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The function of business analysts is to build understanding. When we are really at our most effective we are not only capturing and communicating details, we are building and communicating understanding.
One method I have found to be super effective at building understanding is the Business Activity Workshop. The understanding decomposed by utilizing the Business Activity Workshop can then be recomposed into requirements which are used to build models, user stories, use cases and finally test cases.
The business activity workshop method that I use involves a three step approach of facilitated decomposition which builds understanding real time, with immediate feedback as to whether or not I understand what the future system should look like. For the sake of brevity, it is assumed that the current state has been separately captured and is readily understood.
Step One: Details, details, details
The business activity workshop requires that the analyst (yes, this means you) actively facilitates and that the participants actively participate. This is not a passive experience – it is the analyst’s job to ensure engagement.
Each individual activity is comprised of distinct elements. The workshop participants should be asked pointed and direct questions and the answers are collected in a tabular format:
Step Two: Draw a diagram – circles, squares, arrows and stick people.
I am the world’s worst artist but I can draw a circle, a square (to break up the monotony of drawing circles), arrows and stick people. Using the table of information from step one, draw a context diagram representing each of the elements (the circles, squares and stick people) and use titled arrows to indicate data input or output flow.
Step Three: Now, tell the story
Yes, literally turn to your audience and restate what it is that you now think you understand about the activity. Immediately replay the tape in your head and narrate what transpires in the defined activity to relate what it is that you understand and what you don’t understand.
The spoken narrative is a super effective means to encapsulate what you don’t understand – this is critical to the process. What you don’t understand is the most important part of the activity – I guarantee it. This narrative binds the facilitator to the participants – each is taking responsibility for the building of the understanding.
Congratulations – you are the proud owner of a business activity!
In three compact steps you have decomposed the activity, applied the element of contextual understanding and narrated how it all works together. You have captured the elements in a traceable and a relevant method. Most importantly, you completely understand it. Take pictures of the whiteboard with your mobile phone/digital camera for use in future documentation and move on to the next activity.
Next in this series: Being Effective in any Analysis Situation