Mental Models in Visual Studio .NET

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544 Mental Models
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Our mental models determine not only how we make sense of the world, but how we take action Peter Senge (1990)
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The Learning Organization
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Mental models are the ideas, preconceptions and assumptions that we all carry around in our heads We need these models to help us function every day, and they are valuable short cuts that enable us to skip over rst principles and get things done When we re aware of these models, there s little problem If our assumptions are out in the open, are explicit and we re aware of them, then we can selectively switch them off when dealing with new problems or seeking new solutions Problems set in when we re unaware that the models are governing our actions, or when we fail to recognize that our models don t apply Senge goes further than just pointing out that mental models exist He advocates a discipline that seeks to expose the models and open them to questioning Recognizing that these assumptions exist allows them to be questioned and rethought Mental models exist throughout the software development process They exist in speci cation documents, in manager s models of how development works, in the code that developers write and in the tests run against the system Some inaccurate assumptions lead directly to bugs found by customers At every stage in the development process, we use our mental models to make assumptions Advocates of voluminous documentation and strict methodological processes can claim that documentation will help overcome the problem But as we write longer documents, and add extra rigour to our processes, we encourage individuals to take short cuts and rely on their mental models all the more
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Mental Models in Action
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A team of developers based in Chicago developed a software system for an international nancial institution So successful was the software that the company decided to deploy it in the London of ce as well Unfortunately, the developers hadn t provided any support for currencies other than the dollar These developers had a mental model about how the software was going to work, in dollars, and that was that This model was quickly exposed and the developers added support for the multitude of currencies that were traded in London sterling, euros, Swiss francs, and so on Unfortunately, the developers had thrown aside one mental model and replaced it with another faulty one The developers had taken the message to heart, and the new software updated valuations several times a minute to re ect changes in exchange rates However, the traders using the system didn t need this level of accuracy and found the constant updating distracting For them, a single daily exchange rates update was enough
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5
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Thinking Point: Finding Models and Assumptions
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Finding assumptions and mental models can be dif cult, because we re often unaware that we re making decisions based on mental models It can be easier to see mental models when things go wrong Think about recent problems and bug reports:
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Were any of these caused by incorrect assumptions How could you have identi ed those assumptions before the problem arose
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545 Systems Thinking
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System thinking is a discipline of seeing wholes It is a framework for seeing relationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than snapshots Peter Senge (1990) Systems are not just computer systems They are any kind of device or process where a number of different pieces need to work together to produce an end result or product Computer systems are just one type of system, namely the type relating to computers Modern society and business are full of systems Traditional Western science emphasizes breaking things down into small parts and understanding the operation of each small piece We consider substances made up of atoms, and atoms made up of electrons, protons and neutrons; protons in turn are made up of quarks and so on Systems thinking takes the opposite approach It seeks to understand how larger entities interact and inter-operate Rather than looking at individual actions and explaining how each one came to occur we look at the overall system and try to understand the drivers for whole systems Issues arise because although all the individual pieces may be working faultlessly, when they work together in the system unintended results occur Identifying the problems can be dif cult because our training, as engineers and scientists, leads us to decompose the problem and examine individual pieces To overcome this, we need to engage in systems thinking Diagnosing problems is only half the story Once identi ed, these problems need to be addressed Again, the complex interaction between multiple pieces makes solutions harder Fixing a problem may require several coordinated changes What may appear to be a retrograde step in one piece may actually resolve a far larger problem
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