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I was asked to prepare an overview of an existing IT architechture and provide a document that consists of weaknesses analysis and suggestions on how each of the weak spots can be improved.

How to make this document simple to read, not overloaded and specific at the same time? Is there a template I can use for this kind of documentation?

Also, should I provide a description of how a specific segment in the system currently works before I put explanation about what should be changed?

Thank you

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    Welcome to Writing.SE! You mention that you are supposed to provide an overview: does that mean you are supposed to create a PowerPoint slide or presentation? Or are you otherwise bound to certain tools, such as Word or LaTex? This would be especially important for templates of any kind. Is there a time/word limit? As a first tip: someone in your company might have a styleguide of sorts that you can look up or a sample presentation. If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Feb 5 '18 at 16:14
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    You said an overview and a weaknesses document - this makes it 2 documents, right? I don't think you need to repeat 1st document inside the 2nd. – Alexander Feb 5 '18 at 18:35
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I've done this sort of thing as part of evaluating technologies. It's usually cast as an evaluation, covering both benefits and weaknesses, rather than just weaknesses. I suggest getting clarification on whether to address benefits too.

The purpose of such a document is to help people make informed decisions about technologies or designs they don't fully understand. In my case, the decision-makers were product managers and business people, guided by engineers and other interested people. Your audience needs to understand the issues well enough to make decisions and doesn't care about the gory details. They care about impacts, not implementation.

You do something similar, though less formally, when you're considering major purchases. You probably don't know a lot about how your furnace works, but if you're not getting enough heat and a technician suggests that you could fix that by replacing your heat exchanger, you want to know enough about what that change would mean. (Maybe you're instead considering just buying some space heaters at a fraction of the capital cost.) In your case, your readers are people like you, making decisions about systems that they don't know all the details of. They need enough information to make an informed decision; they don't care about all the nitty-gritty details.

So, all that said, here's a typical structure for such documents in my experience. (I'm not aware of a specific template that's widely used.)

  • General overview: a page or less on where you are now and what key factors need to be considered in an evaluation. Key factors might be things like security, standards compliance, compatibility, and maintainability. (If you were also evaluating alternate solutions, that would be covered here too. You don't seem to be asking about this kind of evaluation, sometimes called a trade study, so I'll omit it from the rest of this answer.)

  • One section per factor. For each:

    • Describe the issue: why do we care?
    • Describe your current architecture; why does this problem exist?
    • Pros and cons of the current approach (two separate lists). Unless your problem is very complex, you should be able to cover each entry in a reasonably-sized bullet point. If you can do it briefly, you can include how you would mitigate cons.
    • Recommendations: for this issue only, what do you recommend changing? Or if the current architecture addresses this issue just fine, say that.
  • Summary and recommendations: you've already made recommendations for each issue; this is where you pull them all together (at a higher level) for your readers. They need to read the rest, but when they meet with the other stakeholders to make their decision, this last section is what they're going to be working from.

Here's a sketch of an example (omitting the final summary section):

Evaluation of Flux CapacitorTM Architecture

Our Flux Capacitor v. 1.0 has been in production for a year. Feedback from customers and the industry has generally been positive, but key customers have raised some concerns and we have identified some issues in internal testing that would require architectural changes to address. These issues include: (list goes here)

  1. Activation Difficulties

The Flux Capacitor 1.0 is activated by engaging the control while traveling at exactly 88 MPH. (See next section for hardware dependencies and Delorean availability.) Many of our customers, particularly in the US, have raised concerns about legal and financial consequences.

The Flux Capacitor design depends on a configurable quantum harmonic frequency. The current value is 88; other possible values include 44, 22, and 176. Quantum harmonic frequencies are limited by the laws of physics and we can't choose a more convenient value like 65.

Pros:

  • A speed of 88 MPH is achievable by all vehicular platforms under consideration. (Footnote: We previously abandoned consideration of low-power conveyances like Segways.)

  • A speed of 88 MPH is high enough to make accidental engagement very unlikely. We have had only one report of such an accident, which occurred on the Autobahn.

  • ...

Cons:

  • 88 MPH is above the legal speed limit for most of our customers. We could mitigate this by speeding up the activation window so that law-enforcement officers are less likely to notice the speeding quickly enough to obtain a license number.

  • We are having difficulty selling to elderly customers who prefer more moderate speeds.

  • ...

Recommendations: Investigate using a quantum harmonic frequency of 44 MPH and adding safety features to prevent accidental engagement. This allows our users to comply with local laws and reaches the elderly market. The change would still allow the unit to fit in most of the platforms currently under consideration; it would not, however, fit in the Miata. We would need to design and user-test safety controls to prevent negative consequences from a trip down the interstate. This is a large-scale change requiring approximately $2M in engineering effort.

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In case you are starting from scratch and are free to choose whichever form you like you should have a look at the excellent answer from Monica Cellio.

But: in case you are in an established company there is a good chance that you may not have to come up with your own formatting rules.

Most companies that have done this kind of process a few times will have some sort of styleguides or rules for how to write a recommendation. There are lots of things that may have to be considered:

  • Which technology is used to present the recommendation?
    • PowerPoint as a short management summary, maybe in addition to a longer text
    • Word
    • LaTex
    • ...
  • What structure should the recommendation have?
    • While there are general rules about how this can be done (again, take a look at Monicas answer) a company can choose to go a different path - and if your manager has read a dozen recommendations before, always with the same general layout, then you will want to make it easier for him to find what he is looking for.
    • There can also be regulatory requirements, depending on which sector your company is in - if it's highly regulated chances are the documentation is supposed to be usable as documentation for adhering to the process in addition to the documenting your recommendation. For example your company may be forced to evaluate at least three different alternatives - in such cases there may be styleguides that are necessary for example for make-or-buy decisions.
  • How long can and should it be?
    • A company-wide styleguide will give you recommendations on the preferred length of certain parts. Maybe your exposition can't be longer than one page. Or maybe you need to have at least a page talking about Pro and Con.
    • By looking at previous examples you can get a feeling for what works and what doesn't work. Does a lengthy documentation equal a good chance to get funding for example?

The most important thing when writing a recommendation is to ask your coworkers whether they know of such styleguides and examples - because your text can be perfect, if it doesn't adhere to the companies guidelines it won't be well received.

The above are some points that you should keep in mind and that you can ask about. Maybe you can't find a complete document, but you found management presentations with summary slides. Take a look at how they are designed and decide whether it might be a good idea to take those as an example. For example are you doing comparisons simply by listing them underneath one another? Or are you putting the Pro on the left side and the Con on the right side? Or do you compare two products like "Product 1 is cheap - Product 2 is expensive" with the next line being "Product 1 offers three of four requested features - Product 2 offers four of four requested features"?

When doing a weakness analysis, does your company prefer a small overview slide/page, followed by one page per weakness and then going to the "recommendations" to talk about strategies for mitigating all weaknesses together? Or does your company prefer to tackle on issue at the time and want you to give the weakness directly followed by specific "recommendations" on how to mitigate the risk?

Finally a lot of "How would I do it?" depends on how much time you have. If it's a documentation that should document what you have done in the last months then people will surely expect you to make a lengthy document with a few short paragraphs in the beginning and end that tell the management what to do and with long descriptions in the middle that will tell your coworkers why you recommended what you recommended. If you don't have much time because this is for example not a high-profile task, maybe just a small project with an even smaller budget, then you may want to keep everything short. The details depend on the exact context, what you can find as a template in your company or get as input from your more experienced coworkers and your target audience.

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