UML is not a design tool

Yesterday I was speaking to a chap who had just completed a 5-day UML course. He’s a manager, and I asked him why he had taken the course. “Well now I can at least read the designs people do on my projects. And hopefully I can now also do some design myself.”

I’ve heard these misconceptions many times before – that UML is either a design tool or (worse) a design process. It isn’t. It’s a notation, based on an underlying set of concepts. Knowing UML does not make one capable of design, any more than one can become a chef simply by recognising food types and kitchen utensils.

UML has become an industry in itself. I can understand the commercial forces that caused it to happen, but I can’t help feeling that the resulting situation contains more negatives than positives. Sure, vendors can ply standards-conformant consultancy, CASE tools and training courses, but far too many people think that UML brings an essentially creative and intellectual skill (by which I mean software design) into the broader world. “Knowing” UML does not de-skill analysis or design. Knowing the UML notation does not make one a designer. But not knowing that does make one dangerous.

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