Unified Modeling Language (UML) is a language in every way. UML is a way to show complicated ideas in a visual way. It takes the guesswork out of technical illustrations and shows design elements in a clear way. Use UML in your diagrams if you want to improve your technical communication skills a lot.
Communication is the key to success in everything you do. This is especially true in business, where time is often very expensive and in short supply. Communication is a big part of technology projects, and being able to explain complicated ideas clearly is important for success. Diagrams and pictures are used to show a lot of information with a small number of objects.
Most people know the old saying “A picture is worth a thousand words,” but in the business world today, some diagrams lead to “a thousand questions.” Diagrams that are hard to understand and confusing waste time, cause mistakes, and can even mislead.
In the complicated world of software development, the unified modeling language was made to set up a set of common notations that would make it easier for different development teams and stakeholders to understand each other’s work.
What does Unified Modeling Language (UML) stand for?
The Object Management Group (OMG) UML specification calls it “a standard way to write a system’s blueprints.” Physical engineers use standard diagramming languages to show a building’s structure, plumbing, and wiring, and software engineers use UML. It is a standard set of pictures that can be used to show a system design in a way that is clear and easy to understand.
UML is a set of graphic notations and a common language that can be used in the field of software engineering. Its goal is to help teams show how complex systems work without requiring the reader to have special or tribal knowledge.
Why do I need to use UML?
UML is useful for many reasons, and teams should think about it no matter what their methods and practices are. UML can help you talk to each other if you need to.
UML is a standard way to show how complicated ideas work. UML is the current standard for programming in object-oriented languages set by the Object Management Group (OMG), and it is widely understood as a standard. This makes it easy for a new programmer to join a project and start working on it right away. When you use a standard modeling approach, you don’t have to guess what technical documentation means. In UML, an arrow on a diagram means something very specific, and the person looking at the diagram will be able to figure out what that arrow means.
A UML diagram is helpful because it is easy to read and shows how to explain complicated ideas quickly.
Some people would say that the code is the only real source of information about the system. While the code is the only true source of information, using it as documentation has some problems. First, it’s not reasonable to think that someone will read all of the code to figure out how the system works. This would take a lot of time and specialized knowledge. Scanning the codebase is also a very inefficient process, and it’s easy to miss big parts of how the system works. Second, the source code only describes part of the system. It doesn’t say anything about how it works when it’s running. Third, only people who are good at that language can understand the source code. Complex systems are often multilingual, which means that you need to know more than one language and technology to understand the codebase.
How often have you looked at a diagram and seen an arrow and wondered what it meant? Even if something was shown in one diagram, an arrow in the next diagram often showed something else. On one page, an arrow is pointed in the direction of the flow of information. On the next page, it pointed to a reference. Then, the third diagram, it showed a connection between two things. Each of these diagrams had to be explained, and they couldn’t be understood without help. When diagramming ideas, UML lets everyone use the same visual language. No explanation is needed, and all of your documents will look the same.
Confidence of Stakeholders
Many stakeholders don’t know much about how things work. As a way to show the structure and behavior of complex systems visually, UML makes it easy for people with different levels of technical knowledge to understand. When project stakeholders see UML, they know that the project team is following accepted standards and practices. It’s clear that the technical team isn’t just “winging it” or “putting something together.” UML diagrams show that the technical team has been trained and is following standards that have been tested.
UML has been used successfully for many years to help technical and non-technical project members talk to each other. When teams use UML, stakeholders are more likely to trust them because they understand the technical details of the project better. Most CTOs will be able to figure out what UML diagrams mean just by looking at them. Project managers don’t need to be trained much to understand UML sequence diagrams. And because UML is a standard, what they learn on one project will help them with other technical projects they work on.
Admit it. When you see clip art in a document, you immediately think less of what the author is trying to say. When people look at your diagrams and see the same old Visio shapes or simple box and line diagrams, they feel the same way. Not only does know and using UML help you communicate better, but it also gives your reader the impression that you are a professional.
No matter what programming language is used, UML can be used to describe designs. It can also be used in operations, just like it can be used in programming. No matter what cloud platform is being used, UML helps describe the architecture and design of the cloud.
Most of the time, vendors make their own visual languages for their products. Google and Azure diagrams look different than Amazon diagrams. It’s almost like the marketing departments of these platforms made their own diagramming languages to help with branding more than with functionality. The result is mostly just a bunch of icons and logos connected by lines that don’t say much. That might work well for slide decks, but it doesn’t have nearly as much information as UML.
For example, you can make a Deployment Diagram that can be used on any of the cloud platforms. This means you can design a system without affecting the choice of technologies until you’ve done a proper trade-off analysis. This is important because the way a system is shown can affect technical decisions in a bad way.
Everyone can use UML to focus on the design instead of the technology
Planning and Making Models
UML helps you plan out a program before you start writing it. Some tools can turn a UML model into code in a number of different languages. Even though this needs fairly detailed class models, it can help reduce the amount of work that needs to be done when a system starts up. UML models are easy to change and can be used to rewrite a section of code, while reprogramming can be hard, take a long time, and lead to mistakes. Some tools can also read code and make UML models, which lets code be written and changed in both directions. I worked on a project that took C++ code and turned it into a Java project. This saved months of work porting the code.
The UML standard has been around for a long time, and you can pick up a UML diagram from 20 years ago and understand it completely. It’s not necessary for the author to explain what the boxes mean and how to read the lines.
To get the most out of UML, you need software
UML is a visual language, and whenever a diagram is needed, UML makes sure that the words used are always the same. UML notation can be used whenever you make a diagram. To make UML diagrams online, you don’t have to use the software. Most of the UML I’ve used has been on whiteboards or paper. No software was needed to make the complicated ideas in those meetings easy to understand.
Only Object-Oriented Design Uses UML
Even though UML has changed over time to model object-oriented systems, its current specifications allow it to be extended in ways that make it useful for designing almost any kind of system.
When experienced software developers talk about UML, they usually say it is a tool for object-oriented analysis and design (OOAD). UML has been used a lot to support OOAD, which is true, but it also has features that make it useful in other practices and ways of making software.
People often think that the Unified Modeling Language is a return to waterfall methods and big design upfront. The truth is that UML is a standard way to show how complex systems work visually, so that everyone can focus on the design instead of how to read the diagram. The following are some of the benefits of UML:
- The standard way to show how complicated systems work
- Improves communication
- Easy to learn (use only what you need)
- Not dependent on technology
- Generally known
There are many great ways to start learning UML, and you can start making diagrams that are easier to read and understand in just a few minutes.