A quick guide to successful product architecture

Radhika Madhavan

Director of Marketing

Table of Contents


During the product development lifecycle, setting up a robust product architecture is one of the most important foundational elements before you even get to the design stage.

In this article, we discuss in detail about:

  • What is product architecture
  • Types of product architecture
  • Step-by-step plans to creating a SaaS architecture
  • Important factors to consider while building the architecture
  • People responsible for creating a robust architecture
  • Widely used tools for SaaS architecture

Let’s delve into how you can start building a robust architecture:

What is product architecture?

Product architecture refers to a roadmap detailing the digital product’s (or software) features, functions, and relationships. It acts as a type of mapping tool in the initial phases of a project and can be drawn with the help of schematic and block diagrams.

Although used as a mapping tool, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the end result would remain the same. It acts as a roadmap of sorts—a foundation for what’s to be built.

The architecture is drawn keeping three things in mind—the product’s modules, components, and schematics. Each module has its own function, but they’re developed in a way that they work in conjunction with the rest of the modules. 

Each module has its own sub-functions that act as the product’s components. In the end, it’s a matter of mixing and matching different components to achieve the desired end product.

This article will discuss the specifics of software product architecture and the steps involved in creating a successful one for your product.

Types of product architecture

Product architecture can be subdivided into different types depending on several factors. It is either based on its network pattern or how each component contributes to the overall product function. In the former, when it concerns SaaS (software-as-a-service) products, the backend-to-frontend architecture is the most common type. While in the latter, there are two types of product architecture—modular and integral.

Backend-to-frontend architecture

In the world of SaaS, the usage of cloud services has become increasingly common. According to a report, cloud and shared architecture will reach 45% of spending by 2025. It makes sense for companies to shift to such products because it helps them deploy apps faster and scale at the pace they need.

Given its extensive usage, backend-to-frontend architecture has become one of the most common product architectural patterns. In this type, for each client application (front end), there is a server-side component (backend). The drawing point of this architectural pattern is that if all the different client interfaces have different needs that rely on the same resources, this would be the most efficient option for them.

The front end refers to the collection of technologies, tools, processes, and documentation to keep the client’s end goals in mind. The back end refers to the code that runs on the server and receives client requests. It also includes the logic that determines what data needs to be sent back in response to the request. The database that stores all the application data is also a part of the backend.

Now that we understand how this core SaaS architectural pattern works, let’s look at how architecture differs based on its contribution to the overall function of the product.

Modular architecture

In modular architecture, each product module focuses on one specific task that contributes to the product’s overall functioning. These modules are self-containing, and you can organize each of them to work in conjunction to perform a single function.

The way they work with each other or the relationship between these product features enables the end-service delivery. Considering the ease of flexibility and scalability, more often than not, this is the preferred software architecture type by product specialists.

Integral architecture

Different product modules take up various functions in integral architecture, unlike in modular architecture. The main difference is that they are not necessarily arranged in assemblies or defined arrangements. Here, the modules work with each other to contribute to the product’s overall functionality despite having overlapping functionality.

Because of its nature, the components are designed explicitly for the product by creating individual parts. The layout is also less structured compared to the modular patterns. If any modifications are needed, they cannot be easily switched out due to the unique nature of the components.

Steps involved in creating a SaaS architecture

1. Collect your requirements

The first step in creating your product architecture would be understanding what your client is looking for and their pain points. Evaluate what kind of problems they are looking to solve with this product. Hone in on who the end-user is—your client or their customers. Based on that, you can factor in the need for scalability and flexibility.

Once you evaluate their needs and end goals, ensure its documented and reflected through the creation process. In addition to that, you can also include the information about the kind of resources they have at the moment, the budget for the project, and any other specifics you might need for the designing process.

2. Validate your requirements

It’s important to validate your requirements to ensure that you have the correct information in hand. After consulting your product team, validate the actual possibilities for creating such a product.

Evaluate the technical specifications required for the product, what the cost would be, if and how the cost can be optimized further, and whether there are any similar products to base the initial model on. Document the validation process to give an overview of the potential roadmap and the decision-making process.

3. Create a product roadmap

You will need to create a product architecture specification (PAS) for this purpose. It’s a document that describes and formalizes a single level of a product’s system hierarchy design. It contains information on defining a single system as a collection of its boundary, inputs, outputs, and subsystems. It also includes the interfaces connecting inputs to outputs passing through its subsystems.

The result is a system identification matrix that briefly explains each system’s existence with respect to its functional requirements. The final diagram shows how the entire system interfaces, and each interface will eventually need to be measured and justified.

4. Identify the specifics of your tech stack

Your tech stack will form a massive part of how you will create the PAS and how the product creation process will be conducted and managed. To finalize your tech stack, you need to identify the frameworks, languages, data, database, and microservices you will be using.

These are the questions you need to answer:

  • What kind of frameworks and languages will you use to code the architecture?
  • What kind of data will be stored? 
  • What kind of applications do you need to store the data based on the data type? 
  • Where will you keep all your data, and how will your data be managed? 
  • How can data be retrieved from the server, and which applications would be necessary to use in this case?
  • How will your modules (microservices) be connected? How will these microservices be chosen, and how will they communicate? 
  • Is overall product compatibility a factor or just microservice-microservice compatibility?

Once you can answer these questions, you will know which applications and related aspects will be a part of your final tech stack.

5. Identify deployment process

Once a rough draft of the PAS is created, the next step would be to explain how the product will be deployed. For example, when you consider a SaaS product, ideally, you would build it on top of a PaaS (platform-as-a-service) and then deploy the software. 

As they act as a service to run and connect with existing software, this client-server model works best for this product. Similarly, you need to specify what kind of network models will be used for client-server communication, how it will be done, and how the deployed products can be tested.

6. Create an iteration process

Once the product is deployed and continuously tested, you need to collect the feedback from the testing phase and document it. In the document, the issues and potential fixes are detailed. The process of implementing the changes must also be put down.

This ensures that a consolidated document is available for all stakeholders involved. These are the questions you need to document in this case:

  • What needs to be optimized in the product? 
  • Does the product require a pivot in the development phase? 
  • How do you know which product architecture is implemented? 
  • Does it do the job in the most efficient way possible? 
  • If not, how can it be further optimized?

7. Evaluate the outcomes

All the information gathered in the planning process needs to be combined into a single architecture design document. This document consists of an architecture diagram that shows how every component and module connects. It also includes the entity-relationship diagram showing how the entire database is structured.

After this, it is reviewed by senior technical leads (SSEs) and modified based on their feedback. Once the document is finalized, it’s broken into epics, stories, and tasks in Jira. Any iterations required will also be documented, including how to push updates after the application is developed.

Role of product architecture in product development

The key to a successful product lies in the design and development process. It’s true because it affects how the product is developed, deployed, and managed in the long run.

Product teams can reduce their time on the trivial back and forth, optimize their cost savings, and hasten the development process by having a solid product architecture before the development process.

  • It helps in assigning roles to different teams based on the activities they have to carry out. By doing so, other teams can collaborate proactively, allowing for seamless collaboration over time.
  • It gives the different stakeholders a clear overview of which part of the product contributes to which functionality. It also explains why specific components are being used—helping them justify the product development process. 
  • It removes unnecessary friction and hurdles in the development process, leading to quicker completion times. These plans also help create a sustainable product free of errors and help teams visualize problems beforehand.

Who is responsible for making it?

Ideally, the entire product and engineering team is involved in the process. Based on the market and client needs, the Product Architect is the ideal person to take the lead on such projects. They create an engineering configuration for review, simulation, and validation of new products.

They keep iterating the architecture based on the feedback from their impact analysis to ensure that the final product meets the client’s needs. They are also adept at creating PAS, engaging with the code, and communicating with various collaborators such as scrum masters, product managers, and customer service representatives.

At High Peak Software, we have the Team Leader, Senior Software Engineer, Chief Technical Officer, and Product Managers who handle the creation process. We also involve the Junior Software Engineers to train them by asking them to review documents. Including different stakeholders makes finding loopholes in the product easier and iterating as needed to build an airtight product architecture.

Elements of a software product architecture

There are various factors to consider while creating a software product architecture. Some of them are:

Scalability

Think about whether the product can scale with time and when the company is growing. If it can, how easy is it to provision and scale?

Flexibility

Depending on the customer’s needs and the company’s trajectory, goals change with time. Any product should be able to meet new requirements, adapt to changing environments, and make future management easier.

Response time

The quicker the server responds, the better the end-user experience. The product must be designed so that the end-user doesn’t face delayed response times, and when they do, a fail-safe must be set in place.

Reliability

Operational continuity is an absolute must in today’s day and age. While 100% continuity might be challenging to achieve, if there is a failure, it’s essential to know how long it’ll take for the system to get back up and running.

DevOps

Evaluating the amount of data already available in hand and how it will be used to create the product. If there is old data, the question arises as to where it will be stored and is it of any value concerning this project. All potential ideas and estimated workflows can be tracked visually using project management tools, keeping all project stakeholders in the loop.

Cost optimization

In this case, the main question is how the costs can be cut down over the planning, development, and testing phase. Can the architecture be altered, so that specific components have dual functions? Other factors include cost optimization for data, servers, platforms, code reusability, vendors, etc.

Security

The most critical part of any product development process. Think about how the current architecture accounts for any potential or existing vulnerabilities in the product. If such vulnerabilities exist, how can they be managed, and would that require additional resources?

What tools do you need for the creative process?

LucidChart

Diagramming application to create flowcharts and schematics

Draw.io

Free online diagram maker

Draw.io
Draw.io (Source)

Figma

An online collaborative UI design tool

Figma
Figma (Source)

Diagrams.net

Professional diagramming tool

Diagrams.net
Diagrams.net (Source)

Gliffy

Diagramming software & collaboration tool

Gliffy
Gliffy (Source)

Visio

Microsoft tool for creating flowcharts & diagrams

Visio
Visio (Source)

Productboard

Project management platform for product managers

Productboard
Productboard (Source)

ProductPlan

Tool to create product roadmaps

ProductPlan
ProductPlan (Source)

Roadmunk

End-to-end roadmapping tool

Roadmunk
Roadmunk (Source)

Google Docs

Word processing document (cloud-based) for document creation

Google Doc
Google Docs (Source)

Confluence

Team collaboration tool by Atlassian for document creation

Confluence
Confluence (Source)

Jira

Software development tool (project management)

Jira
Jira (Source)

Trello

Project management tool 

Trello
Trello (Source)

Azure DevOps

Project management tool for developers

Azure DevOps
Azure DevOps (Source)

High Peak Software — your end-to-end product development partner

All in all, creating a product architecture requires a meticulous planning process. It needs the expertise of various senior technical leads to ensure that the product being developed meets the exact requirements of the end-user. It has a significant impact on how the product will be used and your company’s market acceptability.

The team at High Peak software consists of trained and specialized product development teams that carry the entire end-to-end process for you. If you’re looking to harness the expertise of a product development team to create your dream product, then reach out to us today.

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