Solution Architecture

Shared understanding is critical to the success of any project. A shared understanding of the problem and the potential solutions among all stakeholders foster shared commitment and support the opportunity-driven problem solving of all stakeholders.

Seven Sigma utilises IBIS and Issue Mapping to fast-track this process. But while issue maps are central to the achievement of shared understanding, it doesn’t provide an effective way to describe various aspects of the problem domain, and particularly the solution domain. These include describing business processes and, for SharePoint projects in particular, information architecture. The figure below illustrates where issue mapping fits into the problem/solution cycle, illustrating where issue mapping is best placed to manage the forces of divergence in a complex project.


Visual models are often effective in conveying this information to stakeholders who are often from diverse backgrounds with varying levels of technical expertise. The best of these visual models are intuitive, requiring very little explanation to non-technical stakeholders, and yet flexible enough to describe most complex scenarios. With opportunity-driven problem solving, exploring a potential solution often provides a better understanding of the problem. This can, and often does, result in the re-evaluation of the requirements and constraints of the problem. This highlights another important characteristic of a good visual model – it must be dynamic and be able to easily evolve with the understanding of the stakeholders.

There are a number of modelling notations available with UML being the most widespread for software development. While some aspects of UML are suitable to present to a wider audience e.g. use case diagrams, others are primarily targeted towards software architects and developers.

So, what are the alternatives? Seven Sigma professionals use Business Process Modelling Notation (BPMN) to present business process models and mind mapping software for information architecture. Although a formal modelling notation is not used when presenting information architecture in a mind map, it has proven to be particularly effective because the familiar visual presentation makes it easy to understand by all stakeholders.

Modelling Business Processes

BPMN was developed by the Business Process Management Initiative (BPMI) and is currently maintained by the Object Management Group. It provides a graphical notation for describing business processes. The graphical notation is based on familiar flowcharting symbols and consists of a small set of core elements making it easy to understand. Variations of these core elements are used to support more complex scenarios without dramatically changing the look-and-feel of the diagram.

The diagram below shows a simple example of a leave form approval process using BPMN.


Modelling Information Architecture

Information architecture involves developing the conceptual structure and logical organisation of information. The use of mind mapping software to present the information architecture, particularly for SharePoint solutions, is a logical choice when you consider that the goals of mind mapping are also to present the conceptual structure and logical organisation of information.

For a SharePoint solution, information architecture involves defining taxonomies and the metadata required to support them, defining site structures and the navigation within these site structures.

The diagram below shows a hypothetical information architecture for handling leave forms in a SharePoint intranet site. Further examples are available from Ruven Gotz’s site.


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