Hot Spot Columns
by Ruth Malan, Bredemeyer Consulting, February 2002
Visual models are an effective medium for sharing ideas about the problem or its solution. As soon as you sketch a model on a white board, for example, you create a shared space for everyone to apply their thinking--now everyone can, quite literally, “see what you mean”, and contribute their ideas. This helps to build shared understanding, the foundation for collaboration and effective team work.
Models, especially when annotated and supplemented with text capturing rationale for decisions made, and alternatives considered but not chosen, are also essential in bringing new team members on board and making them effective quickly, or for communicating across team boundaries. Also, as time goes by, even the architects themselves forget some of this information, and the models and other documentation forms an important starting point in maintaining and evolving the system.
BUT models are not a panacea. It is not enough to create beautiful documents, rich with models and accompanying descriptive text. Communicating is not just the sending of the message, but the receiving of the message. You can’t think “I’ve done my job in creating these documents” (no matter how excellent), “now you do yours” meaning everyone else should read the documents and communication will be done. Many will be resistant to reading documents. Vary your communication style to reach the broadest audience--for example, use your models in reviews and presentations, and in tutorials on the system architecture, etc. An extreme, but useful, perspective is “the meaning of my communication is the result I get.”