What’s a metaphor?[edit]

Within the first iteration, the useful necessities sector includes us having discussions about our strategy to the enterprise downside or alternative. We do that via a system metaphor.

A metaphor is a comparability between two seemingly unrelated topics. They’re utilized in language to enliven, to encourage interpretation and to supply a car for understanding when both there are not any direct phrases for an idea or different explanataion is cumbersome. By understanding and experiencing one factor by way of one other we will present a method of exploring an idea even earlier than we’ve actually come to phrases with what it’s we’re speaking about.

Maybe probably the most well-known metaphor is Shakespeare’s opening:

All of the world’s a stage

And all of the women and men merely gamers

They’ve their exits and their entrances

— As You Like It 2/7

In unusual dialog we communicate of “pulling your socks up”, “drowning in paper”, “unfolding the street map to peace” and “my reminiscence is somewhat foggy”. The metaphor we use for one thing will be fairly informative. For instance, the phrases we use for enterprise are sometimes based mostly on a struggle metaphor: “hostile takeover”, “shedding floor”, and so forth, and these in flip have an effect on the administration of the enterprise. Ray Jackson (quoted in CEO Discussion board) makes use of classes from the navy in a dialogue of enterprise practices:

I believe it taught me that the world is all the time imperfect, and that your information base can also be imperfect. In navy operations, you by no means actually have ‘all of the information’, within the literal sense. So it teaches you to function on incomplete information: take the info you’ve, flip it into info, and work out what it’s worthwhile to do. I suppose I learnt that readability is healthier than certainty: there comes a time when you’ve sufficient info to maneuver on. If you happen to anticipate certainty it by no means arrives. The navy makes you snug with uncertainty.

The opposite factor I learnt was the necessity to not procrastinate in making selections, and to be incisive. You study a means of frequently making selections, then reviewing these selections as extra info involves mild. This has been very helpful in enterprise.

The navy additionally teaches you to rigorously handle assets. On a naval mission, as an illustration, you solely have a restricted quantity of gasoline, a restricted quantity of ammunition, and so forth. Your most essential restricted useful resource, in fact, is your individuals, so it’s worthwhile to take care of and nurture them – you possibly can’t work them to demise! The navy teaches you to all the time be very aware of your assets and how one can finest use and preserve them.

I additionally suppose you study lots about management and communication. I just like the expression ‘Individuals don’t wish to be frequently impressed, they simply wish to know what they need to do’.

Most navy individuals have a extremely aggressive, ‘we’re right here to win’ streak, in order that toughness and dedication is there. Some features of enterprise are like a battle, so these varieties of attitudes will be helpful.

One other helpful perspective is to set your targets, after which be steadfast in pursuing them come what might. The targets of struggle and enterprise are totally different, in fact. Struggle is about defeating an enemy – it’s a zero sum sport. In enterprise, then again, your goal could also be to be probably the most worthwhile firm. It’s not a purpose that includes defeating an enemy in the identical manner – it’s extra about reaching your personal targets.

(See additionally Advertising and marketing’s maneuver idea for specific – and controversial use of the navy/enterprise metaphor: “The Armory – the web useful resource for the aggressive marketer is the unique host for The Artwork of Assault – How you can Assault and Dislodge the Bigger Competitor”).

Lakoff and Johnson (1980) argue that we reside our life by metaphors.

Software program improvement: system metaphor[edit]

In software program improvement the System Metaphor has been adopted as a core observe by the agile neighborhood. Kent Beck, creator of Excessive Programming Defined defines a system metaphor as:

“a narrative that everybody – prospects, programmers, and managers – can inform about how the system works.” p. 179.

Wake argues that we search a system metaphor for a number of causes:

Frequent Imaginative and prescient: To allow everybody to agree on how the system works. The metaphor suggests the important thing construction of how the issue and the answer are perceived. This will make it simpler to grasp what the system is, in addition to what it could possibly be.

Shared Vocabulary: The metaphor helps counsel a typical system of names for objects and the relationships between them. This will change into a jargon in the perfect sense: a strong, specialised, shorthand vocabulary for specialists. Naming one thing helps provide you with energy over it.

Generativity: The analogies of a metaphor can counsel new concepts in regards to the system (each issues and options). For instance, the metaphor, “Customer support is an meeting line”. This means the thought of an issue being handed from group to group to be labored on, but it surely additionally raises the query, “What occurs when the issue will get to the top of the road – does it simply fall off?” This will convey out essential points which may in any other case lurk and fester.

Structure: The metaphor shapes the system, by figuring out key objects and suggesting features of their interfaces. It helps the static and dynamic object fashions of the system.

One other profit is Generalisability. We are able to use the metaphor to maneuver between developments: “Just like the lettuce mission, however with extra of a greywater strategy” is an actual sentence utilized in growing a brand new mission.

Selecting a metaphor takes work. Hopefully, you’ll traverse deep and wealthy floor as you come to settlement over an applicable metaphor. This an essential a part of the method and it is best to try to recognise and seize these ideas. Jefferies (2001), in an evocative description of an agent-based info retrieval system describes “this program works like a hive of bees, going out for pollen and bringing it again to the hive”. Though Jefferies doesn’t describe them, it’s possible that they tried different metaphors first. Maybe “a vacuum cleaner sucking up all information?…no there’s plenty of them and anyway the data is structured – not only a massive dustball, effectively maybe a library? no, that’s massive and static, what we wish is one thing that selectively collects info, like a fleet of recycling vans…”.

Some metaphors are used repeatedly in software program improvement. Some frequent approaches:

1. Spreadsheet Metaphor

2 Script Metaphor

three Manufacturing Metaphor (e.g. LinesStationsBinsParts or AssemblyLine)

four Accounting Metaphor (double-entry archive notation)

5 Buying Cart Metaphor (e-commerce)

6 Public sale Metaphor (e-commerce)

7 Blackboard Metaphor (ai)

eight Doc Processor (desktop programs the place the “mannequin” will get saved as a file)

9 Digital House Metaphor (eg. VR)

10 Desktop Metaphor

11 Instruments and Supplies Metaphor

12 Buttons All over the place Metaphor

13 Particular person – what would an individual employed to do that job do?

(different typically helpful metaphors: financial institution, courts, newspaper, farm, street map, police indentikit)

In circumstances the place nobody can consider an applicable metaphor (with or with out vivid imagery), the strategy is to develop a “naive metaphor”. Which means that you describe the system extra actually (a scholar administration system would have scholar and enrolment objects and so on). The drawback of that is that it isn’t actually a metaphor – you received’t acquire any deeper understanding or insights as it’s rooted in what you already know. Attempt to keep away from ‘practically computing’ metaphors – ideas equivalent to a CD rack are too near computing to be helpful.

Course of[edit]

So, what can we do with this technique metaphor? For some Agile proponents, the system metaphor kinds that foundation for a lot of the programming, the tenor and topics of the metaphor immediately translating to courses and patterns.

We take a lighter strategy. The system metaphor is primarily a instrument for dialogue right here within the useful necessities of the primary iteration. It might additionally show helpful to immediate thought within the Interplay Design of Iteration 2.

The metaphor ought to be said in easy phrases. As Ryan states: “The system is a bakery” jibes higher than “The system interprets textual content as instructions and executes them towards builders that produce resultant objects and fix assorted decorators, sorting them by way of pipes and filters to the proper bins; the person can than browse and eat them as wanted.” (C2 2006).

After you have a metaphor, the trick is to discover all of its traits, writing them down on paper or whiteboard. These concepts will circulate on to the person tales or useful necessities.

Map symbol attraction 02.png Case research Undertaking administration software program

Group: Software program Engineering 2006

For a mission to develop a mission administration and group collaboration instrument, a metaphor of a fridge door was helpful:

  • all the time there (you don’t must open it to seek out info),
  • messages to household (from one another, cellphone messages)
  • calendar (at the moment, preparations, upcoming occasions)
  • buying record
  • safety strap (to cease little chocolate stealers)
  • inspiration (“do you want that chocolate?” sticker)
  • progress charts (weight acquire/loss)
  • household cleansing/cooking roster
  • present work (particularly for youthful ones, sketches named and typically dated)
  • doc repository (music tickets, payments to pay) – apparently layered!
  • reconfigurable (info held collectively by fridge magnets)
  • instructing function (alphabet letters introducing phrases and knowledge to little ones).
  • star chart (youngsters’ behaviour administration, behaviour contract and rewards).
  • public place,
  • central place: we go previous it as a part of regular life (work)circulate (however with out it leaping out and interrupting)
  • achievements (youngsters’ college certificates)
  • images of household (selves and family/child images)
  • newspaper clippings
  • restricted house, info must be managed to keep away from loss in muddle (however that is carried out with none guidelines, design or supervisor) (notice, I did write “it does this” right here, the door itself in fact doesn’t do something besides act as a static repository, it’s the household who actively handle the data).
  • cellphone numbers (household/mates/physician’s and so on)
  • menu/cellphone quantity for pizza place

…and does all these items with out getting in manner of actual job (maintaining meals chilly – our system mustn’t get in manner of the mission being undertaken). Another metaphor for this mission was a automotive dashboard (see under), one other was a library.

For one more mission, a neighborhood based mostly surf report system for surfers, a single system metaphor proved elusive. The method, nevertheless, was very helpful. As we explored attainable system metaphors – a newspaper; a radio snow report; a college publication – the the reason why these did not work as metaphors successfully constructed an inventory of traits of our system.


hile a distinct metaphor could be higher, it’s unlikely {that a} metaphor will be fallacious, particularly in case you are utilizing it as a instrument for exploration. If you happen to realise that one other metaphor is healthier, then good, it means that you’ve made a breakthrough in your understanding.

Moderately than “fallacious” the worst final result is that the metaphor turns into a explanation for miscommunication. The next is extracted from the c2.com/xp wiki:

Ask your self, what extra acquainted issues is that this downside like? Is it actually like ordering espresso from a elaborate espresso machine? Is it actually principally like steering (tacking) a sailboat throughout a lake? driving from Toronto to Paris? (…a journey of lower than 90 minutes, since Paris is simply on the opposite facet of Brantford. — RandyMacDonald) (simply to keep away from the CanadianCulturalAssumption)

You imply Paris, Kentucky, proper? 🙂 Or maybe a polar route throughout a chilly winter…

* Whoever tried to wash this up by deleting didn’t repair the underlying downside, so I put it again. Subsequent WikiGnome: make clear the driving-from-Toronto-to-Paris problem or go away as is for now.

No, finest left! It illustrates reasonably superbly the best way delicate misunderstandings can come up. Developer-One says: “That is like driving to Paris”, which means a brief journey. Developer-Two will get a psychological picture of driving via the Chunnel from the UK to France, and considers tips on how to keep away from trains. Developer-Three (within the USA) ponders submarine automobiles. The misunderstandings right here spotlight the significance of MeaningDependsOnContext in discussions, particularly about one thing as essential because the SystemMetaphor. — BenLast

We’ve got to watch out then , to keep away from “false insights”.

Earlier than you discard a metaphor for an additional, you should definitely seize all of the traits of the primary – they are going to nonetheless be helpful within the Planning Sport. Additionally, seize the issues that lead you to make that change in metaphor. The issues fallacious with the metaphor can outline your system simply as effectively.

A metaphor must be acquainted sufficient to the group that should use it. To say that it’s “an accrual accounting system however for carbon credit” could be an ideal metaphor for the monetary accountants but when such accounting isn’t understood by the programmers, then it is going to act to confuse reasonably than enlighten.

Typically the metaphor limits understanding. The paper based mostly rows and columns spreadsheet was a powerful mannequin within the improvement of spreadsheets (!), however the conceptual leap from the paper to the actual energy of a contemporary spreadsheet is kind of massive. This results in the hazard of introducing “magic”: “it’s like a magic whiteboard”. Whereas this helpfully encompasses the entire fundamental features of a whiteboard, the actual innovation of the system is hidden behind a veneer of “magic”.

We additionally have to know when to surrender on the metaphor. The mission administration improvement described above by the fridge door metaphor was additionally described by a automotive dashboard. This labored extraordinarily effectively as a system metaphor in early levels: unobtrusive however crucial monitoring of significant indicators and so on, however turned cumbersome when used as the idea for the interface design (dials, steering wheel with leather-based trim and so forth).

Metaphors work finest once you give them probability to work. As quickly as you begin slipping again to describing traits of computing issues (safety, login in, and so on), try to elevate your pondering again to a extra summary metaphor. A method to do that is to consider the metaphor on steroids – what would a brilliant x appear like? Watch out although, as mentioned above, it’s important to extra particular than a “magic x”.

instance: dashboard[edit]

Map symbol attraction 02.png Case research Dashboard

Group: Software program Engineering 2006

The dashboard metaphor was helpful in growing concepts for a mission administration system (in reality, one to help the Agile Improvement Framework). Utilizing the acquainted idea of the automotive dashboard offering crucial info was a helpful mind-set about what info mission teams wanted to have the ability to see always; what occasions would immediate warning lights and so on. Some teams continued the metaphor for the entire improvement course of, it, bought sophisticated once we tried to combine the notion of drilling down for extra info (not a perform one would usually discover on a automotive dashboard).

Dashboard whiteboard.jpg

Map symbol attraction 02.png Case research Speaking with Leonardo

Group: Chrissie Jackson and Jonathon Ung for Otago Museum

The Leonardo Speaking Head robotic is an interactive robotic with a persona. The robotic will settle for speech and reply again. It’s designed primarily for youngsters and has the flexibility to coach customers on the works and lifetime of Leonardo.

Leonardo greets guests when somebody prompts the sensor. He has 4 essential matters that he can speak about: Artwork, Historical past, Machines and Science. This mission is along side designers who’re making the precise head.


For this mission, an actor metaphor was used:

  • Greets Audiences.
  • Play a scene
  • An actor can talks, sings, dances, and with hand signal languages
  • Convert Concepts and ideas of performs to prospects
  • Show sense of humours
  • Trend and kinds illustration
  • Have characters and roles with totally different feelings show
  • Abilities of communication with audiences in verbal, nonverbal acts.
  • He /she generally is a ethical mannequin to most people.
  • Displays the truth of life to audiences.
  • Audiences can expertise the totally different feelings includes as effectively,
  • Corresponding to concern, pleasure, peace, disappointment, anxiousness, happiness.
  • Promotes enterprise ventures.
  • Offers a imply of escape/fantasy
  • Offers leisure, know ledges, and sense of appreciation
  • Offers info to coach.
  • Actor generally is a illustration of fame.

This metaphor was helpful in serving to us perceive the system as a result of it reveals the traits we have to consider when growing the system.

Metaphor for enterprise alternative[edit]

If you’re actually caught, then a technique of constructing a naive metaphor work is to consider metaphors for the enterprise alternative (reasonably than a metaphor for the data system itself. This can be significantly helpful when the enterprise alternative itself is tough to grasp.

Map symbol attraction 02.png Case research eLivingCampus

Group: Software program Engineering 2008

The teams first developed metaphors for the entire mission:

  • Espresso cup good content material, recyclable, logos, inspirational quote,
  • Encyclopedia: shops info, index, photos, summaries, searchable, up to date often, correct, on-line and laborious copy
  • Residing organism: dynamic, inputs/outputs, circumstances, clever, feeding concepts,
  • A street map: info organised logically in keeping with what it’s worthwhile to know at a look but in addition can discover discover element, legend and key construction, cell, interprets effectively to digital (cell GPS and so on), foldable (to spotlight space of curiosity).
  • CD rack: holds plenty of info, will be sorted by person, expandable, info will be sampled,

A few of these metaphors turned out to be too near computing. The encyclopedia and the CD rack, for instance, did not actually provide a lot new perception – they describe any generic pc system.

Maybe as a result of the Residing Campus itself just isn’t one thing the scholars had encountered earlier than, we then switched tack, and thought of metaphors for the Residing Campus itself. What are the traits of acquainted companies (or establishments or processes) that could possibly be used to assist take into consideration the Residing Campus – then, what are the data wants of these metaphors?


The Residing Campus Info Infrastructure mission benefited from eager about info wants of different companies:

  • Wartime propaganda: selectively optimistic, effectively organised, sense of urgency, focused messages, fixed broadcast
  • Olympics: advanced community, many alternative wants, instantaneous integration of outcomes and different media, tailor-made for and by totally different markets, delight, aggressive, sponsors at totally different ranges, logos embedded all through
  • Advertising and marketing an organization: brand, contact particulars, descriptions of consumers, testimonials, showcases innovation, innovation wanted in getting consideration, case research
  • Depend Calendar (lengthy operating NZ farming TV programme): relevance to farming however most of viewers not farmers, academic blended with leisure, narrative, additional info, sponsorship, home type
  • Greenpeace: headline looking for however backed by proof, ethical excessive floor,
  • Constructing improvement: plans, consents, “what is going on right here?”, engineering modelling, artists’ impressions.
  • Museum: combine schooling and leisure, what’s on present, classes, should be appropriate (although notice significance of person understandings), will be boring, wayfaring, blended audiences, changeable, home type, interactive, useful employees
  • Artwork gallery: (museum +), structure, elitist, occasions, interpretive info, database, catalogue, assortment, openings, storage,
  • Zoo: feeding instances, breeding programme, animal and customer behaviour administration,college journey bookings, present outlets, conservation, fund elevating, climate, seasonal
  • A&P present: neighborhood oriented society, supported by different societies, faculties concerned, competitions, neighborhood participation, outdoor (some exhibit halls), climate contingency, occasion, showcases neighborhood, animals and crops, enterprise stalls, one thing for everybody, advertising and marketing, localised however regional and nationwide constructions, distinctive characters, interactive, committee constructions,


http://c2.com/xp/SystemMetaphor.html final up to date 15/2/2006 Seen 24/7/6
Jackman, R. (2006) Is enterprise struggle? What navy affairs can (and may’t) educate CEOs http://www.ceoforum.com.au/200206_ceoinsight.cfm Seen 21/7/6
Jefferies, R. (2001) What’s eXtreme Programming http://www.xprogramming.com/xpmag/whatisxp.htm seen 21/7/6
Lakoff G. & Johnson, M. (1980) Metaphors We Dwell By http://theliterarylink.com/metaphors.html
Wake, W. (2000) System Metaphor http://www.xp123.com/xplor/xp0004/index.shtml seen 21/7/6
Wake, W. (2000) Confirmed system metaphors http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?ProvenSystemMetaphors seen 21/7/6

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *