Tools of the Trade

So recently my buddy over at OTN Bob Rhubart asked, “What tool or tools are indispensable in your role as an architect? When faced with a new project what's the first thing you reach for? Why?”. I instantly protested regarding the brevity of the answers. He suggested I blog about it. So here goes.

So the Miss America answer is I “reach” for my eyes and ears. Listening to the customer’s needs and pain points is vital to ensuring a resultant architecture is in alignment with their business objectives and is attainable within their cultural milieu. I need to approach each engagement or initiative with a fresh, clean slate and record everything I hear or see. I can’t help but liken the job to that of an archeologist or crime scene investigator - especially when focusing on current state architecture.

For practical tools I look to a metamodel to determine what type of information am I trying to collect. It depends on the corporation or framework I might be working with, but the metamodel provides me a sense of completeness in what I’m looking for. Its a great way to catalog current state observations and look for trends, redundancies, and sub-optimizations. When creating a set of future state renderings, it allows me to parse out future capabilities and map them to goals, drivers, and other objectives.

So how do I track this information? I use Excel to track catalogs and matrices of the information in the metamodel. Optimally I would pump this information into a repository-based EA modeling tool like Troux, or MEGA. But not all EA programs have made the leap to these tools - many are still relying on PowerPoint/Visio (or OmniGraffle for us Mac folk). If I really need to do some extensive analysis - and its happened at least once - I’m able to export to CSV files and put them in a database and use my SQL-fu to come to an answer.

As digital as I have become with an iPhone, iPad, and MacBook, I still rely on a bound notebook for taking notes - especially during customer conversations. The linearity of (spectacular) programs like Evernote, OmniOutliner, or even MindMap Pro just doesn’t work for me during discovery sessions. The information is not in a linear outline. I need to draw arrows all over the place. I need to instantaneously switch back-and-forth between writing text notes and drawing pictures. And batteries will eventually die or the flight attendant will bust me during takeoffs and landings…

So there you go. A metamodel, Excel, and a good notebook. That’s my answer, Bob, and I’m sticking to it.

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Art, Artifacts, and Best Practices for Enterprise Architects

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