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A METHODOLOGICAL POSITION ABOUT THE USE OF #DIAGRAMS IN #PROJECTS (2000) -#methodology #proyectos #gestión #systems


A project presents a set of actions essentially cognitive, which constitute the mental resolution process of the final product. Creative human actions, inter-communicated by diagrams, so much inter as intra activities of the project is the base of the process. This communicational feature of the diagrams in a project motivates this work, using systemic and semiotic elements. Thus, the paper’s objective is to show a methodological position oriented to provide a theoretical and conceptual base to formalize the mental resolution by means of the use of diagrams. To address the objective we develop three main ideas: (i) the trajectory of final product as a succession of diagrams in systemic terms; (ii) the succession of diagrams is discussed from a semiotic position; and, (iii) the purpose of the succession is discussed in a teleological sense from user’s viewpoint. The contributions of this work are twofold: (i) the formalization of the process of mental resolution as a purposive system, and, (ii) a formational base to planners by identifying the properties in all system.

Paper original:

  • Estay, Christian; y, Blasco, Jaume. (2000). A methodological position about the use of diagrams in projects. En Proceedings of Symposium on Industrial Systems (IS 2000) en ISA 2000 International ICSC Congress on Intelligent Systems & Applications. Wollongong, Australia. 12-15 Diciembre. CD-ROM ISBN 3-906454-24-X.



Project is an intentional action oriented to solve a problem. In particular, the project as a whole presents a set of cognitive actions related to the management and the construction of the final product (PMI, 1996). In  deep, the construction of the product involves cognitive actions that configure the process of mental resolution of the final product. This mental resolution differs of the material resolution because the first one involves the employment of heuristic as part of a designing (Stolterman, 1998), while the second involves the manufacture of a possible solution in the form of a concrete product or service.

The mental resolution only exists if there are people. The planner’s perception of the solution does not have any sense if he/she does not use some language to express the perception to other planners (Maturana, 1991). The project like community of practice (Seeley and Duguid, 1991), of the practice of producing a product and sustained in a net of conversations, habitually appeals to a series of diagrams, where the diagrams act like as language and as a communicative base of the design (Flores and Winograd, 1989). Furthermore, the diagrams, like language, enable or inhibit the expression of properties in a final product (Maturana, 1988).

Understanding diagram like: “a graphic design that explains rather than represents” (Britannica, 2000), this paper develops a methodological position oriented to understand and to locate the role of the diagrams like substantive part of the mental resolution of the product. To address this communicational feature we develop three main ideas around systemic and semiotic elements.

  • (i) The trajectory of final product as a succession of diagrams. We appeal to a systems approach, where the final product is a system that evolves in this trajectory.
  • (ii) A discussion of the succession of diagrams discussed from a semiotic position. This allows maintaining a line of argumentation that drives the resolution of the problem, in particular into the mental reification of the product (Ueno, 1995) as a chain of diagrams.
  • (iii) Two complementary forms of give teleological sense to the chain of diagrams by discussing the purpose of the succession for an ideal system from user’s viewpoint.

The paper concludes with comments to work realized and the bibliography.

The resolution in projects

The literature treats the resolution, or the obtaining of a product, as a process. From the process, the product arises of to particularize and to give body to the solution of a problem on the base of:

  • to look for technical solutions (Pahl and Bietz, 1984);
  • to transform the structure of functions of a technical system in parts (Fernández, 1995; Hubka and Eder, 1988, 1996);
  • a composition based on attributes of an abstract product (an object) (Xue et. all. 1992; Taura and Yoshikawa, 1992); or,
  • a composition systemic (Aguinaga, 1995; Blasco, 1966, 2000a; Roqueta, 1991).

We propose a more extensive and more general vision of the resolution by taking advantage of the systems thinking (Bertalanffy, 1982; Espejo, 1994). In this way, using a systemic epistemology on project (Estay and Blasco, 2000a), we can observe the two components of a project (Blasco, 1966, 2000b): the operation (projecting process) and the result (the projected object), both as real artificial systems (Estay and Blasco, 1998a; Mélèsse, 1979).

Next, we list their definitions and main systemic features (purpose, organization, Maturana and Varela, 1980, p. 77,  and structure, Maturana, 1980).

Table 1: Projecting process and Projected system // Definition & System - (c) Christian A. Estay-Niculcar

Table 1: Projecting process and Projected system // Definition & System – (c) Christian A. Estay-Niculcar

We show the resolution in the following way (Figure 1). The structure of the projecting process system evolves in time and space. This evolution depends of environment changes and/or the maturity in the solution. The trajectory of projecting process system rises from scheduled or not events of the evolution. The connections among states are inputs and outputs specific of each one state.

Figure 1: Trajectory of the projected system - (c) Christian A. Estay-Niculcar

Figure 1: Trajectory of the projected system – (c) Christian A. Estay-Niculcar

In a parallel way, the trajectory of the projected object system arises, uniting the succession of outputs-inputs among states of the projecting process system. The thread of argumentation by the moment is the particularizing and give body to a solution. The diagrams in this context are one of the output-input. The diagrams constitute in this way the trajectory of the projected system, not as a successive refinement, but a continuous reification of the product.

The semiotic chain of the projected object

Several authors have studied the diagrams by proposing:

  • taxonomies or classifications, in order to understand and to know the potential expressive particular of diagrams (Bertin, 1983, 1988; Blackwell, 1997; Blackwell and Engelhardt, 1998, 2000; Lohse et. all, 1994); and,
  • relationships with the several phases or stages involved in the product process, in order to support the necessary description of the product (Anderl, 1997, p. 115; Andreasen in Grothe-Moller, 1988; David, 1987, p. 62; Eder, 1987, p. 35; Hubka and Eder, 1988, p.106; Tichen et. al, 1997, p. 47).

However, we require establishing the link that allows passing from a diagram to another. This happens as the solution requires, so much bigger levels of abstraction, detail and synthesis of properties already introduced, as the incorporation of other new ones, in the final product.

By the moment, in this section, we will fix the conceptual base of this link from the semiotic (Blasco, 2000b) by appealing to the Pierce’s triad (Pierce, 1988).

The sign in the Pierce’s semiotic triad has three elements: The sign like such, a referent, and a significant:

  1. the sign (representamen) is the figure, the icon;
  2. the significant (interpretant) is the interpretation that is given and/or, the meaning that is associated to the sign by an observer; and,
  3. the referent (object) is the entity of the real world.

The application in chain of such a triad, linking its vertexes freely, allows configuring a semiotic chain. This chaining permits to change the interpretant of a sign, but we prefer give other sense to the chaining.

Remembering that we have a trajectory of diagrams, we can assimilate the semiotic chain to that trajectory. (Estay and Blasco, 2000b). In the Figure 2 the succession of diagrams is shown. In a state, the diagram is the sign of the solution, where the solution is a concrete referent of the state. By other hand, model of the solution is the interpretation or significant. This allows saying that the diagrams, as groups of signs, are useful (Lange, 1999):

  • to see the solution through the syntaxes of sign,
  • to read the solution through the semantic of sign and,
  • to understand the solution through the pragmatic of sign.
Figure 2: The succession of diagrams  - (c) Christian A. Estay-Niculcar

Figure 2: The succession of diagrams – (c) Christian A. Estay-Niculcar

If we see a diagram like a written sentence, in certain measure it becomes a referent, even for the own planners that generated him/his (Figure 3).

Figure 3: The diagram as a referent - (c) Christian A. Estay-Niculcar

Figure 3: The diagram as a referent – (c) Christian A. Estay-Niculcar

In this sense, among states of projecting process the link change. The diagram, as input to the following state of projecting process system, will be a referent one for the solution in ti+1. The diagram in ti+1 will be the sign of the solution in ti+1, however the solution is in itself the interpretation of the diagram in it. This give body to a thread of argumentation, which not necessarily establishes a strict chain of diagrams, but rather the solutions (interpretations of previous diagrams) are shaped by social and psychological influence of the state of projecting process system in ti+1.

The teleological sense

In the previous point, we defined the conceptual link among diagrams. However, now is convenient to try to fix with more precision the sense of a chain. Therefore, we explain the teleological sense of the chain of diagrams from the particular user’s interests respect of final product.

In general, the explanatory power of the diagrams appears in the literature. This power is the capacity to describes features of the reality in different levels of detail, abstraction, and synthesis. Moreover, we could change the interpretant of the diagram. However, the product properties are independent of that power and interpretants of diagrams. By this reason, we see the convenience, first at all, to identify the properties.

We propose to identify the properties from two complementary perspectives: outsider and insider. Both perspectives are user’s viewpoint or, similarly, perspectives of an observer. In the perspective, the observer sees the projected system as a whole. In the second perspective, the observer is positioned into the system and looking for to find the properties that allows its subsistence. In deep, the perspectives through questions are exposed.

a.- The observer outsider

The first perspective characterizes the projected object system as a whole on the interests of an ideal observer (Estay et. al, 1999a). This implies to locate the system in a context and to think about the system constituted by parts. We can suggest potentially some universal questions: What risk does it entail?, How can it be controlled?, what is it?, what does it do? and, what is it useful for?.

  • The question related to risks in the system should be the first to be considered when dealing with a system. It is important to know how locality affects the observer. This question can be answered by observing the mobility and the different stages of the system. A system that changes faster than the observer can generate answers can be at risk. The form of change, its rate of change, and its possible stages become the center of interest. Simply to see the changes is a quality of the observation. Stability, uncertainty, and equilibrium of the stages are other points of interest.
  • In the same way that risk is a key factor of the system, the dominating intention becomes a priority. To dominate the system means to know it and to observe its characteristics. These include properties of the control of the system, the effects of the environmental world on the system, the internal stage or organization of its different parts, and the control that exists (and whether it can be applied).
  • The question: ‘What is it?’ is an attempt to discover the nature of the system. This involves knowing how to get close to ‘that which is being discussed’, and how to approach the system as a whole, as well as how to recognize the composition and the spectra of qualities concerning how it exists, works, and manifests itself. A series of properties is being considered that interests the observers and speaks to them of the system’s mobility (in reference to when and where it exists, and its disposability), its composition, durability (its life cycle) the sources and sinks of the flows, its adaptability, its polyvalence, to be comfortable, and its flexibility.
  • The question: ‘What does it do?’ reflects an interest in the operations that the system can perform. It focuses on the dynamic dimensions of the parts, on the basic functioning of the transformations of inputs and outputs. The ‘when and where’ of the functions is inherent in this question and implies that the time and operational space can be identified.
  • The question: ‘What is it useful for?’ forces the designer to identify clearly the utility of the system, recognizing that service is a priority. The configuration of this service should detail its composition, and the ‘when and where’ of the service should identify its condition and limits (through the properties of reliability, safety and assurance of quality).

b.- The observer insider

This perspective analyzes the operation of the product trying to find the properties that allow the subsistence and stay of a system (Estay and Blasco, 1999). Here, the questions are formulated from the own system and its subsistence conditions: what happen?, what to make?, ¿what has happened? and how to preserve the system?

  • The question what happen? identifies, by means of the continuous inquiry of the internal and external environment to the system, the interference’s to guarantee and to take adequate corrective actions. A system in highly variable environments requires, by example, sensorial qualities.
  • The question what to make? analyses tasks and actions inscribed in the dynamics of the product (Latour 1992). Tasks and actions are translated (Latour 1992) in algorithmic programming, structures, classifications, or schedules, that allows maintaining properties of coordination, control, and regulation.
  • The question what has happened? identifies in the system the property of memory, to have to hand actions and tasks of the past that have been successful or not. This facilitates an evolution or appropriate maintenance of levels of dependability and security.
  • The question how to preserve the system?  looks for the elements that allow safeguarding the system, as reaction readiness, mobility to displace and to get resources, and malleability to face the change.


It has been exposed the mental resolution of the product of a project as a systemic and semiotic process. The thread of argumentation of project was the particularizing and give body to a solution into a trajectory. The notion of chain of diagrams allowed understanding conceptually the connection among them. The teleological sense exposed the purpose of chain of diagrams into a project as oriented to show the properties of the product from two user’s perspectives as observer.

This lead to two contributions.

  • It has been suggested a systemic communicational framework of production of products, through a succession of states that allows to configure and to visualize the succession of diagrams risen inside a project.
  • It has been given the bases to configure an attendance to the educator in projects, outlining the possibility to have a framework where to identify the properties that it would owe to diagram a planner. This implies to have clarity of the properties in a system and of the diagrams that allow their material elaboration. That is of high value, not only in the formation of planners, but also in the practice of projects, helping to overcome barriers communicational.

The future work is to identify the properties of a system and to relate them to those diagrams that can show them.


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3 comentarios el “A METHODOLOGICAL POSITION ABOUT THE USE OF #DIAGRAMS IN #PROJECTS (2000) -#methodology #proyectos #gestión #systems

  1. Zuleima Hernandez

    Muchas gracias por esta información, la verdad que es bueno conseguir sitios web como este, ahora mismo comenzaré un proyecto bastante relacionado con este tema.


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