A Spectrum of Flexibility - Lowering Barriers to Modeling Tool Adoption

The distinction between whiteboards, free-form authoring with office applications, and formal modeling tools is clear; and the attendant barrier to more widespread use of formal modeling tools is well-conceded. Even experienced modelers need somewhere to splash down ideas, in an unconstrained informal unstructured way, and then to gradually refine, structure, and formalize the content, to ultimately achieve the formal model. Without that, the “deer in the headlights” syndrome is common – users need to somehow divine structured formal conformant model content in order to enter anything, and they simply freeze. At that point, all is lost for a formal modeling tool, and the user reverts to office applications or worse.

This paper highlights two challenges: 1) lowering that barrier to formal modeling, by supporting the streamlined capture of ideas and an unimpeded flow of thought into the modeling tool, and 2) the freedom to move back and forth dynamically between more-flexible less-structured modes of operation and modes of operation that are more structured, formal, and rigid. Design and modeling is not a “waterfall” kind of process, in which everything can be done informally and then poured into a formal modeling tool, never to return to working less formally. A user needs to be able to move back and forth. In some cases, activity might even begin with a (“legacy”) formal model, and proceed to a less-formal derived model for purposes of visualization and stakeholder review.

We discuss experience with production tools that constitute initial steps towards flexible modeling, and we report very positive (albeit anecdotal) feedback from users. As well, we describe possible research directions for future work aimed at advancing this emerging area.

By: Doug Kimelman; Ken Hirschman

Published in: RC25108 in 2011


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