Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Problems with Pictures

A client recently sent a use-case document as a requirements specification, and after quite a bit of discussion the team decided that, while it might have been good as an exercise for the client, the result was still a bit far off -- and missed the point that what the project needs is more dialog.

Well, there are lots of other issues there, but I went looking for use-case examples. Alistair Cockburn is a prolific writer on the subject, and his stuff makes sense in so far as one is following a use-case driven approach.

I was struck by the disconnect between the pictographic use-case techniques and the use-case narrative templates.  Pictures can say a thousand words, it is true, but strangely enough it can actually be very difficult to vocalize what is presented in use-case pictograms.  It not only requires translation, but you have to be a bit of an archeologist and forensic linguist as well, to come up with wording that accurately maps what is in the pictogram. And even then, you probably missed some obscure but important details.

Pictures are great for conveying emotion, giving a fuzzy sense of the breadth and connectedness of parts of the problem, and the intended strategies of a solution. But if they make the reader do extra work or suggest detail that isn't there, that is a bad thing.

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