John Hodge

Why live diagramming makes everyone uncomfortable

Why live diagramming makes everyone uncomfortable.

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Back in the days of working in the office, it was common to whiteboard out logic flows, but working from home disrupted this a little.

So, during the pandemic, I’ve gotten pretty used to using online diagramming tools and will likely take this tech with me back to the office when the time comes.

Here are a few reasons why I’m such a fan of live diagramming with these tools.

They force everyone to be on the same page

Discussing data flow verbally usually relies on everyone imagining the same thing, which rarely ever happens. Live diagramming completely removes this from being possible. Assuming everyone’s paying attention.

I had a call with a major programmer company and an MVPD in my last week at Freewheel and I broke out the LucidChart to step through how their integration should look. After about five minutes, one of the MVPD team members and I had worked through the first few steps of the integration. Then, one of the people from the programmer chimed in and said “hang on, this is wrong, our system isn’t going to call your system at this point, we’re going through Wurl first.”

No one on the call had any idea of this, and that one statement changed the direction of the rest of the call.

It makes the next steps crystal clear

By the time we had gotten to the end of our call with the programmer and the MVPD, all 25 people on the call had a consistent understanding of the integration and we know what the next steps were.

On a call like that, there were representatives from the ad serving company, consultants working with the programmer, ad-ops from the MVPD, sales, and account management from all sides. Getting everyone to arrive at a shared understanding of the integration is beyond challenging.

Accomplishing that will make any gaps in the current system so obvious that everyone will think “alright, so we just need to handle these sections of the integration, let’s divide and conquer.”

It gives us an easy to share drawing from the conversation

Taking pictures of whiteboards sucks. They get lost, lose context, and can’t be easily updated. Online tools make it so easy to add diagrams to shared wiki spaces and give permissions to edit the diagram for collaboration across teams.

So, I’m a pretty big fan of live diagramming, but why does it seem to make so many people uncomfortable?

Fear of looking stupid

First of all, it only makes people uncomfortable at first, and one thing that takes some getting used to is handling this feeling that we need to know everything.

Live diagramming makes misunderstandings obvious, and that can make people uncomfortable. Interestingly, this happens to everyone, not just the person diagramming.

I’m totally happy to diagram a workflow and have very little idea what I’m doing. I even say things like, “I think this is how this area works, and I have no clue what’s going on over here”. I think this helps ease the feeling that saying “I don’t know” is a bad thing because eventually, someone else speaks up.

I bet after watching me stumble through a diagram they eventually think, “alright, well I know more than this guy, so maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if I spoke up”.

Fear of time wasted

I’ve navigated to LucidChart and had people react as though this was going to take forever. Spoiler, it takes 5 minutes if everyone’s on the same page, and 30 minutes if we’re not.

Spending 30 minutes to get aligned today is better than spending two days clearing up confusion after a month of fragmented effort.

Privacy concerns

It can seem precarious to share enough information to build a diagram if two organizations are working together who don’t want all of their information in writing. This is fine, being somewhat vague on aspects of the diagram is normal.

I’ve often said something like, “Okay, so this request gets sent over to this ecosystem where some stuff happens that returns a response containing this information that our team will work with”.

In many cases, that’s more than enough to get some general specifics about what’s happening throughout a system of integrations.

I hope that we can accept that everyone on the call isn’t going to know everything and that we all bring some portion of the story to the table.

We can keep the diagram specific in areas where all parties are deeply involved and vague when we need to be broadly aware of something else but don’t need the specifics. This approach can help keep the team comfortable not knowing everything, and key stakeholders keeping some information private.