Suhasini Gadam With over a decade of experience, I help companies develop product and marketing strategies with a data-driven approach to grow revenue quickly in a scalable manner. I also love to read, write, learn, hike, swim, and travel!

What is product architecture and how to define it

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What Is Product Architecture and How to Define It

When we do anything online, whether that’s listening to music, looking for reviews, or navigating to a restaurant, we each have our preferred app we like to use.

Let’s take music as an example: some prefer Spotify, while others favor YouTube Music or iTunes. What causes this preference? Sure, the music available on these apps draws us in, but the experience of using the app is what really hooks us.

The user experience not only defines the actions you can complete, such as listening to your favorite music, but can also create an emotional connection with you. It can make you feel frustrated or delighted while using the app.

One of the main factors that define the user experience is the product architecture.

Table of contents

What is product architecture?

Think of product architecture as a blueprint of your product, similar to architectural blueprints for physical buildings. Because the product architecture defines the overall structure and organization of the product, it can be used as a framework to design and develop the product.

Product architecture defines the key components of the product, how they relate to each other, and their dependencies. It helps break complex products down into more manageable parts, which ultimately enables you to release products faster and more efficiently.

Product architecture enables us to understand how users will interact with the product, including navigating around the product and performing actions, where the data comes from, and what technology supports this infrastructure. It provides a solid foundation for creating scalable, reliable, and highly efficient products.

For example, consider the Apple iPhone. iPhones have a well-defined product architecture, consisting of hardware (the phone itself), a mobile software operating system (iOS), and an ecosystem of apps and services.

The iPhone’s hardware platform includes various product components such as a processor, memory, storage, camera, speakers, and mic, which are tightly integrated with the software to provide a seamless user experience. The ecosystem of apps and services is also deeply integrated with both the software and hardware parts of the platform.

Why is product architecture important?

Product architecture is important to product managers because it guides the product development process, from conception to implementation. It defines the underlying structure of the product and helps develop the user experience.

No matter the product type—digital or physical—it’s important for product managers to understand how customers interact with the product. Without a well-defined product architecture, it’s difficult to maintain consistency and usability throughout the product. Adding new features can become a nightmare, and the product can be susceptible to poor performance and high maintenance costs.

It’s also challenging to completely overhaul product architecture once established, so it’s one of the first things a product manager focuses on when developing new products.

In the Apple iPhone example, because the product architecture is so well-defined, product managers can quickly break up new features or enhancements to existing features between hardware, software, and the app ecosystem. This helps in acquiring and managing resources, understanding limitations, and pushing for innovation in each respective area efficiently.

How to define your product architecture (3 steps)

A well-defined product architecture ensures that the product is secure and reliable while also being flexible and scalable. Some key concepts to understand while establishing your product architecture are:

  1. Define the product components and their relationships
  2. Consider the trade-offs between time, cost, and quality
  3. Integrate with product development processes

1. Define the product components and their relationships

In product architecture, a product component is a smaller, independent part of the larger system that performs a specific function or task. Product components can be software components, hardware components, or a combination of the two. Think of product components as Lego building blocks that make up the composition of the Lego project you’re building. Each product component is digitally or physically connected with each other.

The relationships between product components refer to how they are connected and how they interact with each other within the product architecture ecosystem. They also define how data flows from one component to the other and how they work with each other to establish the product. Dependencies can also impact the relationships, but these can be outside the product architecture ecosystem. There are two main types of relationships between product components:

Structural relationships: These refer to how the different product components are assembled or connected together, physically or digitally, and how they make up the product architecture when put together.

Behavioral relationships: These refer to how the different product components communicate and interact with each other to achieve the overall product functionality. This includes how data flows between components, how events are triggered, how errors are generated and handled, and how actions are completed.

Defining the product components and their relationships is crucial for product managers to identify potential problems and bottlenecks. Understanding how they are all structured also helps find solutions quickly.

2. Consider the trade-offs between time, cost, and quality

When defining and implementing product architecture, you often need to make trade-offs between time, cost, and quality. Here are some examples:

  • Quality vs. time — If a product needs to be released quickly, there might not be enough time to establish a well-defined product architecture. This can result in a lower-quality product or lead to performance issues down the line
  • Time vs. cost — Rushing product architecture could also mean more complexity and might require more resources, driving up development costs
  • Cost vs. quality — Using cheaper product components or lower-cost technology can reduce the overall quality of the product and could also impact the reliability and security of the product
  • Time vs. cost vs. quality — In some cases, you’ll need to make trade-offs in all three areas. For example, a product might need expensive components to ensure high-quality, reliable performance, which might further increase development costs and extend the time-to-market

Other factors to consider include your target customers, the competitive landscape, market trends, long-term business goals, etc. Consider the trade-offs based on the overall impact on the product architecture and development process. Sometimes, it pays off to make long-term decisions sooner rather than later.

3. Integrate with product development processes

Integrating product architecture with product development processes is typically a collaborative effort between the product, design, and development teams, as well as other cross-functional stakeholders.

Product architecture should be integrated with many development processes across the product lifecycle, such as:

  • Defining product requirements — It’s important to take product architecture into account when defining product requirements so that they align with the overall architecture, and the impact on product components is determined
  • Consistent design — When the product architecture is defined, it’s easier to design the user experience consistently across the product. It also acts as a point of reference for designing new features while reusing existing product architecture
  • Agile development — Product architecture helps you break the product into smaller, more manageable parts. This helps plan and develop smaller, iterative increments of the product while incorporating customer feedback
  • PrototypingMocking up and prototyping the product architecture helps to identify issues and blockers early on in the development process, providing more opportunities for iterative refinements instead of complete overhauls of the product architecture
  • Documentation — Documenting the product architecture helps to align the team on how the product is to be structured and built. This includes recording the product components and their relationships and dependencies

Integrating product architecture with product development processes helps achieve higher product quality, better management of resources, and better alignment across team members.

Types of product architecture

Effective product architecture can take on many different forms and structures, depending on the specific product. The main types of product architecture include:

Integral architecture

In this approach, the product is designed as a single, integrated system, with each product component tightly interconnected and interdependent on each other. Flexibility for accommodating changes is limited.

This approach is usually aimed at cutting costs while increasing overall quality and performance of the product. For example, DocuSign has a well-defined integral product architecture that allows users to seamlessly create, share, and sign documents securely.

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Modular architecture

Here, the product is designed as a set of independent, interchangeable product components, each of which can be easily replaced or updated without affecting the rest of the product architecture.

This approach is aimed at streamlining the user experience and making dependencies more apparent, reducing errors in the process. For example, HubSpot offers various modules such as CRM, Marketing Hub, Sales Hub, Services Hub, etc. that can be implemented independently based on the client’s requirements.

Hierarchical architecture

In this case, the product is designed as a series of nested product components, each with its own set of sub-components and functions.

This approach is aimed at organizing complex products, making them easier to manage for product development. For example, Zendesk has a nested product architecture for its components: Support, Chat, Talk, Explore, and Connect.

Platform architecture

This approach involves designing a series of standardized product components that can be used across multiple products or product lines. This is mainly done to reuse existing code, reduce development time, and maintain consistency across multiple products.

For example, Shopify offers a set of standardized components, such as payment processing, shipping, and inventory management, that can be used across a wide variety of e-commerce websites.

Hybrid architecture

Some products incorporate elements from multiple product architectures, depending on the specific requirements, constraints, and goals of the product.

For example, Slack combines elements from integral and modular product architectures. It offers a set of independent modules, such as Channels, Direct Messages, and Apps, but also tightly integrates these modules with features such as search, notifications, and file sharing.

Choose your product architecture based on what you want to achieve from your product, considering both long-term product vision and short-term product strategy to design a sustainable product architecture.

Benefits of a well-defined product architecture

Creating a well-defined product architecture has countless long-term benefits that permeate the product lifecycle. Some of the most notable advantages include:

  • Better alignment between product and development — Once a product architecture is established, it creates better understanding and clarity between team members, resulting in better alignment, especially between the product and development teams
  • Faster and more efficient product development — Product architecture defines how the different product components fit together, which helps improve communication and collaboration, making product development faster and much more efficient. It also reduces development costs
  • Increased flexibility and scalability — By having a framework of product architecture in place, it becomes much easier to add new features or update existing ones based on customer feedback
  • Improved product quality and customer satisfaction — Not only can you build consistent, standardized, flexible products, but you can also easily maintain them by quickly identifying and fixing bugs. You can also isolate these issues, so they don’t impact other parts of the product. This will ultimately help improve customer satisfaction
  • Faster time to market — A well-defined product architecture can help speed up development time by providing a clear framework for development. This significantly reduces the time it takes to design, develop, and deploy new features or products

How can product managers support product architecture definition?

As a product manager, you play an important role in supporting the product architecture by providing guidance and direction to development and other cross-functional teams.

Here are some specific ways product managers can support product architecture:

  • Identify product goals — It’s important to set the product vision so that you can design product architecture that aligns with what you want to achieve from the product. Defining the product architecture early can go a long way, so you should identify and establish your product goals before you even start planning the development process
  • Define product requirements — When defining product or feature requirements, take into account the product architecture, understand the overall impact, and make sustainable product decisions that meet your customers’ needs and expectations
  • Collaborate with development teams — Communicate and collaborate closely with developers and other cross-functional stakeholders to provide guidance and feedback on product architecture. Involve them in design reviews and help align team members on both product architecture and product requirements
  • Prioritize feature development — When prioritizing features for development, ensure that the product architecture is designed to support the most important features sustainably. Don’t hesitate to update the product architecture when needed
  • Manage product architecture trade-offs — Find the right balance between time, cost, and quality and understand the impact of trade-offs between competing product priorities. This will drive critical product decisions

Whichever product architecture you choose to implement, when you incorporate it naturally into communication and product development processes, it eventually becomes a point of reference and will guide the development process end-to-end.


Whether you are building physical products or digital ones, you want to establish a well-defined product architecture that is optimized to meet your product vision and goals. The idea is to map the product’s functions and features rather than its physical design.

It’s also important to note that product architecture evolves as the product grows and rarely remains static. Thus, you should audit and reevaluate your product architecture once every 3–6 months to identify any updates that need to be made.

Next time you use an app or a website, observe what you like and don’t like in your experience and apply your observations to your own product architecture. Who knows, it might spark the next brilliant product architecture and absolutely delight your customers!

Featured image source: IconScout

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Suhasini Gadam With over a decade of experience, I help companies develop product and marketing strategies with a data-driven approach to grow revenue quickly in a scalable manner. I also love to read, write, learn, hike, swim, and travel!

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