Clarity is Harder than it Seems

Far too often we all talk past one another.  This cross talking, while not always drastic, remains perceived as an understood fuzziness.  Much of the time we ignore these minor miscommunications because precision and clarity are not necessarily critical in all situations.  If the general gist is effectively understood between those communicating, that generality may be all that is necessary.  Those involved in the communication may feel comfortable that assumptions made to "fill in the gaps" will fall within an acceptable range.  Although the lack of clarity in the message communicated may be acceptable, in other circumstances it may not be acceptable. 

For example, the discovery of a planned trip to the grocery store may cause a family member to ask that "some fruit" be purchased.  Left undefined in this request is what kind of fruit to purchase.  In context, it is assumed either the requestor does not care what type of fruit is acquired or the purchaser supposedly knows what type of fruit is or is not acceptable to the requestor.  Offering a more specific statement, the requestor could ask for "some apples."  Sadly, while the statement provides a more definitive request, essentially the same level of assumptions still apply since a bountiful array of apple kinds are available in markets.  Again, there may be known preferences, or perhaps there may be family default choices that dictate apple varietal purchase decisions.  If the requestor asks for "some Red Delicious apples," the request certainly becomes more definitive than any previous version.  However, the qualifier "some," actually leaves as much ambiguity as in the initial choices simply requesting "fruit."  The purchase of 10 Red Delicious apples may prove to be too many, or too few.  Assumptions only work when everyone assumes the same things.  Without discussing those assumptions, there is always the possibility that things are not in alignment between the parties involved.  In a family setting, grilling the fruit-requestor for more details in order to drive out the ambiguity may not be appropriate.  In fact, such intensity and thoroughness to clarify the request may by itself lead to home disruption.  However, family arguments are one thing; in the business world possible delays, additional costs, or lost opportunities can result if such ambiguities are not eliminated as early as possible in any new solution design process.

Organizations operate much like a derived family; and the assumptions that riddle processes and activities are likely to include even more than those within a family unit.  Due to the pervasiveness of these assumptions - over what things are, how they are meant to work, what the initial intentions were, and many other aspects - it is easy to be unaware of the many assumptions being made.  Lack of clarity is a problem for database designers trying to understand organizational activities for new or upgraded solutions.  It would be nice if ambiguity raised its voice and clearly identified itself, allowing one to know exactly which questions to ask that would remove all doubt.  Sadly, such recognition in making the fuzzy become clear is an art more than a science.  Language is naturally ambiguous and people naturally assume a lot.  Unfortunately, business users may be as ornery as family members when assumed details are reexamined in excruciating detail.  The most valuable database models are those that accurately reflect the semantics of an organization and its functions.  It is the nature of database designs that when the designs are clear, they are easier to use, they help people learn the business, and they are simpler to enhance as organizations mature.  Any potential pain in attaining an accurate database design is well worth the journey.