Updates from QA Training

A model is a powerful Business Analysis tool

How many times do you use models in your everyday life? Go on think about it…How did you get to work? If you used any form of map, including the tube map, then you used a model. If you asked a model for directions then yes you could argue that you used a model but really that would be missing the point…Although well done if you did that and then reached your destination!


QA | 21 January 2013

How many times do you use models in your everyday life? Go on think about it…How did you get to work? If you used any form of map, including the tube map, then you used a model. If you asked a model for directions then yes you could argue that you used a model but really that would be missing the point…Although well done if you did that and then reached your destination!

A model is more than a designer's clothes horse: a model is a representation of something, a communication tool to share ideas, ideals (in the case of the designer and his or her model) and to validate understanding, knowledge etc. In the Business Analyst's toolkit the ability to model, to create diagrams, to represent something in the real world is a crucial skill... I would even go so far as to say, albeit rather boldly, that it is THE key skill a BA possesses to support another very key BA skill; communication.

Models facilitate communication.

We all absorb and process information differently, if you have a new phone, what do you do?

  • Some of us are visual, we need to 'see' how the phone works or be shown the sequence of steps;
  • Some of us are more auditory, we need to be told how it works or read the manual;
  • Whilst others are 'doers', we need to get stuck in and play around with the phone, until we break it and have to refer to the manual to fix it... Guess which one I am!

Back to the matter in hand - regardless of how you process information, a good old fashioned diagram will be a powerful aid. A diagram can rarely be misinterpreted in the way that words can, the use of colour can literally bring a diagram to life and complexity can be managed in a logical way through the use of flows, decision points and structure.

Many years ago I discovered that using diagrams to communicate amongst stakeholders (those who have an interest in or are affected by business change) increased the speed of understanding. Add to your diagram a narrative and annotations and you really are onto a winner. I've used them to show senior management how systems will integrate and the components of project interactions as well as in the more traditional sense for process, data, and activity modelling.

One of the most useful places in a project for a good model is during that chaotic bit at the start of the project when everything is a bit fuzzy and undefined and there are lots of hints at shapes in the mist.

At this early stage the last thing we want to do is to spend hours creating neat and tidy diagrams when we are probably going to discard them as our thinking evolves. In that case informal diagrams are best. We can use diagrams to pull together thoughts in a matter of minutes. We can 'sketch something out' in order for us to 'see' how it all fits together. We might use a Mind Map (courtesy of Tony Buzan) to gather our thoughts together or collect ideas in a workshop or brainstorming session.

As our understanding deepens, our desire for more structure takes over and we need to generate diagrams that are much more detailed. We may need to create views of how data flows through the system, the interactions between a user and IT as well as views of the processes that drive and support the business objectives. In the Business Analysis Practice course which forms part of the BCS Business Analysis diploma we encounter the concept of stakeholder perspectives which are documented using a diagramming technique known as Business Activity Modelling. This technique, defined by Peter Checkland as part of his Soft Systems Methodology (SSM), creates a focus firstly on what the business should be doing through the exploration of stakeholder perspectives and then generates models which define the key activities that support these perspectives. We can also effectively use BAM to generate an as-is view too.

So once we've documented the conceptual viewpoint what next? The easy answer is to map our 'should be', our 'BAM', to existing processes and perform a gap analysis to ascertain where we might have missing and/or incomplete activities. We may also map as-is business processes using Business Process Modelling (more commonly known as 'swimlane diagrams' after the method of laying out the actors to create what looks like roped off lanes in a swimming pool). You can find out more about BPM in our Modelling Business Processes course.

We may not use formal models at all but I would hazard a guess that many people at least sketch out diagrams to be able to 'see' how something might work. Well continue doing this! I personally applaud the use of diagrams being used as a formal communication method for BAs.

So you see? Models really are powerful tools to have. Don't be frightened to jump up in meetings and draw a flow chart or process model, use models to communicate and the more you do so, the more you'll find that they become part of the language of your projects...

Here's more information on the Business Analysis Practice course , and the  Modelling Business Processes course .

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