Lost in translation: The telephone game and model-based systems engineering
The telephone game
Remember the party game, "telephone," that was played across the world under a variety of similar names? Someone starts off whispering a phrase in the next person's ear, who whispers it in the next person's, until, at the end, the original message is usually completely garbled.
Lost in translations: Strong vodka, putrid meat
Or consider this (apparently apocryphal) story about machine translation: The starting text was "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." The program translated it into Russian, and then back into English. The result was "the vodka is strong, but the meat is rotten."
Similar issues in systems engineering
We face similar problems in system and software development, both with things such as configuration and change management across disparate domains and with a paper-based engineering processes. How often do errors occur because errors were propagated throughout the development lifecycle, undetected, or through misunderstood communication in translating from one mode of representation to another?
Sometimes, the translation from one representation can actually be helpful. For example, every time I taught a course on the Rational Unified Process and we did an exercise moving from a textual representation of a use case to activity or sequence diagrams and then to class diagrams, we uncovered inconsistencies and gaps or areas where the original intent of the requirement was not clear. Thus, we uncovered errors early in the development process. This pattern also continued as I was consulting with clients, and it is encapsulated in the Rational Best Practice Library
Model as design: One source of truth in MBSE
Last October, I saw Brian Wells, VP of Engineering at Raytheon, give a talk at an INCOSE Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) workshop in the Boston area. His talk raised issues similar to the ones I’ve noted, so I thought it would be great if we could do a webcast and, hopefully, give his ideas a broader audience. He has graciously agreed to do a webcast on March 15th, co-sponsored by IBM and Dr. Dobbs' Journal. Brain will talk about the challenges and benefits of MBSE. It's free, and you can register here, so you'll get a reminder. Please join us.
About the author
Brian Nolan is the Go to Market Manager for Aerospace and Defense for Rational Systems Marketing, He was. the regional practice lead for the Rational Unified Process for Systems Engineering, and the editor and co-writer of an IBM Redbook, Model Driven Systems Development with Rational Products. He has consulted and worked for aerospace &defense, telecommunications, and insurance companies. Brian has a Ph.D. degree in the classics from Ohio State University, and in his spare time is working on becoming an artist.