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Connecting the Dots: The Crucial Role of Synthesis

A few years ago, I was working in a fast-paced environment where we very quickly needed to achieve a shared understanding of a particular problem that existed, and then elicit and analyze requirements for improving things.


I’d spent a couple of days speaking to some of the key people, largely in back-to-back meetings, and I was working really late in the office, energized by the conversations I’d been having. I’d managed to find an empty meeting room where I could spread my notes over a large table to think things through. Over the past couple of days I’d had countless conversations, been given documents to read, been shown IT systems, processes and more… It was a lot to take in! Plus of course not everyone necessarily agreed on the nature of the problem, or even what a desirable solution would look like. So my thoughts went to “what next… how do I arrange and make sense of all of this ‘stuff’?”

Luckily, the meeting room had a whiteboard. I instinctively started drawing the ‘problem’ that had been described to me. I drew people, IT systems, data and information flow, customer interactions, bottlenecks, problems.  It was a messy drawing that wasn’t intended for anyone but me.  If you’re familiar with the idea of a rich picture, it was very much like that. Crucially, it helped me make connections between pieces of information that different stakeholders had told me. This act of synthesis—bringing things together—helped gain a more holistic picture of what was going on.

I was midway through pondering whether two concepts were related to each other, when a very senior stakeholder walked through the door. He asked what I was drawing, and I talked him through my messy diagram. He started instinctively adding things to it, not only adding his perspective to the mix but also highlighting things I’d missed (or misunderstood). Even though this happened years ago, I can still remember parts of the diagram now….


Analysis Needs Synthesis

Of course, that drawing on a whiteboard was really just an interim work product. It wasn’t a deliverable, and although I recorded it by taking a photo, it wasn’t ever intended to form part of any user stories or requirements documentation. It was really just an exploration of the problem domain and the connections within it. It helped me to get my own head around the situation, so that I could ask better questions and know which areas to examine further. It also helped me to understand which areas and perspectives I was missing.

This highlights the importance of synthesis as well as analysis. Synthesis is described by the Merriam-Webster online dictionary as:

“…the composition or combination of parts or elements so as to form a whole…”


There are of course other definitions too, but this sentence is particularly useful for us as BAs. It’s very easy to think that our job is elicitation and analysis, capturing different viewpoints and pieces of information about a situation.  Yet without synthesis, those different pieces of information are of limited use! There will likely be contradiction, conflict, different views and more.  We all instinctively know this, but it is worth highlighting how important synthesis is in what we do.




Synthesis Techniques

Ironically, many of the techniques that we use on a day-to-day basis have synthesis, as well as analysis, built at their core.  I have already mentioned a rich picture, but many other techniques (when used with synthesis in mind) can help in bringing together different pieces of information and viewpoints.  Here are just a few examples:

  • Concept model and glossary: Bringing together (and reconciling) different terms, and the connections between terms
  • Process model: Creating a view on how the work should take place, taking into account a number of stakeholder’s viewpoints
  • Prototype: Bringing together and testing assumptions made, or a set of requirements assembled from varying stakeholders,.
  • Multiple Cause Diagram: After conducting ‘5 whys’ with different stakeholders, creating a combined diagram and presenting it back and saying “what else?” and “what’s wrong here?”
  • Workshops: Bringing people together to synthesis and discuss their views
  • … and many more besides


The Importance and Relevance

To do our jobs well as BAs, we need to consider synthesis as well as analysis, and this means making time for it. In my opening example, I mentioned I was working late in the office, drawing on a whiteboard. I was working late that night mainly because I was energized and excited about the project but also because time was so short and I’d focussed on planning the elicitation but less so the synthesis of the information I’d gleaned.

When you’ve conducted a whole number of interviews, read documents, seen processes and systems as they are operated, there are so many sources of information. It’s easy to just jump on to the next elicitation activity, or jump straight to writing a problem statement (or user story) or whatever. Yet, doing so robs us of the opportunity to see the bigger picture.

Building in time for synthesis—the sort that allows us to see connections—will help ensure we don’t implement a change in one area that inadvertently makes things much worse elsewhere. Of course, time is always tight… but if we don’t make time for synthesis, we might end up having to make time for rework. And that’s definitely best avoided!


Adrian Reed

Adrian Reed is a true advocate of the analysis profession. In his day job, he acts as Principal Consultant and Director at Blackmetric Business Solutions where he provides business analysis consultancy and training solutions to a range of clients in varying industries. He is a Past President of the UK chapter of the IIBA® and he speaks internationally on topics relating to business analysis and business change. Adrian wrote the 2016 book ‘Be a Great Problem Solver… Now’ and the 2018 book ‘Business Analyst’ You can read Adrian’s blog at and follow him on Twitter at