Friday, March 11, 2011

Grow your own

No, I'm not talking about smoking anything dodgy! I'm taking a little diversion onto the side roads of logical consistency, because all this talk of networks, and Gannts, and timelines, and swimlanes, can be a little daunting.

Tools like this come in all different shapes and sizes, with a host of different conventions for showing information. This can lead you to wonder how you will ever remember all those different diagrams.

The simple answer is - you don't!

In my previous post in this series, I showed a timeline from Ghosts of Innocence. If you think I memorised a vast array of subtly different tools, so that when the time came I could pick just the right one off the shelf, then your overestimation of my abilities flatters me.

Let me reveal a little secret. My memory for lists of facts & stuff like that is amazingly bad. And I'm incredibly lazy, so I like to make things easy for myself. I don't have a long list of tools in my head, I just have a very short list of ways to make my own tools.

In the Ghosts of Innocence example, I used that particular kind of layout because it suited what I needed to show.

In this case, my story had multiple points of view and several interconnecting threads of action, so it was important to keep sight of what each character was up to and how the different threads ran alongside each other and intertwined. However, I didn't have many causal connections so a full-blown network wasn't necessary. All I needed to do was track a few major crossing points.

But timekeeping was definitely important, because I had several journeys of many days duration. I needed to make sure, for example, that people didn't arrive before they were supposed to, or too late to make their next connection.

That led me naturally to design a layout that had a timeline along one axis, and swimlanes for the major characters on the other. Not because there was a ready-made tool for the job, but because that particular combination showed me what I needed to see.

Oh, look! There's that central theme of "outcomes" showing up again. Know what you want to achieve, and choose the tool for the job. 

Except that, in this case, "tool" is actually a component, or building block, used to make up a tool.

But look what you can do with some very simple building blocks...

I've become a bit paranoid about the length of some of these posts, so I'm going to pause for breath here. In the next post, I'll delve into the basics of this whole class of diagrams and show you how to build your own tools for yourselves.

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