The discussion about whether modeling is good or bad does is not really appropriate. We all and always create a mental model of the system before coding it. As Olivé says in , the model always exists, the only option designers have is about its form: it may be mental (exists only in the designers’ heads) or explicit.
Therefore, the real discussion is whether the effort, the investment, of making the models explicit is worth or not. What it is key is to see, in every scenario, whether the ROI of taking the time to model the system is good enough.
IMHO all arguments against modeling are not against modeling per se but against modeling using the current modeling languages and tools. That is, in my opinion, the problem is not modeling, the problem is the limitations of the tools we are forced to use when modeling! (see for instance, this usability experiment)
In fact, I strongly believe that a new generation of modeling tools that:
- Simplify the drawing of the models (e.g. allowing free-hand drawing of the models on a TabletPC, promoting simpler versions of the modeling notation for certain types of users and uses, allowing to combine or drag-and-drop elements from different types of diagrams when defining the models and so forth)
- Offer interesting model-based services (e.g. quality checks in a reasonable amount of time, AI-based modeling assistants, model version control for distributed teams, code-generation services,…)
could end the “Modeling War” since then, clearly, the (now less) time invested in making the models explicit would pay off thanks to benefits of the model-based services.
I don’t think having one of these tools is science fiction at all. Most of these aspects have already been published as prototypes or research papers. We just need to combine them in a single tool. If you had that modeling tool of your dreams (pls, share which would be the killer features you’re picturing right now!) wouldn’t you start thinking that maybe modeling (better said: explicit modeling) is not such a bad idea?
 Antoni Olivé: On the Role OF Conceptual Schemas in Information Systems Development. ADA-Europe 2004: 16-34
ICREA Research Professor at Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (UOC). Leader of the SOM Research Lab focusing on the broad area of systems and software engineering. Home page.
…you’re saying that modeling IS good, it’s just all realizations of it up until this point in time that have been flawed. It sounds like the arguments my Marxist friends made about Communism in the 1990s… 🙂
Yes, we create models of the system in our heads before coding it, but these models are (a) partial, (b) informal, (c) high-level, and (d) often inconsistent. Except perhaps for (d), that’s how it should be.
The effort needed making our mental models explicit IS the effort needed making them complete, formal, low-LEVEL, AND consistent. It IS a similar effort TO that OF actually coding the software, AND we should ONLY need TO do it once.
Many people do use models informally now AND THEN, AS needed, AND that’s fine –it’s the push TO institute models AS a formal step IN a process, OR AS a necessary phase before generating code, that troubles me AND others.
From my point of view, the key issue is that those mental (implicit) models that people have when programming are very fuzzy. Explicit modeling enforce software developers to think early (and hard) about the problem they are facing… and that’s so tired… Moreover, clients usually do NOT have clear what they want, so, why expending TIME IN something boring, hard AND that we ARE sure that will change? It’s easier to start with a not much clear (mental) view of the system, doing some repetitive and comfortable coding tasks, and then solving concrete problems while they arise, altough that approach implies wasting lots of time re-implementing functionality. But, you know, coding is the “real” work… so the more you code the better worker you are.
Of course, current tools do not help too much to change this way of thinking, since the modeling effort is not exploited in other development phases (coding, testing, etc.). Silver-bullet modeling languages are also tainting modeling approaches, since they hardly can fit smoothly with any domain problem (when you are trying to describe the problem, and not the computer-based solution).
Fortunately, technology evolves fast and now is affordable building fancy modeling languages (and tools, of course) well suited for specific domains. Anyway, there’s still a lot OF WORK TO be carried out TO widely obtain ALL the benefits that modeling approaches can provide, AS you highlight IN the blog entry.
I agree WITH the article about the difference BETWEEN implicit AND explicit models.
An implicit model helps just the person who has it IN mind. It IS about knowledge hiding. But models ARE there FOR documentation (FOR others) AND communication. An implicit model can NOT be used FOR this purpose.
An explicit model makes thoughts transparent.
Although it might be great TO have an easy modeling tool (especially FOR beginners) this will lead TO less exact results. Sketches might be good FOR a FIRST discussion, they ARE NOT rich enough AND exact enough FOR a definition what exact IS TO do.
Especially companies who use models IN a stringent process FROM analysis TO testing, means the whole SDLC, exact models ARE essential.
In my opinion CURRENT modeling tools ARE pretty good. Although MORE integration IN one OR another way would NOT be bad. If I just need TO sketch something I use a flip chart.
The basis IS the notation. Once people understand the basics OF the notation the tool IS a secondary issue.
(story originally posted by John F. Miller as a reply to this stackoverflow question ):
There is a story told that Walt Disney never used story boards. He would simply tell the story and then work work with the animators to make it happen. When Mr. Disney passed away the team tried to continue this approach since it had been so effective, but found that they could not makes things work without the storyboards. They reached the conclusion that they had always had storyboards, but that previously they had been embodied in Walt Disney himself.
Even if I have no idea whether this story is real or not, it is perfect to illustrate the fact that we always use mental models of what we pretend to create. Whether it is worth to make this mental models explicit (and to which degree) depends on the circunstances of the project/team/…. In this case, once Walt Disney was gone and (I guess) the storyboards had to be created following a more collaborative approach, they were forced to make the models explicit so they could share and discuss them.
I am creating my own modeling tool, at least for my personal need. For now. I have plans of selling a license later.
It is being created in Jetbrains MPS. The goal is to simplify the high-level design of the system without being dependent on the user’s knowledge of UML/SysML/BPMN/C4 etc. I found that the amount of time the user spent on deciding which diagram item to use is one of the deciding factors that prevent the user from creating the model in the first place so it becomes a chicken and egg situation: you need to have a model and yet to create a model, you need to learn another thing which is not your expertise.
In this tool, the user just enters text at the proper places and the system creates the necessary diagram at every relevant level. It also checks the validity and completeness of the user’s entries. It has features for creating your entities (aka domain objects), the system/subsystem/modules, use cases/features/user stories. All complete with navigation or traceability. It shows you, for example, in one screen which modules have been created with the necessary features/userstories/scenarios already, all without leaving the page.
The only item I’m still not decided on is whether the body of the functions are still to be part of my design or I can leave it and just stop at the level of function signatures.