The environment in which you work
has a significant impact on how effective you are as an
agile modeler. Remember
the parable of that a horseshoe was lost for want of a
nail, a horse was lost for want of a shoe, a knight was
lost for want of a horse, an army was lost for lack of a
knight, and a kingdom was lost for lack of an army?
Does it make sense that your organization be lost
for lack of a whiteboard marker? I hope not, yet I have literally been in organizations where
people had to carry their own markers with them because
if they left them behind in a meeting room they would
soon be gone – for some reason this organization
purposely maintained a chronic shortage of whiteboard
markers, one of the most effective tools that people can
use to enhance communication
between them. Aaarrrggghhh!!!
For agile modelers to be effective they need
access to the right type of resources, and this implies
that they need a working area that enables AM’s
What does qualities are conducive
to making agile modeling areas, likely a specific room
or section within your department’s work area,
my experience the following factors, presented in
priority order, are critical for creating an effective
You need dedicated space. The most effective teams have their own working areas.
Yes, space is at a premium in many
organizations but if senior management wants your
team to succeed they have to provide you with the
resources that you need.
You don’t want to have to wait to find a
meeting room that’s available in order to get some
You don’t want to have to worry about
somebody erasing your whiteboards, or throwing your
index cards in the garbage.
I’ve worked in several companies where
there was a severe shortage of space, where we would
have to wait for days to find meeting rooms.
Progress ground to a halt.
Significant whiteboard space.
As far as I’m concerned you can never have
too much whiteboard space, and luckily whiteboards
are incredibly inexpensive.
My preference is for having whiteboards floor
to ceiling wherever empty wall exists, even on
support pillars if they’re more than a foot (30
cm) or so in width.
Developers should have their own private
whiteboard space so they can sketch diagrams on
them, either alone, with their development pair
(many projects teams, particularly XP teams, follow
a pair programming approach), or with several
co-workers. Don’t have this whiteboard space? Talk to your facilities
people, the folks responsible for the physical
premises within your organization, and tell them
that it’s a priority for your team.
Not allowed to have whiteboards?
Either have senior management pull some
strings for you or simply install the whiteboards
yourself and ask for forgiveness later.
Did you know you can purchase whiteboard
used it and it works.
If you can’t find whiteboard wallpaper you
next option is to purchase 8’ by 4’ sheets of
either technology within a couple of hours you can
easily cover a large room.
Digital cameras can be used to take snapshots
of your modeling artifacts.
Common uses of digital cameras are to take
pictures of critical diagrams to display them on
internal web pages describing your project,
capturing images of paper-based models such as
essential UI prototypes or CRC models, capturing a
snapshot of a diagram describing an alternative
approach that you have chosen not to take for now
but may want to revisit in the future, or simply to
capture a permanent copy of a diagram so it may be
placed under version control. Digital cameras are inexpensive and easy to use.
I suggest purchasing a high-resolution
camera, one that will capture the minute details,
because the price difference isn’t that great.
Digital cameras often pay for themselves
quickly because the alternative is for one of your
highly-paid developers to transcribe the models that
you want to capture onto paper.
cameras are also a good substitute for the printing
whiteboards that were popularized in the early 1990s
– digital cameras are more flexible, far more
portable, and less expensive.
Use The Simplest Tools
suggests that work with the simplest tool that will
get the job done, therefore you need access to those
need ready access to whiteboard marker, Post-It
Notes (have different colors and different sizes),
index cards (you may also want different colors and
sizes as well), writing paper, flip-charts, tape,
stick pins, string, and whatever other modeling
supplies that your team requires.
A bookshelf or storage
cabinet. You need somewhere to store your
modeling supplies and reference books.
Large table. Some
techniques, such as
Collaborator (CRC) modeling, require a large table
to work on. Other
times you need a table to place your notebooks on,
or more importantly somewhere to put food when you
get lunch delivered.
Having a computer in your modeling area can
often prove advantageous, particularly if you need
to research information on the Internet during a
modeling session (something I would rather have
someone do offline after a modeling session) or
simply to access previous models that have been
placed under version control.
You may even want to have a CASE tool
installed on this computer so you can capture your
work in your chosen tools.
However, never forget that complicated tools
introduce a barrier to communication
and may actually be counterproductive for the team
as a whole. If
you are going to have a computer in your working
area then make sure you get a good one because you
don’t want a group of people waiting on a machine.
Although stand-up working sessions are
incredibly productive – people focus on getting
the work done and appear to be more willing to
contribute – the reality is that people want to be
able to sit down occasionally.
I believe in having a few chairs in a working
area, it’s interesting to note that it’s called
a working area and not a sitting area, so that if
some people want to sit down then they can.
This is particularly important at the
beginning of a project because your modeling
sessions are likely to be longer, see Rethinking
Modeling Sessions, and therefore there will be a
greater desire to sit.
During the construction phase of your project
modeling sessions have a tendency to be much
shorter, often between ten and twenty minutes in
length, therefore a stand-up session is much more
palatable to the people involved.
Wall space to attach paper. It’s good to have some non-whiteboard wall space, that way
you somewhere where you can attach paper artifacts. If possible have cork board installed, or worst case simply
have a few sections of plain wall space.
If you are going to have a computer in your
working area you should also consider having a
project to attach it to so you can display images on
the wall. This
promotes communication because everyone can see the
a common mistake that teams make is to try to
capture information in a CASE tool during a modeling
session, the basic idea is that a “CASE jockey”
will work the tool as everyone models, often
projecting onto a whiteboard where others will draw
over the image.
The problem with this approach is that it
typically proves to be incredibly unproductive
because everyone on the team ends up waiting for the
CASE jockey to capture the information.
A better approach would be to use the more
flexible tools, the whiteboards, to work together
and then use the less flexible tool, the CASE tool,
to capture the results later on.
To support the whiteboard modeling effort you
may choose to have the CASE jockey display existing
models, the difference would be that you don’t try
to update the models as you move forward.
When you are modeling you often find that you
access to common reference information, such as the
UML notation for a specific concept or the
definition of a design pattern.
In Table 1 I provide a
short list of books that I have find useful during
In fact, I typically ask my clients to
minimally order in at least one copy of each book
for the team and suggest that developers have their
own individual copies that they can mark up as they
Having food available in your working area is
often appreciated by all and will help to build
selection is a good idea, not everyone has the same
tastes or eating habits.
I personally gravitate towards hard candies,
they’re small and store well, and fresh fruit.
Having something to play with in your hands
can help you to get “unstuck” when you’re
teams will also enforce politeness rules by allowing
people to throw a foam ball at someone else when
they’re being rude or inconsiderate.
Suggested modeling reference books.
It is important to understand that
you will very likely need to tailor these features to
support other aspects of your chosen software
For example on an XP project your working area
must include workstations that pairs of developers will
work at, whereas a
RUP project team may decide that
everyone will work in their own private cubicle or
teams may want several working areas with a shared
common space perhaps.
Different team, different approaches to
organizing their work areas.
cannot overstress the importance of having adequate
resources – note the use of the word “adequate”
instead of “extravagant”.
Remember to apply the principle
The Object Primer 3rd Edition: Agile Model Driven
Development with UML 2 is an
important reference book for agile modelers,
describing how to develop 35
types of agile
models including all 13
UML 2 diagrams.
Furthermore, this book describes the techniques
Full Lifecycle Object Oriented Testing
(FLOOT) methodology to give you the fundamental
testing skills which you require to succeed at
agile software development. The book also
shows how to move from your agile models to
source code (Java examples are provided) as well
as how to succeed at implementation techniques
(TDD). The Object Primer also includes a
chapter overviewing the critical database
development techniques (database refactoring,
legacy analysis, and
database access coding) from my award-winning
Agile Database Techniques
Agile Modeling: Effective Practices for Extreme
Programming and the Unified Process is the seminal
book describing how agile software developers approach
documentation. It describes principles and
practices which you can tailor into your existing
software process, such as
Rational Unified Process (RUP), or the
Agile Unified Process (AUP), to streamline your
modeling and documentation efforts. Modeling and
documentation are important aspects of any software
project, including agile projects, and this book
describes in detail how to
architect, and then
design your system in an agile manner.
The Elements of UML 2.0 Style describes a collection
of standards, conventions, and
for creating effective
UML diagrams. They are based on sound, proven
software engineering principles that lead to diagrams
that are easier to understand and work with. These
conventions exist as a collection of simple, concise
guidelines that if applied consistently, represent an
important first step in increasing your productivity as
a modeler. This book is oriented towards
intermediate to advanced UML modelers, although there
are numerous examples throughout the book it would not
be a good way to learn the UML (instead, consider
The Object Primer). The book is a brief 188
pages long and is conveniently pocket-sized so it's easy
to carry around.
We actively work with clients around the world to
improve their information technology (IT) practices,
typically in the role of mentor/coach, team lead, or trainer. A full
description of what we do, and how to contact us, can be
found at Scott W.
Ambler + Associates.