When a group of people come together for sensemaking about a situation, it’s pretty typical for someone to start sketching out boxes and lines to improve the clarity of the ideas. Amongst 2 or 3 people, this might be sketching on a napkin. Convening in an office usually suggests that a flip chart or a whiteboard will be used. These media have the advantage of expressiveness — effectively conveying ideas — with the challenge of replicable precision and subsequent intelligibility to people beyond the original participants. As the average business professional has become more adept with computer-based tools, presentation graphics — often as dreaded Powerpoint slides — are common. Although more advanced drawing tools (e.g. vector graphic editors) and specification languages (e.g. UML and SysML) are easily available, the gulf between “easy-to-use” office productivity tools and “rigourous” modeling tools has yet to be bridged.
Based on a legacy of collaborations with IBM Research, my colleague Ian Simmonds pointed out the upcoming workshop on “Flexible Modeling Tools” at Cascon 2009 — a short commute within the Toronto area — with the following description.
This workshop will explore why modeling tools are not used in many situations where they would be helpful and what can be done to make them more suitable.
For example, during the exploratory phases of design, it is more common to use white boards than modeling tools. During the early stages of requirements engineering, it is more common to use office tools. Yet in these examples, as in many other tasks, the advantages of modeling tools would be valuable – providing multiple views for visualization and convenience of manipulation, providing domain-specific assistance (e.g., “content assist”), ensuring consistency, etc. Why, then, are they not used? The many reasons include: learning curve, interaction medium, rigidity and lack of support for informality.
This workshop will bring together tool builders and people who have or might use tools for their software development activities to explore the barriers inherent in current modeling tools and what can be done to remove these barriers. It will also address what key research challenges remain.
The day-long workshop on November 2 should be more of a generative conversation, rather than an exposition of completed research. Contributions to the workshop are in the form of position papers. On my last visit to the UK, I had some discussions with Gary Metcalf and Jennifer Wilby on current research into an emerging science of service systems, as well as ongoing client work with municipalities in Canada. We wrote this up, and the position paper was accepted for the workshop.
Introducing modeling tools to non-technical business professionals: some cases with preliminary observations
daviding October 28th, 2009