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Chapter 18. CASE and Cognition > Alternatives and Alternative Views

Alternatives and Alternative Views

All engineering is trade-offs. There is research going back over thirty years showing that more effective engineers typically compare two or more alternative approaches to each significant design problem. This strategy applies just as well to software engineering as to our older sister professions. (My thesis at M.I.T. was on just this subject.) The comparison between alternative approaches may be quick and mostly mental, or it may involve elaborate description and modeling of each alternative, with careful analysis and evaluation of the consequences. A clear winning strategy may emerge, but sometimes what is chosen is a creative synthesis of more than one alternative, sometimes a compromise. The essential part of the process is the weighing of alternatives, being able to eyeball two designs or interpretations side-by-side. Current CASE tools do not, for the most part, support having two versions of the same system, diagram, or model simultaneously active and accessible, certainly not for side-by-side comparisons.

I've seen some pretty clever subterfuges used to get around this limitation of CASE tools. At one firm, a systems analyst had two workstations in his office, one processing a dummy project record, so that he could keep two full-fledged versions of the same systems design in front of him to analyze their advantages and disadvantages. More commonly, one of the alternatives is on paper, the other in the CASE repository.


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