I’ve been planning my analysis approach recently and have been recommending the use of visual models to support the business analysis effort. It seemed like a good time to revisit this subject to explain what they are and why they will make a sigificant difference to the quality of your work.
What I mean by visual models
There are a huge range of visual models that can be used from a strategic level (Alexander Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas) through to bringing to life the detailed interactions with a PC/laptop/mobile/smartwatch/fridge(!) (prototypes,wireframes and storyboards – I wrote about these in 2009!).
Here are some other examples:
- Use cases
(I wrote about these here – they are both visual and textual. You can listen to a recording of Be a Better BA webinar on using use cases for reqt gathering)
- Rich pictures
(simple, pictorial representation of a business situation – great for communicating the business challenge and context very quickly)
- Business process modeling
(this is the ‘go to’ tool for most business analysts. Listen to this recording of Be a Better BA webinar on using BPM for reqt gathering)
- Mind maps
(great as an organising tool when the structure is not clear at first)
Why should you use visual models?
There are many reasons but, for business analysts, there is one compelling reason which I would like you to consider.
One of our biggest challenges is making sure we have all the requirements. Most of us have experienced that moment when we realise late in the project that there are requirements missing. This realisation might come from a conversation with a stakeholder about what they assumed they were going to get when the project delivers.
One of the biggest risks is unstated or tacit requirements. Your stakeholders don’t necessarily realize everything that they need – they make assumptions, forget things or simply don’t know that you didn’t realize something was required and forgot to check when reviewing your requirements.
Visual models are brilliant at bringing out tacit requirements
If you show a stakeholder a prototype (which looks a bit like the final solution) they will immediately tell you if any steps have been missed because it stands out like a sore thumb to them.
Show them a list of discrete, textual requirement statements and it is a lot harder to spot any gaps.
So that’s why I believe visual models are an essential part of your BA toolkit.
Of course, this is not the only reason! They are also a great asset because:
– you can communicate complex subjects with a well-crafted picture
– they allow you to look at the problem or requirements space at different levels of detail (Business Model Canvas shows you the entire organisation; a process model shows you a process which may span many different business areas over a long period of time; a prototype shows you what one person does at one point of time with a digital device)
– people learn and understand in different ways so it is helpful to communicate the requirements in different ways
I find that any problem I am tackling in business analysis (or business in general) is only a day or two away from being drawn up as some sort of picture. Once I have drawn the picture then everyone understands!
If you want to learn more about representing problems visually and find a technique that works for all situations I strongly recommend you read Dan Roam’s Back of a Napkin.
What are your views or experiences on using visual models? Please add some comments at the bottom so we can discuss this further.