Yves Haemmerli, Consulting IT Architect at IBM Switzerland, sent me a thoughtful response to my we need product documentation rant. Hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.
Yes, whatever the project is, the real added value of an IT/network architect consultant is definitely his/her ability to create models (sometimes meta-models) of what exists, and what the customer is really looking for.
This modelling phase is crucial. It does not only set a clear methodology and a route map of the project, but it is also the unique way to communicate with the customer, at different levels, what the project is all about and what Architecture Decisions will be necessary. The Architecture Decisions process is itself a methodology to put in place at the beginning of the project. In large SDN projects for instance, I use my models for instance to establish a detailed Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) for the project
During this modelling period, it is highly recommended to keep ourselves (as far as we can...) outside pure product oriented considerations. In principle, modelling should to be product independent. Once the first drafts of the target architecture (models) are established, then, and only then, product presentations are necessary. Here too, I agree with you: first take the time in advance to have a close look on vendors’ product documentation (says a lot about the vendor...), understand the key concepts, and be prepared for a product presentation meetings to focus the discussions on implementation architecture, scaling, limitations, dependencies, etc.
Yves is an Electronics Research & Development engineer. He specialized in Digital Signal Processing and data encoding/decoding in the early years (1982-1990) of digital audio at Studer-ReVox, before joining the multi-protocol networking community at IBM in 1990 (in his own words, approximately at the same paleolithic period when dinosaurs disappeared ;-)