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The ICONIX Business Modeling Roadmap


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The ICONIX Business Modeling Roadmap
Doug Rosenberg
ICONIX Software Engineering, Inc.


While ICONIX primarily provides training and consulting to software projects and organizations, we occasionally are requested to provide guidance to companies who are modeling business processes.  In many cases, these business process engineering efforts are a precursor to software system design, and there is a natural desire to maximize commonality between the business modeling process and the software design process which will subsequently followed, which is often ICONIX Process.

Based on our experience in helping a number of business process engineering projects over the last few years, we have developed the ICONIX Business Modeling Roadmap ; a set of activity diagrams which detail our simplified approach to business modeling and is the subject of this paper.



Similarities and differences between software design and business modeling

Before we can leverage our experience in modeling software projects and formulate a compatible strategy for effective business modeling, it's important to understand what's similar and what's different between these two endeavors.

Business modeling and software design are similar in a number of ways; to begin with both business processes and software designs are best understood by modeling scenarios .  In both cases, the scenarios that are identified exist to accomplish requirements , which can be either functional or non-functional requirements.  Also in both cases, and unambiguous vocabulary which describes the important “things” (entities) in the problem domain is very desirable to avoid ambiguity in the scenario descriptions.  And in both cases, first-draft scenarios typically get elaborated with a diagrammatic representation of the scenario.

Business modeling and software designs are different in a number of ways; software scenarios (aka use cases) typically involve one or more users interacting with a software system, while business scenarios typically involve a mix of human-computer and human-human interactions, where the human-computer interactions may span multiple software systems. 

Business scenarios are often modeled in both “as-is” (existing business) and “to-be” (future business) forms, and it is especially important that business scenarios are well understood by non-technical Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) who understand what the business is about but may not be involved in IT at all.

Software scenarios in ICONIX Process need to be linked to objects, and to screens and GUI storyboards - business scenarios do not.  Elaborating software use cases with robustness diagrams forces those linkages, and is thus the step we use in ICONIX Process to disambiguate the use cases prior to doing detailed design on sequence diagrams.  There is a learning curve associated with the robustness diagram notation (boundary, control, entity stereotypes) which is easily justified for software designers but is less easily justified for business modeling, which inevitably involves non-technical SMEs.  As a result the ICONIX Business Modeling Roadmap specifies that business scenarios should be elaborated with activity diagrams instead of robustness diagrams.

 

Roadmap Overview

 

The Roadmap consists of four major activities: modeling business process scenarios , identifying requirements (and allocating them to the business scenarios), modeling the problem domain , and subsequently identifying software scenarios so that the new business processes can be automated.

 

Figure 1 – ICONIX Business Roadmap Top Level Activities

 

Each of these Top Level Activities is further decomposed into its own step-by-step activity diagram. We'll discuss these one at a time.

 

Requirements Capture and Allocation

 

We use Requirement Diagrams to capture and organize Requirements . The Roadmap identifies four specific categories of requirements: Functional , Non-Functional , Business Rules , and Data Requirements . However, these categories are simply meant as guidelines; feel free to group your requirements into whatever categories make sense for your business.

 

Figure 2 – Requirements Capture and Allocation Activies

 

Note that our Roadmap specifies both an “internal” Subject Matter Expert (this is someone within the Business Analyst team who is knowledgeable about the relevant part of the business) as well as the “real” Subject Matter Expert , who is typically part of the operational business as opposed to a member of the IT staff.

 

Also note that the Roadmap specifies that Requirements, once identified, should be allocated to the business scenarios, and that traceability matrices should be generated and reviewed. We have found that the Enterprise Architect (EA) modeling tool does a remarkably good job at automating these activities. Requirements can be allocated to scenarios using a simple drag-and-drop, and EA's built-in relationship matrix takes all the pain out of generating the traceability reports. Allocating and tracing requirements is critically important to verifying the integrity of the business process models.

 

Figure 3 – Requirements are accepted or rejected based on SME Review

 

Modeling the Problem Domain

 

As with our software design process (standard ICONIX Process), disambiguation is of fundamental importance in the ICONIX approach to Business Modeling.

 

Ambiguity in specifications (whether they are at the business scenario or at the software scenario level) often starts with analysts using multiple names for the same “problem domain entity”. Therefore the same guidance that we provide in the ICONIX Process Roadmap applies in our business modeling roadmap.

 

Business Process Scenarios should refer to entities in the problem domain unambiguously, using a well-defined and documented name. We show these entities on a domain model diagram (a simplified UML class diagram) which shows the entities along with the “has” and “is” relationships (aka aggregation and generalization) between them.

 

Figure 4. Modeling the Problem Domain is a critical element of ICONIX Business Process Modeling

 

Modeling the Business Scenarios

 

Modeling Business Process Scenarios represents the bulk of the Business Analyst activity specified by our roadmap. We first decompose the business into subsystems (functionally related areas) and show this decomposition on UML package diagrams.

 

Within each subsystem, we identify the business scenarios as stereotyped use cases on UML use case diagrams. As with software scenarios, each business scenario is written in English, and will typically contain both a sunny-day (basic course of action) and a rainy-day (alternate courses of action) section.

 

It often makes sense to capture both as-is (existing state) and to-be (future state) business processes. While our roadmap shows the path for future scenarios, the same steps can easily be used for modeling as-is scenarios, which would logically precede the modeling of future scenarios.

 

Figure 5 – Business Process Scenarios are identified and documented, requirements are allocated and traced, and the scenarios are elaborated using Activity Diagrams to expose errors.

 

After the business scenarios have been identified and documented in English, they are linked to Requirements that have been identified earlier in the process. Typically additional requirements are identified and captured during this process.

 

Once the scenarios have been captured, it's generally advisable to elaborate them in diagrammatic form , as (similarly to software scenarios) the act of elaborating a scenario by drawing a picture of it tends to expose errors and inconsistencies. Our business modeling roadmap specifies the use of UML Activity Diagrams for this purpose, whereas the ICONIX software roadmap uses robustness diagrams. There are several reasons for the choice of activity diagrams as opposed to robustness diagrams, including:

 

  • activity diagrams are more easily understood by SMEs
  • business processes don't need to be linked to GUI storyboards and object names as tightly as software use cases do
  • using a different diagram helps to eliminate confusion between business scenarios and software scenarios

 

 

Identify Software Use Cases and proceed with System Design

 

When we have captured and reviewed all of our business scenarios with subject matter experts, we can consider moving forward to implement those scenarios.

 

In some cases, the future-state business scenarios may be realized by multiple software systems. These automation opportunities should be systematically identified, prioritized, and scheduled. For each new system developed, the software scenarios which realize the business scenarios should be identified and design should proceeed following the normal ICONIX Process Roadmap. Note that the requirements identified during the business modeling activities should once again be allocated and traced to and from the software use cases.

 

Conclusion

 

The ICONIX Business Modeling Roadmap specifies a simple, intuitive, yet rigorous approach to business modeling and offers a seamless transition to software design when it becomes time to automate portions of the future state scenarios.

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles has made extensive use of the ICONIX approach to BPR and requirements development.  You can view an HTML report of the Virginia DMV Systems Redesign model built using the Enterprise Architect tool.  This model is very large but is still "work-in-progress." It represents the combined effort of a team of more than thirty dedicated professionals, all working together in one model, with one goal: an effective new system for the DMV to support its full range of internal and customer support activities.

Virginia DMV and other ICONIX customers report good success following this roadmap, and we hope it will prove useful to your organization. For further questions, contact us at umltraining@iconixsw.com.

 

 

 

 

ICONIX Software Engineering, Inc.
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email: UMLTraining@iconixsw.com