How to learn new data model / database application efficiently?

Is there a term for what I clumsily call "learning the database?"   I am not talking about learning how to develop or use SQL Server, I mean how to learn how  particular database application works, what code does what, what tables serve what function.

IE I get handed a ginormous SQL database application chock full of objects with 0 documentation (what a shocker) and told "get familiar with this and then we will meet with stakeholders sometime yesterday"

Is there a word for this?  Analysis seems to vague.  It's more like an autopsy, or "getting to know you".  Are there apps that help?

I've come up with some scripts that help.  There are 2 DMVs
sys.dm_sql_referencing_entities
sys.dm_sql_referenced_entities
the first shows all objects that touch an object, the other all the objects an object touches, which give me a good idea of what code does what.  

Also the DMVs that read the Execution plan data can reveal what code is used frequently.  

Armed with all this I can get a general sense of what tables and code are core and peripheral.
Hec RamseyAsked:
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Jim HornMicrosoft SQL Server Data DudeCommented:
>Is there a word for this?
Yes, it's called 'job security' as competent developers work a project to support another lesser-competent developers undocumented crapware.

Perhaps a term you can use is 'technical debt', which loosely means that existing code is so hard to work with, or in your case learn in the first place, that future project and support costs are a lot higher then they otherwise would be if the code was coded correctly and well documented.
Hec RamseyAuthor Commented:
I'm a contractor so I need to learn new DBs all the time, and my methods feel time consuming and inefficient, hunt and peck. There must be a better way, I imagine this is common in todays "flexible" workforce.

 Is there a best practice for this? And what is this task called?

Even well developed app has can have a large number of pieces and sprawl.  Years of revisions by numerous designers can also confuse things.  

In my experience even the poorly designed or developed stuff, if I dig around I find the developers where doing the best they could given the situation.  I've had a number of experiences where I was handed something by "Bob" that was a mess, and when I asked Bob I learned he was handed a mess by Mary, who was handed a ridiculous deadline by Frank, who was under the gun because of Susan, who had a regulatory date changed abruptly.
Vitor MontalvãoMSSQL Senior EngineerCommented:
Unfortunally this happens a lot. Somebody spent years in a company doing stuffs practically alone and without documenting nothing. Then during a beautiful day he says "I quit" and gone for good. What left? A lot of work for his replacement. And everything to be done yesterday.

I'm afraid there's nothing much to do besides doing what you're doing now. Maybe a Case tool will help you with the database model. Here are a couple of them:
Toad Data Modeler
Erwin

Good luck with your project.
Cheers

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