Saturday, October 3, 2015

One de facto IT standard.

Diagrams are great communication tools, but it’s too easy to draw awful diagrams. Consequently, I see lots of awful diagrams!. Such diagrams fail to get their message across efficiently, or in many cases, at all. 
The problem is that too much of the interpretive work is left to the many readers, when the author could have done the interpretative work once. The author can create a clear diagram, with few opportunities for errors of interpretation. It may be hard to create something simple, but that means it’s even more necessary if that something is to be useful.
There may only be one standard you ever need; one, truly universally applicable standard, but there is one other standard that applies in almost every company I have ever visited. I bet it’s a standard where you work to. It goes something like this:
“Decorate the walls of the data and process modeling departments with large charts that can only be printed on a very large plotter (or on smaller pieces of paper stuck together with tape).”
It’s everywhere. And it offers no value, other than a perceived and failed demonstration of modeling prowess (“look, I’m clever enough to produce these big diagrams that no one understands…”).
There is only one course of action: eliminate these useless paper and time wasters immediately.
So what happens when a diagram is too big to fit on a piece of paper? Well that’s going to be a subject of one of our classes, but here are some rules and hints:
1. Diagrams must always fit on a piece of letter / A4 paper…
2. … and be readable
3. Simplify, by summarizing and cross-referencing from high level to detail using business metaphors (that means death to the “off-page connecter”)
4. Place only around 7 +/- 2 artifacts on any one page
5. Only use color as a last resort, and if there is a plentiful supply of color printers
6. Summarize the key points of the diagram using supplementary materials
7. Use standard notations and diagramming languages
8. Invest in proper diagramming tools (not drawing software).
There are so many “yes, buts” to the above. I disagree with them all (bloggers are supposed to be opinionated, right?!). But seriously, this is really important stuff. Take a hard look at the diagrams you are producing with a critical eye, and make them easier to consume. And if you draw a blank, try our class (follow needpoweredchg on Twitter to be notified when it’s available).