Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Stalking a Serial Thinker

Some people think using groups of lists (1 dimensional) , others can think in grids (2 dimensional). I ran across this phenomenon when I was in a requirements gathering session for a complex revenue accounting system. Many of the components of the system had several attributes in common. The example I'll use is a family of four (Mom, Dad, little Gary, little Jan) and their bicycles. One way to describe the bikes is list each of the separately by the owner and then their attributes. For a serial thinker (let's call them Serial Sue), it looks like this:

Owner: Mom
Type: Touring
Gears: 15
Size: 26-inch
Color: blue
Make: Trek
Model: Super-Safe Sidewalk
Wheels: street
Accessories: water bottle

Owner: Dad
Type: Hybrid
Gears: 18
Size: 28-inch
Color: black
Make: Specialized
Model: Trail-aways
Wheels: knobby
Accessories: speedometer

Owner: Gary
Type: Mountain
Gears: 24
Size: 26-inch
Color: red
Make: Specialized
Model: Porche
Wheels: knobby
Accessories: rear view mirror

Owner: Jan
Type: learning
Gears: 0
Size: 16-inch
Color: yellow
Make: Murray
Model: Princess
Wheels: street
Accessories: handlebar tassels

Notice how each bike repeated all the attribute names? No big deal right? What if you now need to add 2 more attributes to each bike, or 4, or 10? You would have a lot of editing in your future.

Don't get ahead of me here but another way to organize this data is with a grid (aka a spreadsheet) which could look like this:

Bike4 Bike3 Bike2 Bike1
Owner Jan
Dad Mom
Type learning Mountain Hybrid Touring
Gears 0 24 18 15
Size 16-inch 26-inch 28-inch 26-inch
Color yellow black red blue
Make Murray Specialized Specialized Trek
Model Princess Peaks-r-us Trail-aways Super-Safe Sidewalk
Wheels street knobby knobby street
Accessories handlebar tassels none speedometer water bottle

In this form it becomes easy to add categories and/or bikes; thus maintaining the list in an efficient manner. The problem? Describing this method to a Serial-Sue will confuse them. They'll ask, "Why go to the trouble of creating a grid, all I want is a list?" You might think that it is a simple matter of just do it they way your boss wants. That is fair but there is more to the story. When dealing with a large list of semi-related things, using categories to subdivide the items can be an enormous help in simplifying the organization and can help bring order out of the chaos.

Another clue you are dealing with a serial thinker is if you show her a grid and then have to explain it. It takes a different sort of brain. Much like how some people can't read maps well, go figure. Watch for symptoms of frustration when showing or explaining a grid of data to someone, it could be that you've botched your data, but it could also be a sign of serial thinking.

So, do you work for/with a Serial-Sue?
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  1. Kevin C.5:36 PM

    Very subtle metaphors on the bikes, especially bikes 3 and 4.

  2. Kevin C.5:37 PM

    Very subtle metaphors on the bikes, especially bikes 3 and 4.


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