Reality in the model: Using the information model to gain new insights

Reality in the model: Using the information model to gain new insights

Stefan Berner is an expert in information modeling and business analysis. In a customer workshop, he shares his knowledge with the participants.

What happens in a workshop in which the participants are confronted with the information model of their subject for the first time? How do you manage to pick them up and find solutions to model adaptations in the process? Christian Wymann observed the information model expert Stefan Berner from for​you​and​your​cus​tom​ers in a customer workshop.

„Other“ is the answer to Stefan Berner’s question as to which category the product belongs to. I look at him and it becomes clear to me at that moment that the word leads to the solution.

Together with five customer representatives of a federal office in Bern, I am sitting in the workshop that Stefan is moderating. As an expert in information modelling and business analysis, he is in his element here. I can see that his head is working at full speed.

Two years ago, Stefan created the information model for this and other departments together with the workshop organiser. It is still valid today but is to be reviewed because of upcoming professional and later technical adjustments. Therefore, the workshop is about playing through concrete use cases. After a short time, it becomes clear that the model — the information map — needs to be supplemented.

Introduction to the model via the subject

The majority of the participants know neither the model nor the method of information modeling. After introductory words about the aim of the workshop by the organiser, Stefan takes over and gets straight into the subject. Contrary to my expectations, he does not start by explaining the method in order to then devote himself to the subject-specific questions. Although he shows the information model on the screen, he talks about the individual functional areas and terms. In this way, he manages a gradual short introduction to the method by explaining the elements of the model when they become relevant. In retrospect, however, it seems much more important to me that he left out everything methodological that the participants don’t need in the current context. Stefan succeeds in introducing the model by speaking mainly in the language of the subject.

„Stefan succeeds in introducing the model, speaking mainly in the language of the subject.“

Christian Wymann, author and consultant at foryouandyourcustomers Zurich Stadelhofen

To my astonishment, after the first lesson, I understand the problem in its basic features and see the connections without having been in contact with the topic before. The other participants should have no problems. But soon I am lagging behind when it comes to possible adjustments in the model. Stefan navigates skilfully through the jungle of abbreviations, not least because he has worked intensively on the subject for several years.

Practical engagement with the model

To keep the work on the model practical, it is done with a simplified representation on a flipchart brought by the workshop organiser. This is where the draft of a possible solution is created. The actual model is presented to the participants on an A3 sheet.

Initially, everyone sits, but soon the discussion becomes dynamic and the speakers stand up and go to the screen or flipchart to show or add. Because I’m temporarily lost in the discussion, I watch Stefan, who is physically and mentally in the middle of it. His head is constantly working on the optimal solution.

Back to the model — again and again

Even though the participants now know how to read the information model of their subject, they think beyond the basic information out of habit. They think in terms of examples that come directly from their daily work. In doing so, they remain unconsciously limited by the possibilities of the system being replaced.

The discussion shifts several times to questions of how the information should be presented to the users of the web portal. User interface and experience have their justification but come later. Stefan knows how to get the participants from these thematic excursions back to the subject of the workshop: is the information model correct and if not, how does it need to be adapted? He repeatedly invites them to check whether the model reflects their professional reality.

Words that trigger

During the three hours, the participants play through use cases and check anew which information is added or omitted. Twice there are statements that make Stefan sit up and take notice: “not always” and “others”. It is precisely these statements that point to ambiguities and gaps that the model needs to clarify. In both cases, it seems to me that one can hear Stefan’s thought processes shifting up a gear. The statement “Other” — the collecting vessel for everything that otherwise has no place — seems to trigger Stefan’s thinking, because he immediately draws a solution on the flipchart. What is astonishing about this is that an entity exists in the information model that comes close to the solution. After another half hour, in which use cases are looked at again, the workshop ends with a provisional solution.

The model is only the beginning

At the end of the workshop, I hear Stefan say between doors that it would be useful to get all the people working with sections of the model to the same table. He suggests talking about how to anchor the developed information more firmly in the organisation. Because with an information model, an important foundation exists, but it is not the end of the work.

About the expert

Stefan Berner

Business analyst & modelling expert

Stefan Berner is the author of the book Information modeling. A method for improving understanding and accuracy in your collaboration and of the white paper on the subject.
Together with Christian Bühlmann, he is currently writing a book that shows you why and how you should collect, manage and anchor information in your company. The book will be published in 2023.
In addition, a blended learning training is being developed that will offer you in-depth and practical training on information modeling and cartography. You will find the training in 2023 on our platform. 

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