You will be redirected in 30 seconds or close now.

ColdFusion Authors: Yakov Fain, Jeremy Geelan, Maureen O'Gara, Nancy Y. Nee, Tad Anderson

Related Topics: ColdFusion

ColdFusion: Article

CFDJ Feature — An Introduction to Intent Driven Design

A practical approach to specifying projects

Often the hardest part of developing an application is getting agreement on what exactly it should do.

Intent Driven Design (IDD) is an approach that simplifies and standardizes the process of getting detailed technical requirements from non-technical business users so you can develop more complete and consistent requirements in less time.

The Importance of Intent
One of the most frustrating elements of application development is having to continually change the way an application works because of conflicting requirements from different stakeholders. Most such problems come from the lack of a clear focus for a site. You have to agree, in writing, with all of the stakeholders - why you're building the site, who will use it, and what their motivations will be - before you can even start to discuss how the site should work. If you don't, you are guaranteed weeks of wrangling as different stakeholders disagree on fundamental design decisions or priorities because of the lack of a shared vision for the site - often after much of the application has been coded.

The goal of IDD is to provide a standard but lightweight approach to capturing all of the key information that you need to specify a site. For a simple site, you might be able to go through the entire process in a couple of hours. For a more complex project, you might be discussing the issues raised for a number of weeks. Either way, you should end up with a well-structured set of somewhat traceable requirements that you can provide to your development team, and use to turn the high-level business objectives into the appropriate code to achieve those agreed objectives.

No Silver Bullet
In his classic book "The Mythical Man Month," Frederick P. Brooks wrote an entire chapter about an important distinction between "accidental difficulties" and "essential difficulties." For example, memory management/garbage collection is accidentally difficult - it is a problem that can be solved with a smarter programming language (Java or C# instead of C++). However, building a flexible object model for a real world application is actually difficult - there is no "silver bullet" (methodology, IDE, code generator, etc.) that can make this fundamentally difficult problem simple.

So, IDD is not a silver bullet. It doesn't make it easy to specify complex systems or to handle conflicting requirements. However, it does allow you to clearly and consistently document why you're building the system and what each group of users is expecting from it. It also allows you to "start at the beginning" with a formal process that lets you lock down the objectives which drive the tasks, which drive the screens and actions, which, in turn, drive the data model and the scripts required to implement the requirements. In short, it tries to simplify the process of capturing requirements in a way that doesn't require a degree in computer science to understand!

How Big Is Too Big?
It is often better to build a small project to meet a limited, but valuable, business intent than to try to put your entire business online, delaying the benefits of your supplier extranet or online store, while trying to decide exactly what format your online job application form should take or how to track vacation days online. I have found that if I have more than three to five major intents for a given phase of a project, unless they are being handled by independent teams, I'm probably going to end up with problems.
Too many intents make it hard to keep the focus required for developing a great site, and they increase the likelihood that different intents will conflict, leading to a "nobody likes it, but nobody hates it" kind of compromise design. Overly ambitious projects are also much more likely to ship late or even to fail to ship at all.

This doesn't mean that you can't specify complex applications using Intent Driven Design. It does mean that you might want to break down large, complex projects into smaller projects, and run through the IDD process for each phase. My general rule-of-thumb is that, if the coding (excluding specification, testing, revisions and deployment) for a phase takes more than a couple of weeks, the phase is too big. With application generators becoming more common, there are very few collections of 10-to-20-use cases that take more than a couple of weeks to implement (assuming two-to-five-use cases per programmer over the two weeks, and a maximum team size of five developers before you need a more robust methodology).

These estimates exclude "rocket science," where you're trying to solve fundamentally hard technical problems (such as seamlessly integrating Hibernate with ColdFusion). They also exclude "lab experiments" where issues like performance or load are critical and you may need to build a couple of prototypes before you find the right approach. Such projects can take orders-of-magnitude more developer time to complete, but can still benefit from the IDD approach.

Business Intent
The first step in IDD is to write a paragraph describing the business intent. Why bother building the site? What exactly will it do for your organization? Writing down and agreeing on the business intent upfront makes many of the later decisions easier by creating a shared focus. If the intent is to increase your online sales, the job board and the HR benefits pages are not essential to that intent so they can be pushed off to phase 2.

What people (and computer systems) are going to use the site? From a requirements-gathering perspective, it is usually best to break down your audience by the collections of tasks they will want to perform (as opposed to by demographics, psychographics or other such approaches). A given user will often perform multiple roles, so you may well have users that are both customers (for buying things online) and administrators (for managing site content), or are both sales people (for accessing the sales reporting system) and employees (for accessing HR benefits online). Roles in a typical project may also include one or more classes of administrators, such as data entry, content editors, approvers and reviewers, and may also include various reporting-based roles.

Roles are not always performed by a person. To capture all of the tasks that the system needs to support, you might also have roles for scheduled tasks, imports, exports or any web services and other interfaces that you provide.

Role Intent
Once you've identified all of the roles, the next step is to document the key reasons why each role would be performed. By documenting why a customer would choose to order online, or what business information a manager is looking for from an online report, you will be able to make better design decisions regarding trade offs such as balancing ease-of-use with flexibility. Also, if there is no good reason for someone to use your website, they probably won't use it. You will only achieve your objectives from your site to the extent that you help your users get what they want out of it. Don't worry if not every role has a meaningful intent, but do go through the process as you'll capture distinctions that will help when you're working on the detailed design.

Compare your role intents with your overall business intents to make sure they are consistent. If you want to increase revenues and your customers want to place orders online 24/7, supporting that intent will meet their needs and yours. However, if your customers want to be able to find the lowest cost supplier, that is probably not an intent you want to support within your site as it is unlikely to help you increase your sales.
For a medium-sized e-commerce system, you can probably document the business intent, roles and role intents on just two or three sheets of paper. Indeed, with a small team (one to five developers), if you have much more than three sheets of intents, you will probably find it hard to deliver a system that can achieve them in a timely manner.

Essential Tasks
Once you have a list of roles and their associated intents, the next step is to figure out what functionality your system must provide to help achieve your business intent by helping your users achieve their goals.

A task is just another name for what most programmers would call a "use case." We've found that by calling it a task, our non-technical clients grasp the concept more easily. A task is a series of screens and actions that allow a user to achieve a valued outcome. Examples might be "order products online," "check order status" or "compose email newsletter." The specification for each task should include any alternate paths (along with their screens and actions) for different choices and for handling error conditions.

Now, instead of having the usual "wouldn't it be cool if the site could . . ." discussions, you can come up with a much more focused list of tasks by asking what exact tasks the site must support to allow each of the roles to achieve their intents, and in a way that helps the organization get what it wants from the site. I tend to focus on essential tasks (as opposed to "nice to haves") as I prefer to deliver the absolute minimum amount of software required to meet a useful set of business and role intents. If you want, you can add "nice to have" tasks depending on the time and budget constraints on your projects, but classify your tasks into essential, useful and optional so that you can deliver the most important functionality first.

More Stories By Peter Bell

Peter Bell is CEO/CTO of SystemsForge (http://ww.systemsforge.com) and helps Web designers to increase their profits and build a residual income by generating custom web applications - in minutes, not months. An experienced entrepreneur and software architect with fifteen years of business experience, he lectures and blogs extensively on application generation and ColdFusion design patterns (http://www.pbell.com).

Comments (2) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.

Most Recent Comments
Peter Bell 01/02/07 07:27:01 PM EST

Hi Bruce,

That is certainly one approach, although a lot of it comes down to whether your source code is a definitive reference or just something you generate. I do agree that it is important to document your intent SOMEWHERE authoritative - ideally in a place that it can be injected into anything from source code hints to documentation so your application is truly DRY.

I think you've also got to distinguish between the Design Marker pattern which is primarily your technical design intent and higher level business intents that the technical decisions derive from.

Bruce Wallace 12/09/06 12:13:40 PM EST

Recording Intentions in source code is an important aspect of your topic. See the following articles describing the Design Marker technique.

@ThingsExpo Stories
Explosive growth in connected devices. Enormous amounts of data for collection and analysis. Critical use of data for split-second decision making and actionable information. All three are factors in making the Internet of Things a reality. Yet, any one factor would have an IT organization pondering its infrastructure strategy. How should your organization enhance its IT framework to enable an Internet of Things implementation? In his session at @ThingsExpo, James Kirkland, Red Hat's Chief Archi...
In his general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Manish Dixit, VP of Product and Engineering at Dice, discussed how Dice leverages data insights and tools to help both tech professionals and recruiters better understand how skills relate to each other and which skills are in high demand using interactive visualizations and salary indicator tools to maximize earning potential. Manish Dixit is VP of Product and Engineering at Dice. As the leader of the Product, Engineering and Data Sciences team at D...
Personalization has long been the holy grail of marketing. Simply stated, communicate the most relevant offer to the right person and you will increase sales. To achieve this, you must understand the individual. Consequently, digital marketers developed many ways to gather and leverage customer information to deliver targeted experiences. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Lou Casal, Founder and Principal Consultant at Practicala, discussed how the Internet of Things (IoT) has accelerated our abilit...
Organizations planning enterprise data center consolidation and modernization projects are faced with a challenging, costly reality. Requirements to deploy modern, cloud-native applications simultaneously with traditional client/server applications are almost impossible to achieve with hardware-centric enterprise infrastructure. Compute and network infrastructure are fast moving down a software-defined path, but storage has been a laggard. Until now.
Digital Transformation is much more than a buzzword. The radical shift to digital mechanisms for almost every process is evident across all industries and verticals. This is often especially true in financial services, where the legacy environment is many times unable to keep up with the rapidly shifting demands of the consumer. The constant pressure to provide complete, omnichannel delivery of customer-facing solutions to meet both regulatory and customer demands is putting enormous pressure on...
The best way to leverage your CloudEXPO | DXWorldEXPO presence as a sponsor and exhibitor is to plan your news announcements around our events. The press covering CloudEXPO | DXWorldEXPO will have access to these releases and will amplify your news announcements. More than two dozen Cloud companies either set deals at our shows or have announced their mergers and acquisitions at CloudEXPO. Product announcements during our show provide your company with the most reach through our targeted audienc...
JETRO showcased Japan Digital Transformation Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo® at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. The Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) is a non-profit organization that provides business support services to companies expanding to Japan. With the support of JETRO's dedicated staff, clients can incorporate their business; receive visa, immigration, and HR support; find dedicated office space; identify local government subsidies; get...
@DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo, taking place November 12-13 in New York City, NY, is co-located with 22nd international CloudEXPO | first international DXWorldEXPO and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world.
DXWorldEXPO LLC announced today that ICC-USA, a computer systems integrator and server manufacturing company focused on developing products and product appliances, will exhibit at the 22nd International CloudEXPO | DXWorldEXPO. DXWordEXPO New York 2018, colocated with CloudEXPO New York 2018 will be held November 11-13, 2018, in New York City. ICC is a computer systems integrator and server manufacturing company focused on developing products and product appliances to meet a wide range of ...
DXWorldEXPO LLC announced today that the upcoming DXWorldEXPO | CloudEXPO New York event will feature 10 companies from Poland to participate at the "Poland Digital Transformation Pavilion" on November 12-13, 2018.
22nd International Cloud Expo, taking place June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and co-located with the 1st DXWorld Expo will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud ...
In his keynote at 19th Cloud Expo, Sheng Liang, co-founder and CEO of Rancher Labs, discussed the technological advances and new business opportunities created by the rapid adoption of containers. With the success of Amazon Web Services (AWS) and various open source technologies used to build private clouds, cloud computing has become an essential component of IT strategy. However, users continue to face challenges in implementing clouds, as older technologies evolve and newer ones like Docker c...
Business professionals no longer wonder if they'll migrate to the cloud; it's now a matter of when. The cloud environment has proved to be a major force in transitioning to an agile business model that enables quick decisions and fast implementation that solidify customer relationships. And when the cloud is combined with the power of cognitive computing, it drives innovation and transformation that achieves astounding competitive advantage.
Cloud-enabled transformation has evolved from cost saving measure to business innovation strategy -- one that combines the cloud with cognitive capabilities to drive market disruption. Learn how you can achieve the insight and agility you need to gain a competitive advantage. Industry-acclaimed CTO and cloud expert, Shankar Kalyana presents. Only the most exceptional IBMers are appointed with the rare distinction of IBM Fellow, the highest technical honor in the company. Shankar has also receive...
Michael Maximilien, better known as max or Dr. Max, is a computer scientist with IBM. At IBM Research Triangle Park, he was a principal engineer for the worldwide industry point-of-sale standard: JavaPOS. At IBM Research, some highlights include pioneering research on semantic Web services, mashups, and cloud computing, and platform-as-a-service. He joined the IBM Cloud Labs in 2014 and works closely with Pivotal Inc., to help make the Cloud Found the best PaaS.
In his Opening Keynote at 21st Cloud Expo, John Considine, General Manager of IBM Cloud Infrastructure, led attendees through the exciting evolution of the cloud. He looked at this major disruption from the perspective of technology, business models, and what this means for enterprises of all sizes. John Considine is General Manager of Cloud Infrastructure Services at IBM. In that role he is responsible for leading IBM’s public cloud infrastructure including strategy, development, and offering m...
DXWorldEXPO LLC announced today that All in Mobile, a mobile app development company from Poland, will exhibit at the 22nd International CloudEXPO | DXWorldEXPO. All In Mobile is a mobile app development company from Poland. Since 2014, they maintain passion for developing mobile applications for enterprises and startups worldwide.
We are seeing a major migration of enterprises applications to the cloud. As cloud and business use of real time applications accelerate, legacy networks are no longer able to architecturally support cloud adoption and deliver the performance and security required by highly distributed enterprises. These outdated solutions have become more costly and complicated to implement, install, manage, and maintain.SD-WAN offers unlimited capabilities for accessing the benefits of the cloud and Internet. ...
Headquartered in Plainsboro, NJ, Synametrics Technologies has provided IT professionals and computer systems developers since 1997. Based on the success of their initial product offerings (WinSQL and DeltaCopy), the company continues to create and hone innovative products that help its customers get more from their computer applications, databases and infrastructure. To date, over one million users around the world have chosen Synametrics solutions to help power their accelerated business or per...
Dion Hinchcliffe is an internationally recognized digital expert, bestselling book author, frequent keynote speaker, analyst, futurist, and transformation expert based in Washington, DC. He is currently Chief Strategy Officer at the industry-leading digital strategy and online community solutions firm, 7Summits.