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From Code to Crayons - "The Walk-Around" Chart

Matt Good
2/29/16 10:16 AM

I have very fond memories of my Computer Science studies at Iowa State University, all those years ago. It was an opportunity to perfect my coding craft through a variety of difficult projects, homework assignments and tests. When starting my Software Engineering career after graduation, I continued to think it was "all about the code" - perfect quality, elegantly written and easily maintained. ThinkstockPhotos-83404357.jpgAs I progressed through my career with a variety of leadership opportunities, client interaction and overall business budget discussions, I began to realize that the "all about the code" concept was likely less important to the diverse business and technical audiences of a software development project. Instead, answers to questions such as what pain points would the solution resolve, what functionality would be provided to users, what are the benefits from the investment, etc., were more critical at a broader level to the business. 

Keeping these broader and higher level concepts in mind, I developed a deep appreciation for connecting software development and technical work to business value. I've also had the great benefit of working with fantastic clients over the years that have instilled in me a great appreciation of the variety of company cultures and project teams leveraging software development for business value. From these experiences, one constant has emerged - technical excellence must have a level of reduction and tie to business value that can be communicated well with a variety of technical and business leaders. It's time to start translating that beautiful code into "crayon" drawings that can be easily communicated to the wider audience!

Let's dive into the first strategy I leverage when working with Software/IT Executives and Practitioners in helping them tie technical excellence to business value for business leaders:


Work with many clients has helped me understand the importance of a great chart or diagram when galvanizing business leaders into project investment supporters. One client literally coined the term "Walk-Around Chart," bringing even more fame to the chart concept due to the client's print-everything culture and leverage of the chart printout as a reference in every meeting. Yet another client mentioned the need to reduce many technical details to "crayon drawings," when presenting projects to busy executives. Similar to the blueprints for your home, the Walk-Around Chart can provide important visualization and communication of your overall software architecture and the relevant component and system interactions within.


When creating your Walk-Around Chart, start with a logical view that represents all components of the architecture, including the integrations in (files, systems, etc.) and consumers out (systems, users, etc.). Connect the representative shapes of the chart with appropriate directional arrows that logically represent not only the integrations and consumption, but the component interactions internal to the architecture. The logical view provides a good basis for additional technology and physical views later on, where additional details can be layered in.


Don't underestimate the communication importance of the Chart's visual appeal aspects. Once you have all the shapes and directional arrows of the Chart accounted for, organize them in a manner that allows for easy presentation and a natural flow for guiding the eye. Number each major component and discussion point for easy reference, and polish it with that Disney Pixar type of perfection by ensuring shapes are aligned, arrows flow smoothly with minimal bends, shape spacing is consistent, and colors are coordinated.

Stay tuned for additional technical communication strategies, and throughout 2016, let's work together to highlight technical excellence to business leaders!

Remain tenacious and curious. 


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