Business Analysis: Pictures versus Words?
Business Analysts use models which are presented as pictures. Business Analysts also need to write text. This may give rise to a debate:
“Pictures versus Words – which is better?”
(In the picture I’m making a playful reference to Rene Magritte’s famous painting “The Treachery of Images”). Unfortunately, the honest answer to this question has to be “it depends”. It depends on what:
- You trying to achieve with your model or text?
- The business side wants and understands?
- IT side needs and understands?
- You comfortable with?
Inevitably the answer is going to finish up as a compromise.
The limitations of words
Words are marvellous! You are reading this blog post! Informally, most projects start off with a short statement “we want to do something”. We add detail to that statement and it becomes a list of “requirements”. That is good, but as we start to describe our “pipe”, sometimes we find that “a picture (or model) really is worth a thousand words”.
In the “Pictures versus Words” debate, the strength of words is found when they are brief and used to define the details. They are less good for explaining how things relate to one-another.
Words alone may make for a weak bridge between business and IT. And beware! Lawyers have been arguing about the precise meanings of words since time immemorial!
The power of models (or pictures)
“Orthographic Projection” is one standard way of arranging different views of the same object. You know very quickly that the diagram describes a type of chair.
Picture models like engineering drawings are strong when they are used to provide overview and show how things relate to one another. By using different views of the same thing we can check each one against the others and detect inconsistencies at an early stage.
In summary, pictures and models are useful and so is text. Use both as appropriate. Add detail as you need it, but limit the amount of detail to what you need. Choose the models you use with care so that you can use them to validate the requirements. My advice is to apply Ward Cunningham’s comment “The simplest thing that could possibly work” to documentation and requirements.