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Visual Models Are Not Just for Software Requirements: Using RML® Models to Organize Personal Life Decisions

My husband and I have just started to look for a house to buy and I wanted to see how the RML models that we use for clients and projects would apply to a personal scenario like buying a house.

The first thing I had to decide when starting my house buying “project” was what type of models would be most useful for this endeavor. According to Visual Models for Software Requirements (Beatty, Chen 2012), there are four categories of models in RML: Objectives, People, Systems, and Data (OPSD). Of those, the objectives models seemed most likely to suit my purposes, since there are not many systems or much data involved in this house buying process.

Of the objectives models, I decided to start with the model that should be used in almost every project, the Business Objectives Model. The Business Objectives Model clearly spells out why I’m looking for a home and what some of the overarching considerations or “features” are that will influence my decision. All of my decisions on which features to keep/cut should be based on how well they meet my stated high-level features and business objectives. The Business Objectives Model is shown below.

This Business Objectives Model shows many of the problems that my husband and I currently have in living in an apartment and some of the objectives we would like to achieve by buying a house. Additionally, I’ve added some success metrics (SM) by which our home-buying success will be measured. Unlike many business projects, home buying is an extremely subjective experience, in that we could meet all of the business objectives and success metrics and be unhappy with our choice or not meet any of them and love our house. So, while I’ve included measureable business objectives and success metrics for this project, they are not the end all in the home-buying experience because of the emotional factors.

After creating the Business Objectives Model, I sat down and brainstormed all of the features that we’d like to have in our dream home. For now, we just listed almost everything we would want in a house; later I organized that into the Feature Tree seen below (click on image to enlarge,) categorized by the high-level features in the Business Objectives Model.

With the features all down on paper, I made a checklist of all the features we wanted, noting which ones would be deal breakers (those features that if the house didn’t have, like “passing home and foundation inspections,” we wouldn’t be able to easily fix and thus, we should move on). However, even with the deal breakers noted, I didn’t have any way to compare the other features quantitatively so that I could get a “number” for each house and make an informed decision based on how much renovation work or changes we would have to make before the house would be our dream house.  

To start to rectify this, I created an Objective Chain, where many of the features led back to “Increases Equity,” part of Business Objective 3. Many of our features add to the value or cost of the house but can be modified if need be (such as a large kitchen or bathroom), thus I could estimate an “increased cost” of the house if it did not have the features I desired. The Objective Chain with many of the features is given below (click image to enlarge):


With these baseline numbers (they are estimates to give an apples-to-apples comparison rather than hard numbers for actual cost), I can compare each house as I tour it with the final cost per square foot, where the cost will be the price of the house plus any cost of missing features divided by the square footage of the house. With those numbers, I can compare the houses side-by-side to see which ones give me the most features for the least cost to meet the product concept from the Business Objectives Model.

These models give me objective measures to compare all the houses I’m going to visit, as I narrow down the list of possible houses subjective matters will come more and more into play. I will use the checklist and these models and after my home buying project is completed, I will write again about the lessons learned and how well these models worked for me!

To be continued…

5 Responses to Visual Models Are Not Just for Software Requirements: Using RML® Models to Organize Personal Life Decisions

  1. chaminda July 30, 2012 at 6:38 pm #

    Great article.

    It would be really useful if you were to include the page references from actual book to the article.

    I am not following the 3 diagram in the article how that would apply to the scenario.

  2. Candase Hokanson August 1, 2012 at 10:00 am #

    Hi Chaminda,
    Thanks for commenting!

    First, the three models are covered in three chapters of Visual Models for Software Requirements:
    -Business Objectives Models- Ch 3, pg 23
    -Objective Chains- Ch 4, pg 43
    -Feature Trees- Ch 6, pg 73

    As for how the diagrams relate to one another and to our home buying experience. When I first thought about doing this, the first model that came to mind was the Feature Tree as that was the easiest way to organize everything we wanted in a house. However, it doesn’t give any weight to the features for which ones are deal breakers, or how to compare houses that may or may not have all the same features.

    That is where the Objective Chain comes in; it is, at its essence, simply a way for me to give monetary values to each house as we assess. This way we don’t pay $400K for a house with all the desired features when we could pay $300K plus $25K for renovations and also have all of the features.

    Finally, I used the Business Objectives Model to really get at the “business” or monetary reasons we were looking to buy a house. Obviously, there is the desire to buy a house to own something, to have a place to raise children, so on and so forth; but, I also wanted to document the fiscal reasons for owning a house and why it might be a good “business” decision.

    So that is the rationale for those three models. I may try to incorporate other models as we go along, but, for now, these three models give a good understanding of what we are looking for in a house, how to compare houses with differing features and why we are even looking to buy a house instead of continuing to rent.

    I hope that helps clarify things!

  3. chaminda August 3, 2012 at 4:32 pm #

    Thank you Candase! I appreciate for putting things on the right perspective. I love you example so much as I am also in the same shoe looking for a new place to live. Your example is really eye opener and now I am starting to think in Visual models with the help of your book references pages.


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