Tools of the Trade
By Eric A. Stephens on Sep 19, 2011
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.