While travelling to a customer, I had the chance to see the movie 21. The movie itself wasn’t very remarkable, and was very predictable. You can see the synopsis here
The reason this movie caught my attention was the predictability of it, you could from the beginning see where it was heading, what would be the major turning points and what would be the end. This reminded of a stencil for a movie where you just have to put in the names, the area and some plot elements.
Some tasks in system engineering can be seen as stencils as well: take a design, change some of the processing elements, change the titles and voila you have a suitable design for a new system.
There are many good reasons why to work this way: predictability, proven solution. In a sense its like code reuse.
The drawbacks of this method are a few, but very significant:
- rigidness of the solution: simply because the problem is similar to the problem before, there might be a hidden requirement that will make the old stencil not suitable for this task
- lack of innovation: there might me an alternative solution, more suitable for this problem.
- hesitation in using new technologies: there might be a new technology, with proven benefits, but it might not suite the stencil.
Just like the movie 21 had a femme fatal, the stencil can provide us with existing building blocks, we just have to take care not to fall in love with the stencil.