Monday, 25 April 2016 08:44

Picture It! Get to Mutual Understanding and Agreement Faster

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I am constantly amazed at the generally limited use of images, diagrams, and models in documents created by those who perform business analysis.

The “Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® V3 (BABOK®) often mentions facilitation during elicitation of business requirements, business rules, information, processes, and prioritisation.

Elicitation is described as “how business analysts identify and reach agreement on the mutual understanding of all types of business analysis information”.1

This means that at the very heart of elicitation is finding agreement and understanding.

Related Article: Process Approach to Requirements Gathering

Now this is often quite an elusive thing: to 1) understand, and 2) agree.

Understanding and agreement are much easier to attain in an environment where there is:

  • Trust (working together on the same team and not against each other)
  • Friendliness (smiling and being nice to each other)
  • Mutual respect (valuing each other’s opinions)
  • Teachability (humbling yourself to the idea of possibly learning something)
  • Listening (listening to understand and not listening for a gap to have your say)
  • Truth (not hiding existing issues or problems)
  • Openness (willingness to share what you know)

Apart from these ideal-state environments, (and let’s face it – they very rarely exist!) what often adds to the confusion is that facilitators often complicate facts instead of simplifying them.

Some people believe that death by PowerPoint, torture by spreadsheet or by defining a successful meeting by THUD-factor (i.e. the “THUD!” being the sound that a heavy document makes when being dropped on a table), translates into an impressionable, professional analysis.

Although all these might have their rightful place, it does not always assist in getting to understanding and agreement. (Please, let’s attempt to save the trees by using less paper, and cut down on the boredom factor)...

There is a reason why the BABOK® provides a whole host of techniques, among which a lot of diagramming & modelling techniques.

Here’s a list of just some of the image-related techniques mentioned in the BABOK®:

  • Business Model Canvas
  • Concept Modelling
  • Data Flow Diagrams
  • Data Modelling
  • Decision Modelling
  • Mind Mapping
  • Organisational Modelling
  • Process Modelling
  • State Modelling

“A picture is worth a thousand words” is a truer saying than what we give it credit for. Neuroscientists from MIT have found that the human brain can process entire images that the eye sees in as little as 13 milliseconds.2  This does not mean we need only to work in pictures/models/diagrams. But we certainly need to use this as a mechanism to get to understanding and who knows, maybe even agreement.

I’ve personally found that the sooner one gets to understanding, the less frustration builds up and the more the likelihood of getting to an agreement.

If you’re still a full-on template jockey confined by the limitations of written and text-based document, here’s a challenge. Grab that marker pen, walk up to the whiteboard and to start drawing. You might just be amazed at how quickly you cut through the masses of information and get to a place of simplicity and agreement!

To inspire your inner genius, I’ll leave you with this quote by Albert Einstein: “The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple.”

1 BABOK® V3 Chapter 4

2 http://news.mit.edu/2014/in-the-blink-of-an-eye-0116

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Danie van den Berg, CBAP

Danie van den Berg is a consulting business analyst from Johannesburg, South-Africa. Over the past two decades he has worked in a variety of industries. His specialities include Requirements gathering & elicitation (ERP, Web & Android), Business Process Re-engineering, workflow automation and process optimisation. He enjoys mentoring BA professionals, teaching business analysis topics and prepping BAs for CBAP exams. Danie is passionate about the role a Business Analyst plays within organisations and believes it is central to changing and improving the world we work and live in.

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