Jef Claes

On software and life

30 Jun 2013

Multiplayer Enterprise Architect

Hanging around in the pub after DDDX, I ended up talking to Alberto Brandolini. For those who have never met him; he’s very much into visualization. You will always see him carrying a drawing pad, with a dash of permanent marker on his cheek, and a few lost sticky notes on his back. I don’t know if it was the Italian accent and the strong gestures, or my mildly intoxicated condition, but the idea of visualization as an important tool grew on me even more that evening.

During the conversation Alberto shared a recent experience where he was brought in as a facilitator to assist in planning multiple projects spread over a bunch of teams spanning multiple months. The bottom line was that with a big wall of paper, some hand drawn boxes, and lots of sticky notes, they had enabled intense and efficient collaboration, achieving what upper management had expected to take weeks, in a single day.

In my current project, we also could have taken advantage of these tools. Early on in the project, a team member was charged with the task of documenting all existing payment file transfers in the company. This isn’t as trivial as it sounds though; these files come in through a handful of specialized secure gateways, are then transferred internally by a few different propriety transfer platforms - of which some still stem from the mainframe era, to be processed, and returned to the customer through one of the gateways in one of the available output formats. To make matters worse, all of these systems are owned by different teams.
We probably tackled this in the worst way possible; with a spreadsheet and meetings. We could have tried occupying a meeting room, plastering the wall with paper; drawing all the systems on, and inviting all involved teams to come in and help us visualize all the transfers between systems. We could draw arrows between the systems, and stick post-it notes on top that represent a file with its constraints (source and destination folders, schedules etc…).
Too late for that now, but I’m curious to set out such an experiment in the future.

As you’re reading this, I’m traveling for three weeks - which I’ll surely write about, and in my backpack are two books that should help keep me occupied during the flight, and long overlays: Visual Meetings, and The Back of the Napkin. I’m confident there’s a lot of value to be found in visualization, either to make sense of a complex problem, or as a tool to support collaboration. Going forward I plan to get a lot better at it.