Function Palette

Problem Addressed

As illustrated by the LMS Change Checklist, the area of library or institutional activity or the user experience targeted for service development can be composed of a considerable variety of functional elements. A crucial challenge is to determine an initial sense of what is in and out of scope – for example, what is meant by ‘Reading List Management’ or a ‘Library Management System’.

Method Proposed

The function palette is deliberately a blank piece of paper (i.e. a palette). At its most sophisticated it might contain a square to represent the scoping boundary, though experience suggests it is best to draw the boundary at the end.

The method, which is recommended as a group exercise, is sequenced as follows, but will inevitably be highly iterative. Allow no more than 30 minutes for a first cut and welcome confusion and disagreement!

  • Step 1 – Give the target ‘problem space’ a name and perhaps write a sentence about it
  • Step 2 – Make a list of functions to be considered under that heading, ideally no more than 10 in total; these might be drawn from the 150+ listed in our Checklist (take a look if only to discount them) or you can make up your own
  • Step 3 – Organise the functions on the palette around some central action or concept (which might be the name you decided in Step 1)
  • Step 4 – Join them up where applicable and consider describing the connections (e.g. based on the data the flows); you will probably end up adding or removing functions as you do this, but be careful not to start exploding the diagram into subsidiary detail
  • Step 5 – Consider the boundary, whether anything is our of scope (for example, the systems consuming a service you are providing based)
  • Step 6 – Draw a better version because you first shot(s) will be a mess! In so doing improve the function names (e.g. make them Verb Noun pairs such as ‘Burn Books’ and perhaps add the names of lead actors where applicable)

The objective of the method is therefore to identify and define the focus for any subsequent work. This will be helpful whether you are adding a new subsystem (such as a reading list), developing workflows (such as e-acquisitions), considering a shared service (like KB+) or even procuring a good old-fashioned LMS!

Here is how we started at Wolverhampton on the subject of resolving access enquiries …

Illustration of Functional Palette

Examples of Use

This method is used or referenced in the following LMS Change Case Studies

Other References

This method is based on one of the starting points recommended in structured analysis methods such as SSADM (Context Level Data Flow Diagram) and UML (Use Case Diagram)

Wikipedia asserts “it is common practice to draw the context-level data flow diagram first, which shows the interaction between the system and external agents which act as data sources and data sinks. The context diagram shows the entire system as a single process, and gives no clues as to its internal organization.”

Here is an example of style – of which many variants are readily available in Google images.

Functional Palette - Image 2