Method in the Madness
Method helps intuition when it is not transformed
into dictatorship. Intuition augments method if it
does not instill anarchy. In every moment of our
semiotic existence, method and intuition
complement each other.
Mihai Nadin - Interface Design and Evaluation
A New Method
When Information Engineering first appeared in the early eighties there were other methodologies already in existence. These were the structured methods of the
seventies. So why build another method?
The existing structured methods were often called system development methodologies.
The following table contrasts structured methods and information engineering.
Structured Methods - focus is on a single system
Information Engineering - focus is on a collection of systems operating within an architecture and supporting the business as a whole.
Structured Methods - focus is on the back end of the development life cycle - design and construction.
Information Engineering - focus is on the front end of the life cycle, ensuring the systems being built are the right solutions for the business.
Structured Methods - focus on the needs of the project manager. The method is expressed as a work breakdown structure and deliverables
Information Engineering - focus is on the needs of the complete team. Information Engineering supports management as in a structured method but also addresses the real work on the project through an elaborate collection on techniques.
Information Engineering is a collection of tasks and deliverables, of techniques and roles, of stages and dependencies. You can learn all of these and follow them and still not be doing information engineering. Information engineering is as much about attitude as it is about technology. The attitude is summed up in six basic principles.
- business driven - it is rare that a project is justified for other than business reasons. However often during its life a project seems to take on a life of its own. The original goals somehow are lost. In information engineering the business imperative for the project is explored in detail in business analysis. These business needs are explicit drivers for all the decisions through design and construction. This linkage not only maintains the business focus but also makes it easier to respond to changes both during and after the project.
- graphical communication - communication is key to any project. Unless the business can communicate effectively with the developers the solution will be ineffective, unless the developers can communicate with each other the solution will be inefficient. But how do you communicate complex business ideas and how do you ensure that the communication is complete, consistent and correct. In Information engineering diagrams are the key to this communication. Often diagrams are used as an engineering tool and kept among the engineers. When used as a communication tool the diagrams must be public and an active part of the discussion with the business people.
- small projects - there is considerable evidence in our industry that large projects share common characteristics - they don't deliver on time, they go over budget and fail to deliver on expectations. On the other hand small projects indicate a much higher prospect for success. The reason for this is simple - it is more practical for a project team to understand the scope and aims of a small project. In information engineering the overall approach is one of 'divide and conquer'. At each stage there is a push to break the project down into smaller components and to address each component with a separate team.
- architecture based - if you break projects down into small components you better be able to integrate the components into an overall solution when they are completed. In information engineering that is the responsibility of the architectures. The architectures provide a framework for understanding the components, their scope and interfaces.
- continuously refined - previously project estimates were made at a very early stage when hard facts were scarce. This usually resulted in an impossibly inaccurate estimate and an inappropriate scope. In information engineering the 'divide and conquer' approach results in a refinement of scope and estimate at key points throughout the project. This concentrates effort on delivering the most important functionality and on setting and meeting realistic expectations.
- automatable - information engineering was the first method designed for automation.
The following diagram depicts the dependency relationships between the stages in the Information Engineering Process template.