Actors and considering your system interactions

Actors are a way of visualising a solution, so how do you see actors and your business? This article examines a number of view points for you to review.

  • Object oriented programming sees everything as objects.  The actor model in computer science is a mathematical model of concurrent computation. Seeing everything as actors rather than objects
  • In marketing, marketing actors can be divided into three groups: customers, distributors, and facilitators.
  • An actor in theatre and on screen has a very different meaning.

How can actors help your business?  How can actors have any role in your projects?

This article provides a potential way of reviewing actors in your business and identify challenges and highlighting positive capabilities.

  • Who are the actors?
  • Working an example
  • Translating actors into actions
  • Wrap up

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Who are the actors?

A bit of theatre

In business it can help to put yourself in a different frame of mind for a number of reasons.

How does your customer perceive your business from a sales point of view.

Does that change when they interact with customer care?

When you’re planning for selling your product being able to consider the who’s, what’s and why’s of your customers, market research will ask groups and profile those groups.


Design approaches

When you design a system you can try get everything right at the start and figure out the kinks later.  There are always kinks.

Think of building a building.  It’s very costly to go back and try to recreate / redevelop solutions once the work has begun.  The more people involved the more everyone has to stick to the plan.

Yet if the solution is new, experimental or not enough research is available, the solution will invariably have to change.

Structured design approaches such as the Waterfall method, plan everything up front.

RAD or Rapid Application Development employ approaches that expect lots of iterative change.


Even when designing eLearning materials models such as ADDIE (Analyse Design Develop Implement Evaluate) provide a framework to chose from.

Arguments rage about which model is best, whilst Agile and Lean Six Sigma development methodologies offering powerful variations on a theme.

So which approach works best?


In my opinion, bits of all of them have their merits.  In my experience choosing the best tool for the job is knowing what needs doing.

As a project manager recognising that the longer the project takes the more change will happen vastly impacts your choices.

As Sebastian Thrun said “there will be no more one-size-fits-all.”


Getting people on board

So if you have an idea and you want them to buy into your idea, part of the challenge is helping people to see themselves in the solution.

As previously discussed identifying, innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards as groups to be addressed, requires different approaches.

Levels of experience also dictate your approach, as complete novices needs will be very different from seasoned experts.

So different presentations of the same thing may be necessary.


As a developer I have a style and my style will influence how we approach the development.

So whether you think you have the skill or not to communicate your idea, you need to put it terms the person you’re talking to will understand.

Before you go straight up to people, try play the role of an actor and become them.  What do they want, need and look for?

If you don’t know your audience you need to go out and ask them.  If you can’t you’ll use your first meeting / conversation and quickly they’ll point out your mistakes.

You can learn and try again but you’ve blown your first opportunity.

One alternative is to ask a group for their opinion and expect harsh feedback.  Learn to maximise the power of counterpoint.


Programming actors

So when you’re developing a system it’s not enough to come up with good code, you have to consider the what programming approach to employ.

  • Functional programming requires the person to know how to use the tool.  Think of a calculator.
  • In object oriented programming a person interacts with objects.  A car could be an object and the car is self contained.
  • Actor models in computer science is like asking a person to do something for you.  Like people, actors have limits.

These are very different ways of conceptualising programming.

They form part of the design phase when you’re trying to make sure you’re working everything the tool has to do.

This kind of choice affects everyone in the development team.


Working an example

The actors in the project

So the nameless project continues but there are actors to consider, so to help work through how you apply actors to a project here is my initial thinking.

Using the marketing actors model, we have customers, distributors and facilitators.

I’m deliberately ignoring some categorisations which do have a bearing but for a starting point are too specific and risk derailing the idea before it starts.

  • Gender as I believe gender has no bearing on being able to learn.
  • Religion as I believe that a training solution can be accommodated later.  Different religions have very different considerations on learning so accomodation can be made later when there’s something up and working.
  • Ethnicity as we are all world citizens and this project is for everyone.
  • Language does matter but as I predominantly speak and write in English I will start with English and expand later.


Customers.  Well let’s create some major groups.  These are the users.  We have the three interface levels.  Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced.  We have ages, children, teenagers, young adults, adults.  3 x 5 = 15 actors.

Distributors.  So who are the people who can help me get the message out?  Parents, Teachers, Politicians, Academics, Businesses and Philanthropists. 6 actors.

Facilitators.  The people who are going to contribute and help get things moving.  Teachers, Developers, Designers, Content writers, Admins and Philanthropists. 6 actors.

So before we begin there are 27 different groups I need to consider before I begin anything.

Some actors are going to be more prevalent than others.  Some of the actors overlap.  As bxp’s security chief Thomas Glennon, constantly reminds us, “within our means”.

What can we get done now rather than focusing on what we can, so we prioritise and then need some choices to be made.


Prioritisation and resourcefulness

We are not going to please all the people all the time, so let’s go for getting the most important people satisfied first.

Users understand work through a number of different ways.

Experiential is always the most effective.  People learn by doing and playing.  So that’s to be prioritised.

Yet other’s can see the pattern in the noise.  Appealing to people where there’s nothing built is just as critical in getting initial help.

Time to dig out your communication skills.


As an entrepreneur designing something new this is your greatest challenge.  It’s easy to see how it works once the first one is built.

Enabling people to see what could happen requires enthusiasm, passion and belief.

Finding the resources to get the first one built is what requires the most motivation and self belief.

It requires resourcefulness as Tony Robbins very well describes (give it till 7:43).


Method acting

Method acting can be defined as a technique of acting in which an actor aspires to complete emotional identification with a part, based on the system evolved by Stanislavsky and brought into prominence in the US in the 1930s.

The part of the definition is the “emotional identification”.  For programmers this can be difficult but its what makes the biggest difference.

Steve Jobs is very famous for his opinion on what something looks like.  What something looks like and the smell of it, has an emotional effect on a person.

Being able to tap that emotion can lead to a different way of viewing something.


It is not enough for a programmer to work in isolation without understanding how emotionally this is going to make a user feel.

Which users?  Well prioritise the actors and then become them, or ask them in to talk to you.  You are not designing a system for you, you’re designing for your actors.

If you have experience of being an actor, i.e. I went to college, I’ve used elearning systems, I’ve studied materials and I would consider myself an advanced user, then designing for yourself is fine.

Remember the consumers are the people in the audience, your users.  You’re not just acting for yourself.


Translating actors into action

The first worklist

So there is an infrastructure, there are style choices, there is a concept, now how best to convey it.

If the message is too generic, no one buys in.  If the message is too specific, you’re going to have to make a lot of messages.

Starting the process can be as simple as building for yourself but you’ve already made a very very specific message.  Are you the biggest audience?

So again using the nameless project… the first job was a generic message which tried to get the idea started.

That took a day to do and then went up on as many places as I could, yet it wasn’t specific enough.



So now it needs to get far more specific to get people to engage.  Faced with the challenge of having something to play with I have found, makes life much easier.  A prototype.

So getting the infrastructure and some working code was the easiest part of somewhere to start.  At least there is the feeling of having made something.

Writing things down and having something to work towards also helps.  As I noted I’ve spent a year sketching ideas, now to build a prototype.

These ideas might not work but at least they’re something concrete to discuss.  The sketches made in PowerPoint are for Student view, Search view, Content View.


Now without distraction I can build something to start some discussions.

The audience has to beginner, as no one will have used it before.

Students are going to be the biggest users, so let’s start with them.

Now to become a student… what do I need to supply?


Wrap up

The nameless project still needs a name… any and all suggestions welcome. Click here to log your idea.

I need to create a way to help people invest in the idea, so doing up a character sheet for each actor will help.  That’s next.

Supplying a character sheet for each actor helps to refine a feature set.  Making a To Do list.

If you’d like to get involved I’d love the help and the interaction.


If there’s anything in this article you’d like to chat to me about you can contact me here or on social media.


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