Help - I'm Outclassed!

Reflections on my first EA user group event...

by Charlie Mitchell

 

I was a little nervous about attending this year’s London Enterprise Architect User Group. I have been a user of Enterprise Architect for about 6 months, my knowledge of UML is minimal, and I know just enough about the whole world of Enterprise Architect to know that I know almost nothing about it. I was sure that I would get nothing out of this - it was all going to be way far above my head.

The User Group began as many conferences do - coffee and mingling while we all wait impatiently for all the delegates to arrive and the first event to actually start. I had a programme of events in my hand with the talks that looked like I might be able to keep up with carefully circled and was ready to begin.

The first thing that surprised me was that I actually knew quite a lot, and that the problems I was having with Enterprise Architect weren’t all because I was new and inexperienced - they were problems that experienced users were also discussing and attempting to solve together. I knew what most of the people were talking about - admittedly I camped out in the room where people were sharing User Stories rather than the room where the serious techies were talking which was a carefully calculated decision. I was fascinated by the problems that people had attempted - and sometimes even succeeded - to solve with Enterprise Architect. Because most were problems that I could see me having to solve. There were people who had models more than 5 years old, but also people who were almost as new to the world of Enterprise Architect as me. And they all managed to find something interesting to talk about.

While the problems that they faced were different, along with the solutions, they were not so wildly different that they didn’t have plenty of interesting things to learn from one another.  I wasn’t there yet - not by a long shot - and I probably won’t be there for a while, but one day these are problems that I will probably come across and have to solve.

All I have to do now is remember the solutions.

My favourite part of the conference though was the Wish List Workshop. Getting together so many Enterprise Architect users from so many backgrounds to think critically about what they use, what they want improved and what they’d love to see added was a great way for me to find out two things. The first - that I was not alone in my various frustrations. But the Second was much more interesting - that this was the day-to-day working of professionals in my industry. They were discussing the kinds of boring things that they all just assume that each other know in order to do their jobs, and as an aspiring Business Analyst it was great just to eavesdrop in on what they were doing.

The workshop also started off a lot more cross-contamination for the rest of the day. Getting people to mingle outside their teams made everyone just that little bit more open to talking to each other generally. The afternoon sessions ended with a group sharing of “EA Tips and Tricks” which still captivated the attention of most of the delegates until the very last minute of the conference.

All together, I can’t wait until next year and I will know even more and be able to get even more out of it. Maybe I’ll even speak!

User Forum "Wish List" Results - EAUG London 2016

The 5th   UK meeting of the EA User Group took place in London on Tuesday 17th May 2016, with attendees representing the top EA users from over 50 UK companies.

Part of the meeting was given over to a workshop, exploring what improvements the community wants from EA.

We took a set of defined headings, and got small groups to create ideas for improvements in each area, then got different groups to prioritise those ideas. Each working group then had 60 seconds to persuade the rest of us that theirs were the best solutions, and everyone managed to stay inside the time (maybe the chocololate incentives helped!)

Finally, and by the very un-scientific process of the clap-o-meter, we decided on an overall top three requirements.

(We’re proposing to carry this list forward to future user group meetings: Netherlands and Germany are confirmed for later this year, with possible additional sessions in Sweden, Italy and USA.)

Below are the subject areas, and the priorities for each area, as decided by the working groups. I’ve added my comments based on what I overheard the groups talking about, and what they said in their 60-second pitch.

User Interface

1.       Undo Everything.
This was a real favourite, and really seemed to appeal to lots of the EA users.

2.       Improve Diagram Filters (eg: on tagged values)

3.       Fast Web-based Client (Read + Write)
Funny how this seems to come up whenever we talk about the future of EA…

Model Management

1.       Reinforcement of Corporate Standards
I think this was asking for a way to restrict modellers to only using the ‘standard’ way of doing things. MDGs were not enough – still too many ways for users to go wrong.

2.       Version Control
Seems to arise more and more, as we get larger and more complex models.

3.       Security of Views

Add-Ins

1.       Add Ins without Installer (no admin rights required)
This deals with a big barrier to using EA: most people use add-ins, and they all need to have admin rights. Makes EA ‘clunky’ to live with.

2.       Add In App Store + sharing add ins
Everyone else has an app-store – why not EA?

3.       Simplified MDG Creation
Why is this SO complicated ?

Modelling Languages and Frameworks
Overall, this team seemed to struggle to think of new ideas. Note to Sparx: concentrate elsewhere!

1.       Better SysML Support

2.       Improved UPDM

3.       IT 4 IT

Publishing

1.       HTML Output - up to par with RTF

2.       Improvement in capability to generate structural elements export to repository contents to CSV (Ability to generate reports like what I see on the screen) (Attribute of elements)

3.       RTF Template to be less buggy and more intuitive

Support

1.       Localised Online Support

2.       Roadmap as a process (As an artifact)

3.       Visibility of Known Issues + tracking
This team felt quite strongly about this one. When they raised an issue, they wanted visibility of whether Sparx are working on it or ignoring it

Training

1.       EA Training & Certification - Novice to Ninja
See below

2.       More Complex Example models

3.       Searchable Offline Help

Joker– for ‘other’ ideas

1.       Improve Shape Script for Stereotypes

2.       Better User Management Security

3.       Job scheduler to automate stuff

Top Results

Novice to Ninja

This idea was to have a Sparx-approved certification for EA users, in the same way that, for example Microsoft have certifications for their tools. At the moment, each training provider does their own thing, and this is nowhere near as good. The group thought Sparx-approved certification will enhance the status of not just the students who got certified, but also of the tool itself. The meeting also really liked the title!

 

Version Control

Lots of groups mentioned version control in different ways, and this seems to be a developing issue, as people make more use of EA, with larger teams and more complicated models.

 

Undo Everything

This was a surprise to some, but really seemed to be a popular feature. The ‘un-do’ function in EA works in some places, and not others, but lots of people thought this was a really important aspect of a more usable EA.

 

Overall Comment

The User Group produced this output after just 60 minutes of intensive discussion, and it created lots of ideas and lots of energy. People really care about the future of EA, and were very keen to take part in the discussion.

Hopefully, Sparx will take notice: we’ll be watching!

Speaker Style Guide

Thanks for agreeing to be a speaker at this EA User Group. We’ve been running these for a few years now, so we think it’s time to pull together all that experience into some guidance notes for speakers. Feel free to ignore any or all of them: they aren’t a condition of speaking, just some ideas we’d like you to think about.

Remember, this is a friendly audience. Most people will be EA users just like you, so they are already on your side. They are interested to hear what you have to say.

So the guidance notes:

Do’s

  1. If you’re talking about solving a problem, please make sure your audience understand that problem first.
  2. Think about what your audience already know. They WILL know EA, but maybe not the exact bit you’re talking about. Ground your talk in ideas they already know, only then move them on to the thing you want to talk about
  3. Tell stories, not theories
  4. Keep to one idea. This is especially important if you’re doing a short TED-style talk. Too many ideas in a short time is confusing for everyone
  5. Have a look at this video – excellent advice for all speakers everywhere
  6. Please look at the audience, and ask them questions. It gets them involved, and lets you check they are ‘getting it’.
  7. Remember that in most user groups, some delegates might not speak your language. So be kind to them. Don’t use idioms or words & expressions they might not understand. Keep the language simple. Good advice even if everyone speaks your language.
  8. Questions. A good question which is well answered can hugely improve your talk. A bad one, poorly answered can suck the life out of it. Think how/when you’ll handle questions. Note that if you say ‘questions at the end’ this will frustrate most listeners, and they may well ignore it anyway.
  9. Give them a ‘take away’ at the end. Not a balloon and some cake, but a thing to do, something to read, an action they can take themselves.

Don’ts

  1. Don’t be dull. Try out your talk on someone else first. If they think it’s dull, chances are the User Groupies will as well.
  2. Don’t sell them stuff - obviously. If you’re talking about a ‘thing’ which is for sale, that’s OK, so long as it not too in-your-face. There should be interest for those who don’t want to buy the thing.
  3. Don’t read the slides. See (Don'ts no.1). Slides are to help you remember what to say, they are not your script.
  4. Don’t tell us about your life story, your organisation structure and goals. We’ve had a few speakers who spent 39 minutes on this, then were shocked when they were asked to wrap-up. Yes, this really has happened.
  5. Don’t ‘wing’ the technology. If you need to use technology test it. Then test it again. Make sure you have a backup if it doesn’t work. We’ve had some wonderful, memorable ‘doing it on the fly’ live demonstrations, but they need practice.

And finally - remember to enjoy yourself! And don't forget, EA Users are looking forward to meeting you and hearing your ideas...

A Tale of Two Cities

Four countries[1], three days, two European EA user groups. This is the EA User Group on tour, September 2015. These are my* observations of the events, with hints for future attendees and organisers, and some cautionary tales.

 

 

We’ll always have Paris

 


Today is an unusual day. We're at an EA User Group meeting, but only as spectators. Normally, we're involved in some more active role: speaking, organising, sometimes both. But today is different. This is the 12th northern hemisphere UG meeting: two in Canada, one in USA, 4 in UK, three in Germany, one in Switzerland. And I’ve been to them all. But this is the first one mostly in a language which I stopped learning when I was 14.

  

It's a lovely early autumn morning in the city by the Seine. We're at the Viseo offices right by the river, just outside the centre. Guillaume Finance from Viseo is doing my presentation, so I can sit back and relax. We first-language English speakers are so lucky that the world speaks our language: I hardly ever find myself in meetings which aren’t in English, so this is a treat.
 

Had an interesting dinner last night with some of the other speakers. This is one of the perks of speaking at these events - meeting the other speakers over dinner. It’s a chance to find out what they know which they won’t talk about in a public meeting. And there are usually ways of using EA that I never dreamed about. Last night I found out about how to use EA to organise the logistics of the French sugar-beet harvest.

 

Today is an opportunity to look at the presentations in a new way. Since my schoolboy French is nowhere near good enough to understand what's happening, I can concentrate on looking at the pictures on the slides, observing the body language and style of the presenters, and watching the reaction of the audience.

 

We're not off to a great start. The first presenter arrives 10 minutes late. Not bad, given the terrible Paris traffic, but just enough to give the organisers heart-failure. Tip for anyone presenting at a UG - if you're on first, get there in time. Or bring your own para-medic. Luckily Guillaume survived.

 

Reading slides which aren't in my language makes me appreciate EA's diagrams so much more. Even though the text in the boxes isn't familiar, the layout and notation translate surprisingly well. At least, I think so.

But it can't translate the jokes, so I just laugh when everyone else does.

 

You also can't rehearse the technology too much. The presenter’s worst nightmare: the tech which worked fine last night now doesn’t when we come back after lunch: the projector is having an afternoon nap. Hasty rearrangement of schedule.

We have the eaDocX exhibition stuff setup in the lobby of the building. Jackie gets chatting to a French guy, on his way out to have a smoke. He’s nothing to do with the UG, never heard of EA. But he decides it looks interesting. I see him later at the back of Guillaume’s presentation. I wonder what he thought?

 

eaDocX a la Francaise


A strange sensation, to hear my own presentation delivered in another language. OK, so not exactly my presentation, but a much-improved version from Guillaume, but recognisably mine. I wonder what he's saying. Everyone seems to be listening.

 

I've got used to the idea of demonstrating my own software. It's as stressful as watching my own children on stage: they are my responsibility, but I’m totally out of control of their performance. And it’ll be my fault if it goes wrong.

So now I've found something even more stressful. Watching somebody else demonstrating your own software, where you don't understand what they’re saying, much less understand the questions the audience are asking. Is it going well? Are the crowd 'getting' what he's saying? I have no idea. But so far, at least the tech is behaving itself. And he's making it do much more than I normally do. He's just smarter…

 

At least nobody has walked out yet. Wait a minute. There's one going now. He probably has a train to catch. Maybe.

They're asking questions now. I'm at the back, so I can't tell if they are happy about it or not. Hopefully Guillaume won't ask me any questions, in any language.

 

Hang on. Guillaume is smiling now. He seems to be happy with the way he's answering the questions. And there are lots of questions. Not sure yet if that's a good thing. At least they didn't just applaud at the end and go straight to coffee.

Finally over – they do applaud, and Guillaume looks happy. Relief?

 

No time to hang around. Off to Gare du Nord, and the Thalys to Brussels. Exotic picnic on the move - baguettes and beer. No chance even to congratulate Guillaume and his team, which is a pity, because the organisation was faultless.

Factoid of the day: they don’t use the French language version of EA, since apparently it’s been translated by Quebecois, not Frenchman, so sounds weird to them.

 

 

 

Friday – it must be Belgium


Interesting chat last night with Geert and Sander (Hoogendoorn) about life, EA, and everything, over some excellent Belgian beer. Off to the venue today. Another splendid one. It really makes all the difference to a UG if there’s enough space for everyone to mingle around, and also have spaces to go and hide away for a 1:1 chat. And have lunch and coffee, and space for the sponsors exhibitions. This venue was built as a hospital, never used, and is now the HQ for a Belgian trades union. Loads of space, and all very new and shiny. Just as well, as there’s a big crowd.

 

 All talks in English today. Sander told us all about microservices. I’d not come across them before, but after an hour of listening (only an hour?), I feel like an expert. But he lied to us: he said he had 120 slides, but I’m sure he missed a few. Hardly more than 100. All great stuff.

Then straight into our presentation. Lots of technology: 2 laptops, an iPad, and a link to a server in London. This time the tech let me down: laptop decided to freeze over at the ‘ta da’ moment, which rather ruined the effect. Still, the audience were very understanding.

 

After that some more talks. Always great to hear other people struggling with similar issues to my customers. I think potential speakers underestimate the power and usefulness of a simple ‘this is what happened to us’ story. I’m always re-assured by these, even if they might not seem interesting to the speaker themselves. We don’t need speakers to deliver research papers on super-smart bits of EA – just an interesting story is great.

 

The finale was Daniel from Lieber Lieber doing a talk about EA 12. Well, not exactly EA 12. More EA 12.1, which was handily (not!) released the day before. This has happened before, with EA 12 – announced the day before a UG meeting. Must be a coincidence: I don’t think Sparx HQ are that bothered about UG meetings to do it on purpose.

So Daniel bravely showed us the fruits of his 24 hours of experience with 12.1, and did a great job under the circumstances.

 

So that’s it – off to the airport, and back home in the small hours of Saturday. A huge thank you to the organisers: Guillaume and Geert, who despite having young families and full-time jobs, still organised two excellent events. And to their teams, and the donors of the venues, and the sponsors. We know what hard work it all is, but these are great events for making friends in the EA world, finding out new stuff, and generally joining in the growing conversation which is the EA User Group.

 

If you’d like help in organising your own UG meeting, don’t ask permission, just get started. We have lots of help and advice available – contact jackie(at)abilityengineering (dot)co(dot)uk for her cheat-sheet, filled with the learnings from the 12 meetings we’ve been involved with. Here’s to the next one!

 


[1] England, France, Belgium…and Wales, where we live.

[*] Ian Mitchell, author of eaDocX

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