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A Fool With a Tool…

February 25, 2010

So often, the development teams I coach on modeling ask “What free UML tools are out there?” As you probably know, there are quite a few now. But the problem with asking that question is these teams often have already purchased a modeling tool! Why don’t they ask earlier?

Many times the people who will be the end users of the tools are not (or just marginally) involved in tool selection. Some process or tool group is often commissioned to survey available tools, assess their applicability, and recommend what should be purchased. The tools are purchased, deployed, and then the end users find out that the tools don’t quite fit the manner in which the team actually works. This is a classic problem with a “tools first” approach to process improvement. Tools must support the way you work, not force you to work their way.

I was a member of such a tool committee at a company that was consensus driven in the extreme. We were directed to gather every possible stakeholders’ ideas on what criteria should be used to evaluate the tools. We ended up with a matrix of 123 different criteria. Did the people who would actually use the tools regularly use 123 different tool capabilities? Of course not. When the actual decision was made, after struggling through weeks of gathering, clarification and prioritization of all these decision criteria, the final decision came down to only 3 core criteria. It would have been a more pragmatic activity and much time would have been saved if we had known those 3 key criteria at the start.

But if modeling is new to your environment how would you know what you need? You may not have yet established how you are going to work with modeling. How about trying your new modeling practice with some of the open source (often free) tools? In this way you can easily and inexpensively discover what you really need in a tool for the level of modeling you intend to do. Not everyone does full Model-Driven Development. You may need only some simple diagramming capability. Maybe you won’t need that expensive gold-plated modeling tool. Every development team / organization is different. You may discover that a more modest tool may be sufficient to support your way of working.

If you want to read a nice survey of open source modeling tools read more at http://bit.ly/ll4UY.

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