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Author: Kristen Gandier

Add some UMPH to your UML

In the world of analysis, at least one thing is true: if you like diagrams, you have probably come to be close with Unified Modeling Language (UML). UML Diagrams are helpful to show flows and relationships of information. This helps to illustrate data points, structure and interactions. Here are some ways to enhance their effectiveness when dealing with stakeholders at all levels:


Clean Connectors

Showing directions and connections is helpful, but connectors crossing over can quickly turn a diagram into a confusing web. Because UML Diagrams can vary in complexity and granularity, crossing streams can be unavoidable. Lines should cross as minimally as possible, but if they do have to cross, they should show as a “hop”. Most programs default to this feature when connectors go through each other without a particularly specified intersection. If connectors are not looking separated enough and have too many unnecessary hops, consider the component or class layout being used and see if the objects/items can be better sequenced.

Connector types should also be utilized where necessary to show the nature of interactions, whether it is to illustrate direction or dependencies. This can allow for some detail that could be taken out of the explanation pieces of your documentation.




Know your Domain

UML diagrams have a specific best-case utility and are strongest when they are describing and modeling objects and displaying aspects of system views. Alternatively, Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) helps to show or describe the business process. Understanding how the two differ and how to best use them in your modeling can help to optimize the effectiveness of your documentation and communication. Depending on the project, UML diagrams may be helpful in creating documentation to detail functionality and object interaction. BPMN diagrams can be useful communication aids, especially since they can tailor to the audience; for example, a BPMN that shows a high-level view of the process may be best to use in presentations to individuals that have executive governance in a project.


Speaking of Communication…

Using the correct pieces of UML diagrams can also help to keep any text requirement of information appropriately concise. This means avoiding having to describe your intention of objects or classes to a reader, and instead, simply using the standardized shapes and connectors to represent the information being illustrated. A good UML should have minimal text detail in the itemized areas, and the rest of the information conveyed through the standardized language UML provides.

Avoiding Communication Gaps

Information is critical to successful change in organizations. How information is communicated can either significantly propel or break down a project. Business Analysts have a critical role in facilitating and influencing communication to impacted areas of the organization. Without a communication skillset, Business Analysts risk being the weakness in the linkage system organizations need for synchronized transformation.

Here are some communication gaps to avoid as a BA practitioner:

  1. The “Barrel Ahead” BA

Each organization has its own pace and comfort zone. When working with stakeholders and business partners, it is important to understand all aspects involved in a potential change. This includes awareness of culture, capacities, readiness, and even other initiatives that are also on the move that may pose distraction or compete for resources. An essential aspect of communication for Business Analysts is listening. Effective listening includes reserving judgment and knowing your audience to form appropriate responses to encourage engagement.

A Business Analyst that is only focusing on pre-conceived outcomes of initiatives poses a risk to not only the stakeholders but to the ultimate success of the outcome. Rushing through steps can also create risks of knowledge gaps and missed requirements.

Pace is significant to initiative success, from framework to implementation. “Tunnel vision” and a too-rapid approach to simply reach the finish line can be easily identified by stakeholders in poor communication, which can then break down engagement and crack the important foundation of trust.


  1. The “Non-Organization Structure” BA

Every organization has a different blueprint of business areas, information, and involved systems. Resources can exist in physical forms such as a database or library, or be integrated within individual knowledge or entire business units. It is important for Business Analysts to understand the organizational landscape so communication can be appropriately deployed. Being an effective Business Analyst includes being able to “bridge” organizational areas, and knowing their structure, purpose, and goals helps to create a solid base for communication.

Not taking the time to understand or learn about the organizational structure can be a risk to the governance approach of a project. Creating and sending communication to the wrong decision-maker can not only create problems within an initiative, but it can also create inter-organizational conflict.

  1. The “Isolated Island” BA

Teamwork is essential to successful change. This is likely why “Elicitation and Collaboration” are paired together in the BABOK. Having stakeholders and business partners appropriately engaged moves the collective pieces of the organization successfully through changes. Having the correct approach to stakeholder communication can set the stage for continuous involvement and support.

While some organizations have Business Analyst roles in various layouts, whether you are on a team of same titles or spread out as a function within various areas, it is important to keep a level of connectivity with all business partners. Business Analysts do their best when they keep avenues of collaboration active with well-fed communication. Active communication helps to reinforce organizational awareness and also creates proactive project efficiencies. Approaching initiatives as a single-ownership can erode stakeholder engagement, as teams may see goals overshadowed by interest in individual portfolio rather than a true business need.

More Than the Destination

Informed stakeholders are comfortable stakeholders. From the start of planning the Business analysis approach to evaluating solutions, communication is essential for teams to successfully meet and satisfy business needs.

Facilitating a collaborative, informed, and trusted environment will help the organization get the most out of not only the outcome but the journey.

Breaking Through the Stakeholder Surface

The Stakeholder Blueprint

Stakeholders are an important component of the business ecosystem, and especially important to initiatives, as they include any individual person or group that has any sort of connection to the business need or change at hand. Stakeholders can have a straight-forward connection to the initiative, or be a more complex and challenging piece. Stakeholders are not always the person or group with the easiest road of access, and overcoming challenges and barriers with stakeholders can build trust and facilitate meaningful business relationships and engagement.

Speaking the language of stakeholders is about understanding not only what is obviously promoted and agreed, but also about listening to what is not said. Within stakeholder silence can be hesitation, but it could also be unspoken agreement and support, or even untapped input. Not all stakeholders speak the same language, and it may depend on the initiative and accompanying environment. Understanding environment is important, as well as having self awareness to ensure no assumptions are made on perception of stakeholders.

Everyone knows the phrase, “watch out for those quiet ones”. In the landscape of stakeholders, it is not always a reliable approach to accept the loud voices of support as loyal, and the quiet ones as adversity. Understanding different communication needs can help to elicit not only requirements, but important business information to help with the initiative. This means not only thinking, but also performing and prioritizing outside of the box.

The Unlikely Mentor

Within stakeholder groups, there could be many different types of business relationships. Mentors can come in all shapes and at all career milestones. You may have spent some time focusing on one particular area of your organizational structure to find a mentor, only to happen upon your best ambassador and catalyst of growth from an unexpected network connection.

Mentoring as a professional input has changed over the years, and no longer is represented by the one-dimensional approach of an employee with seasoned expertise providing wisdom to a junior, within a specific organizational facet. Mentoring can be from one or many blended sources, allowing the optimal blend of experience, perspectives and advice to inspire multi-directionally. It is no longer the formal, stuffy documented professional connection and more modernly exists in a fluid, dynamic environment that fits more to the organic professional environment and multiple avenues of existing career paths.

Cohesion and the Business Need

Mapping stakeholder personas is an important Business Analysis technique in identifying specific sources, decisions and choices for involvement to the initiative. Keeping touchpoints open and approaches objective helps to elicit valuable information for projects and maintain a team’s engagement and value.


When leading teams through initiatives and keeping communication central, there may be times when information is not always easy to unpack. Depending on the initiative, challenging group conversations about outcomes may come up time-to-time, such as the sometimes “unpopular” outcomes of:

  •      Doing Nothing
  •      Accepting sunk cost

These outcomes can divide stakeholders, make some nervous, and may even inspire a reaction to perceived setbacks, even if they are indeed the best options. With the right communication though, these may actually allow for important reconfigurations for stakeholders to find a new perspective. That environment of honesty and trust can directly impact another future initiative, or even exist in understanding business needs, and how something such as “doing nothing” may prevent loss from continuing to pursue an initiative that delivers low-value.

Keeping stakeholders informed and direction honest can:

  •      Enhance elicited information
  •      Build trust
  •      Create better business relationships
  •      Solidify cohesion in the delivery of any outcome

When the team has the same view, the road to travel there is easier.

The Wild Card Identity of Business Analysis

What is your title? Is it the same as your professional identity?

The flexibility of Business Analyst roles tend to vary from organization to organization. It is nothing new that Business Analysts tend to wear many hats. Often, when transitioning from a place of expertise in varying industry roles, Business Analysts are given advice to be open to the many organizational directions. Acrobatics become one of the first training lessons, as Business Analysts navigate dynamics, priorities, relationships and cross-team goals.

It is no wonder that Business Analysis is related to a “wild card” role.

The many titles and hats that Business Analysts wear can be confusing when navigating conflicting interests and priorities within an organization. Loyalty and personal history can be a topic of question, especially if the Business Analyst’s professional history has been deep-rooted in a previous specific area.

Breaking down assumptions and supporting reinvention becomes part of personal branding and professional identity. This can be dangerous when eliciting requirements, as stakeholders may have preconceived notions or implicit bias on your approach from misplaced assumptions or even your time in previous departments.

How does one find neutrality in a world that yearns for categorization?

Analyst or Influencer?

Does your organization see you as an analyst or an influencer?

If you can flex your true “wild card” self, you may demonstrate the abilities as both, and be known as a truly effective catalyst of change.

In a professional landscape drenched in the demand of professional project management, where does the Business Analyst exist? The answer is everywhere, and anywhere!

Business Analysts in many cases have varying degrees of responsibility, leadership and influence. They may be the leaders of your initiative, gather requirements, specify requirements, train, implement or coordinate your most pertinent projects. In true wild card form though, they must be strategically included and value-considered. Including them early on and then not continuously can lead to confused team direction, responsibility and coordination. Alternatively, not including them until the very end can limit their involvement in helping to attain the optimal design option and execution.


Words from a Wise Captain – Engage!

Approaches to stakeholder engagement can blaze the path to define personal approaches. Personal connections can either limit or leverage your style. Be conscious of your conduct, influence and personal promotions in your organization, as they very much set the tone for where stakeholders suspect your personal interest may rest.

If you do not have a professional network that offers a mutually-beneficial environment, create one. This should be transactional in nature and offer an exchange of ideas, priorities, interests and concerns. These stakeholders are important to your own expertise and context, as you place yourself within projects, focus and organizational priorities.

That is not to say that the only valuable stakeholder is one with high influence. Listening to stakeholders that shoulder the day-to-day of operations can offer valuable insight to where initiatives involving efficiencies are best directed. When considering benchmarking efforts, listen to these voices that offer specifics, knowing that your own interest tends to consider that devil in the details!

Building Bridges

Utilizing efficiency in Business Analysis means accepting the varying contributions they bring to the table. If your organization does not specify the title of “Business Analyst”, consider those that carry the torch to provide the same function – they could be right outside your office door, already leading a herd of stakeholders that support your initiative.

If they do exist in title, consider the careful approaches they take to analyze impacts and create win/win scenarios. These are not easy positions or conversations, and the approach to effective change could exist within a current working and well-developed camouflage! Bridging worlds means understanding them, and Business Analysts have some of the best tools to construct those avenues of travel across dynamic professional worlds.

Break the Mold – Make your own Prototype

Professional development is quick to encourage the creation of up-and-comers for already-defined positions and identities. Do not be discouraged when someone asks you what the next step is and you have trouble articulating it in title but not description. If you can describe what you strive for, you are feeding your professional identity and development. Find a way to incorporate your own model within an existing title with a brand new approach. Forging new paths forward is the very root of innovation. The BABOK even self-defines as a “guide”. Standards do not require narrow lines of the same method. In essence, there is no single formula – and creativity and change often thrive without those restrictions.

Deploying the Wild Card

In a world with a revolving door-appetite of titles and qualifications, it is always useful to regularly scan your environment for your biggest agents of victory.

You may already be holding the best card in the deck.

Toolbelts in Times of Change

The kinds of organizational, environmental, and personal shifts that happen during changes on the global scale are both long-lasting and far-reaching.

A thorough approach is needed, not only to consider all impacts but also to plan the path of success. 

Business analysts can leverage specific approaches during times of significant change to help an organization put its best foot forward and effectively arrive on the other side of transformation. 

Adapt with Tools and Techniques

Business analysis tools and techniques that were successful in one circumstance may not be the ones best suited to a new environment. For example, the recent global pandemic reveals that many organizations are suddenly faced with having to forge new paths through uncharted territory in a technology-based virtual landscape. Meeting rooms, face-to-face interviews, and lunch workshops turned into IM chats and video conference calls while juggling pets and children in the virtual professional world. 

When left a new environment, a first impression may be one that sees a large number of limitations. The reality though, is that business analysis has many prescribed techniques that can be leveraged in a way that promotes elicitation and collaboration to thrive.

Explore the tools and technology available in your organization and it may be found that workshops can be easily adapted to video conferencing, where presentation software can still be used through screen sharing, where content does not require a great deal of edits. Understand the difference that a virtual environment provides, and you may find that brainstorming sessions may help typically shy stakeholders feel more comfortable participating in a call-in style dynamic, where they may not feel as “on the spot”.


Teams Move Mountains

The year 2020 saw many professional landscapes change. For many, physical buildings, water coolers and coffee machines turned into laptops, video conferencing, and screen sharing. Keeping stakeholders and project teams engaged with so much personal distraction is a delicate balance, but during such a significant global event, changing networks can create new meaningful connections. For example, individuals all balancing different personal lives and home situations may lead to changed work hours, which may shift team dynamics. Look for new ways to carry networks and connect with teams. Differing schedules may create ad-hoc availability and facilitate the possibility for an unstructured interview with a key stakeholder, where a typical schedule would not have allowed. 

Keeping teams engaged through the current state while projecting a future state amidst significant personal distractions takes a great deal of resiliency and organization. With some strategy and planning, the virtual environment can be one that allows for new meaningful connections with stakeholders, organized execution of goals, and winning arrivals at deadlines!

Allow team dynamics to have organic and healthy changes, and understand that these shared and lived experiences can add to cohesion, communication, and trust, which are all important characteristics of successful teams!

The Bigger Picture

Change is normal. While professionals are always encouraged to understand the inevitability of change and transformation, circumstance adds a factor that can magnify the impact and see the change as daunting and stressful. This is where conducting gap analyses with forward-thinking approaches can set the tone for initiatives of all sizes. Staying on course with momentum when considering current and future states can not only keep progress timely but can keep a change strategy effective. Stay on track of taking steps forward, even slower paced ones at times, and it will soon be found that you and your team are achieving the higher hanging fruit.

Changes during Changes

The world is a dynamic, fluid, and inconsistent experience. Keeping these few things in mind and approach can help transition yourself and your enterprise through the winds of change to a successful outcome:

  • Leverage your environment
  • Strength is in numbers
  • Keep your eye on the ball

The probable can be planned – the improbable is not usually part of the plan, but can have a significant impact. Keeping your professional and personal tool belt well-equipped with adaptable techniques can help yourself and your teams move toward that gold on the horizon.