Businesses are constantly in search of better ways to communicate between the operations and technology teams.  Some, maybe even many, of the agile disciples who prescribe to the good book of the Agile Manifesto promote the benefits of establishing a system metaphor.




  • something used, or regarded as being used, to represent something else; emblem; 

The theory admittedly has some holes as the metaphor will only go so far before hitting a differentiator or exception between metaphor and reality – an assembly line only has so many nuances. These metaphors can range from the operations of a restaurant to managing a class schedule to the grotesque sausage factory floor.

All imagery aside, time and time again the benefits are found in coordinating the technology team around a common idea in order to craft and build software from ideation to fruition. It could be said that the metaphor provides the common discussion point to level a playing field of understanding.  Some might even suggest the metaphor replaces some amount of high-level architectural planning – I am not one of those people.

Where Rubber and Road Shall Meet

Here is where the true value of the method is completely lost.  Metaphors are wonderful tools for communicating something unfamiliar with things assumedly quite common, readily understood, and palatable by a wider audience. This is not necessarily only applicable to a wide audience of technologists though.

When a business is outlining objectives it creates a crucial time to establish the common metaphor – even establishing one for each objective.  Unless the business is in agreement of the metaphor’s validity, it is hard to imagine the value when only a small set of stakeholders (namely the technologists) are speaking a ubiquitous language.  Before the technology team gathers in a dark room in a far corner to discuss what the operations side of the business has requested – everybody should gather and agree on the viability of a strong metaphorical representation.

It is a tool to be used for understanding between technology and business – a divide that regularly produces confusion, misunderstandings, and consternation.

Let the users, analysts, product managers, project managers, and technologists first collaboration be conceiving of the best, albeit intentionally and inevitably flawed, metaphor. This enables everybody to start communicating through a common vocabulary. Every project member will be able to discuss with full understanding how waiters enter food orders and how orders are then parsed to the kitchen staff, etc.

The smallest of tools are often the most profound and powerful in collapsing barriers and removing obstacles.