The Book Look: The Elephant in the Fridge

COL01x - feature image Hoberman Guided Steps to
Data Vault Success through
Business-Centered Models

John Giles wrote The Nimble Elephant a number of years ago – it is a book about using existing data modeling patterns when working on agile teams. It’s an extremely practical book, yet also a very entertaining read due to John Giles’ sense of humor and captivating storytelling speckled throughout the pages. The Nimble Elephant is often one of the first books to sell out when we have bookstores at conferences.


The Elephant in the Fridge, John’s latest book which released earlier this month, has the same two ingredients of being both practical and entertaining.

The Elephant in the Fridge is about how to best use the Data Vault modeling technique within your organization. The technique is explained as tips and pitfalls are illustrated with many experiences from John, in his typical practical yet engaging style.

Here’s a good summary of this book in John’s own words from the book’s intro:

“Success with a Data Vault starts with the business and ends with the business. Sure, there’s some technical stuff in the middle, and it is absolutely essential – but it’s not sufficient on its own. This book will help you shape the business perspective and weave it into the more technical aspects of Data Vault modeling.”

John starts off the book with an excellent primer on the Data Vault, and then dedicates a chapter to each of the four steps in building a Data Vault:

  1. Define how the business sees their data. John starts with a one-page diagram identifying the major data subject areas of the enterprise, with an icon for each, typically based on generic data model patterns. He then adds the specifics of the organization.
  2. Design the Data Vault, based on the business view. This is where he introduces Hubs, Links, and Satellites.
  3. Bottom-up Source-to-Data Vault mapping. This is where the business-centric Data Vault design distinguishes itself from source-centric Data Vault design.
  4. Define the business rules. The two most common forms of business rules are: rules to map multiple source-specific Satellites into one consumption-ready “conformed” Satellite, and rules to map source-specific “Event / Transaction” Links to their Hubs, Links &/or Satellites.

After covering these tasks, the book contains a chapter on other important Data Vault topics, including advanced Data Vault techniques, the connection with business process and agile, and summaries of some of the controversial topics in the Data Vault world. The book also contains an index of common data model patterns which can be added to your Data Vault, such as Party and Agreement.

I learned quite a bit about the Data Vault technique and enjoyed the read as well. Let’s end with a story from the introduction to The Elephant in the Fridge, which provides a lead-in to having a business-focus to your Data Vault:

There’s a story of a good-hearted country lad who lived in isolation from the so-called modern world. One of his jobs was to cut firewood, using a cross-cut saw and an axe. On one of his rare visits to the big smoke, a salesman convinces him that buying a chainsaw will massively increase his productivity. The salesman is willing to lend him a chainsaw to try it out.

On the next visit to town, the country lad returns the chainsaw. He got nothing like the productivity promised. The salesman notices that the chain is blunt, and asks how often he sharpened it. The answer? “Never.” OK, please try it again, this time performing regular sharpening.

Next visit, the disappointed lad’s had enough, but the salesman is persistent. He takes the lad out the back to see if they can work out what the problem is. The salesman fires up the chainsaw, and is stunned by the lad’s question, “What’s that funny noise?” The kid had been using this modern contraption as a hand-saw, not realizing it had an engine!

It’s a crude analogy, but Data Vaults are a bit like a chainsaw. They’re very capable, and designed beautifully for a purpose. And yes, you can buy technical manuals or attend training on some aspects (and I would encourage you to do just that), but if you don’t know how best to “drive” your lovely new Data Vault, you may be sadly disappointed.

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Steve Hoberman

Steve Hoberman

Steve Hoberman has trained more than 10,000 people in data modeling since 1992. Steve is known for his entertaining and interactive teaching style (watch out for flying candy!), and organizations around the globe have brought Steve in to teach his Data Modeling Master Class, which is recognized as the most comprehensive data modeling course in the industry. Steve is the author of nine books on data modeling, including the bestseller Data Modeling Made Simple. Steve is also the author of the bestseller, Blockchainopoly. One of Steve’s frequent data modeling consulting assignments is to review data models using his Data Model Scorecard® technique. He is the founder of the Design Challenges group, Conference Chair of the Data Modeling Zone conferences, director of Technics Publications, and recipient of the Data Administration Management Association (DAMA) International Professional Achievement Award. He can be reached at

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