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Unconstraining UML And SysML Modeling Tools

October 9, 2010 Leave a comment

For informal, rapid, and iterative design modeling and intra-team communication, I use the freely downloadable and unconstraining UML and SysML stencil plugins for visio. These handy little stencils are available here: Visio UML and SysML stencils homepage. When installed and opened, the shapes window may look like the figure below. Of course, you can control which shapes sub-windows you’d like to display and use within a document via the file->shapes menu selection. Open all 11 of them if you’d like!

If you compare the contents of the two sets of shape stencils, since UML is a subset and extension of UML you’ll unsurprisingly find a lot of overlap in the smart symbol sets. Note that unlike the two UML stencils, the set of nine SysML stencils are “SysML Diagram” oriented. Because of this diagram-centric decomposition, I find myself using the SysML stencils more than the UML stencils.

To use the stencils, you just grab, drag, and drop symbols onto the canvas; tying them together with various connector symbols. Of course, each symbol is “smart”, so right-clicking on a shape triggers a context sensitive menu that gives you finer control over the attributes and display properties of the shape.

If you don’t want to open the stencils manually, you can create either a new SysML or UML document from the templates that are co-installed with the stencils (file->new->choose drawing type->SysML). In this case, either the 2 UML stencils, or all 9 SysML stencils are auto-opened when the first page of the new document is created and displayed. I often use the multi-page feature of visio to create a set of associated behavior and structure diagrams for the design that I’m working on, or to reverse-engineer a section of undecipherable code that I’m struggling to understand.

If you’re a visio user and you’re looking to learn UML and/or SysML, I think experimenting with these stencils is a much better learning alternative than using one of the big, formal, and more hand-cuffing tools like Artisan Studio or Sparx Enterprise Architect. You can “Bend it like Fowler” much more easily with the visio stencils approach and not get frustrated as often.

Unconstrained To Constrain

April 13, 2010 1 comment

As I continue to slowly inhale Fred Brooks‘s book, “The Design Of Design“,  I’m giddily uncovering  all kinds of diamonds in the rough. Fred states:

“If designers use a structured annotation or software tool during design it will restrict the ease of having vague ideas, impeding conceptual design.”

Ain’t that the truth? Don’t those handcuffing “standard document templates, processes, procedures, work instructions” that you’re required to follow to ensure quality (lol!) frustratingly constrain you from doing your best work?

Along the same lines, Fred hits another home run in my ballpark (which is devoid of adoring and paying fans, of course):

“I believe that a generic diagramming tool, with features such as automatic layout of trees, automatic rerouting of relationship arrows, and searchable nodes, is better suited to (design) tree capture. Microsoft Visio or SmartDraw might be such a choice.”

Man, this one almost made me faint and lose consciousness. I live, eat, and breath “Visio”. Every picture that you’ve seen in this blog and every design effort that I undertake at work starts with, and ends with, Visio – which is the greatest tool of expression I’ve ever used. I’ve tried “handcuffers” like Artisan Studio and Enterprise Architect as software design aids, but they were too frustratingly complex and constraining to allow me to conjure up self-satisfying designs.

All designs must eventually be constrained so that they can be built and exploited for profit. But in order to constrain, one must be unconstrained. How’s that for a zen-like paradox?

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