appeared. “Hello”, he said. “I’m Acquix. If you pay me nicely, I can help you with this village move.”

      “Screw you”, said Asterix, bemused. “I’ve got all these nice people offering to help me for free. Get out of here before I kick you in the nuts, you greedy bastard.”

      So Acquix vanished. Sadly, the village move didn’t go as planned. Chief Vitalstatistix demanded heads. “Who is responsible for this”, he screamed. “I want a head on a stake”. But when they looked around, Drupalix had vanished.

      • George

        And so Chief Vitalstatistix sort the help of the Legions to find the person responsible. Cornering the Open Sourcerers in the village the Legion commander would spare their lives if they would identify Drupalix.

        I’m Drupalix

  • hmmm Frank Cronin … Have I met you in another life? I’m doubting Accountmaniax can, or could have saved the day, and sometimes probably best to recognise the inevitable and get the hell out of the village. Knowing about Asterix’s and Obelix’s work is one thing, understanding how Overcomplix built the village in the first place is another – and without that understanding, fighting a rising tide is nigh on impossible. @ Simon – this Drupalix sounds an interesting character – you’ll have to point out where he lives sometime ;)

  • Dom Collier

    James – Frank Cronin here. (I know you by reputation and we may have met, though I wasn’t being Frank with you at the time – this persona, named in honour of a former client (think Obelix) is largely a long-running gag for Duncan’s benefit.)
    I’m always going to say that Accountmaniax can save/could’ve saved the day because that’s my role and I believe that, performed correctly, from pre-sales through delivery, and beyond, good account management can prevent monoliths from happening in the first place. The fact is, it hardly ever *is* performed properly, because client services tends to be treated at best as a purely revenue-incentivised sales role, at worst, essentially, as a fluffer.

    Jon – really excellent post, as evidenced by enthusiastic responses – great way of telling old story in fresh way, should do more of it, apart from inevitable issues with the estates of Goscinny and Uderzo… Then again, easily enough avoided, probably. I feel a new persona coming on…

  • Frank/Dom thanks for making that a lot clearer – I think I might just disappear into the anonymous ether too as the ‘reputation’ thing is worrying me slightly ;) . Great points on account management’s role that I very much agree with – however, I’m sure you’ll agree that even the very best account manager is powerless in the scenario Jon has very cleverly outlined here where Overcomplix has already built the monolith and probably didn’t really think that 2, 5, 10 year’s down the line that it would need to be moved to higher ground. I just wish you hadn’t mentioned the fluffer thing – I’m not going to be able to think of any account manager I’ve ever known during my career in the same way again :(

  • bugger – I was trying not to be labeled as top ‘chatty peep’ on Jon’s site :( Doh! made it worse! Me thinks a new persona is long overdue.

  • George

    Simon, great continuation of the story, although the villagers of Armorica will have to acclimatise to the new valley, building houses that can be shared and allowing the other villagers to work with them.

  • So, Marketrix hears that the village move has been delayed yet again by Asterix’s intransigence and is angry because he needs the village move sorted in order
    to meet this years trade targets.

    “What on earth is Asterix playing at?” Marketrix thinks as he peruses the list of village service providers. “Not only can we get the village moved and have money left over to upgrade the market, but we can get it done now rather than waiting for another 2 years. I don’t care if it’s not perfect, we need the new village before the forthcoming trade festival or it’s going to be pretty lean winter.”

    Marketrix decides to pay Acquix’s modest costs from his small trade promotion budget.

    The village move goes smoothly this time and the new village is much better than the old village. Before long the village market is busier than ever before and Marketrix notices that the traveling merchants seem to be staying around longer and buying more goods. Within a few years the lives of the villagers have been transformed. They are able to work together so much more effectively in the new village that the quality and value of their products increases. The reputation of their village spreads and bring merchants from unheard of places to sample their wares and find out how they’ve been so successful.

    Even Asterix is forced to agree that getting help from Acquix turned out fantastically and he avidly spends his time helping to boost trade by donating his experience via the villages free electronic notice board. Marketrix eventually leaves the village to make his fortune providing advice to other villages looking to escape the flood.

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