The model concept is inextricably linked to Business Analysis. We often hear about modeling and various types of models in the very context of Business Analysis. What is modeling? What benefits does it bring? How to create models adequately and effectively? I will try to answer this and other related questions in the post below.
BABOK defines a model as follows:
“A representation and simplification of reality developed to convey information to a specific audience to support analysis, communication, and understanding.”
It mentions that the reality is represented by a model, and, what is important, it is simplified by it. Models allow us to blur unnecessary and unimportant details for the given context while focusing solely on essential aspects. These are the features which make models such great tools to facilitate analysis, understanding and, of course, communication.
Diagram as a model
Probably the most popular type of models used in Business Analysis are various diagrams. Depending on the modeling needs, using diagrams offers variety of options. It allows to present a system and its environment from several different perspectives, providing comprehensive and mutually supplementing view. What are the advantages of modeling and what benefits one can get when creating models?
Advantages of modeling
The list of advantages, as you probably expect, is fairly long. Some of them are presented below.
Reality tends to be a matter of great complexity. It is impossible to analyze it in its entirety, considering all possible details. But making a model allows to depict it while applying a certain level of abstraction, to be able to focus only on essential elements. By modeling a process or data structure we can present only those elements which are key to us and eliminate the “informational noise” which surrounds it.
Models allow to present information in a concise and condensed manner, while remaining clear and straightforward. To see it for yourself, you can conduct a simple experiment. Try to describe a complex process using the natural language only. Describe the particular actions, conditions, etc. Then depict the same process using diagram. Which descriptions is shorter and easier to comprehend? Then, show both descriptions to another person and ask which one is easier to understand.
Usually, change of process and change of state descriptions or data structure represented in the natural language are difficult to digest. Their correct interpretation often requires re-reading them multiple times. With diagrams it is a different story – they are much more accessible and easy to understand for most people due to their graphic form.
Validation of gathered information
The first person to benefit from creating a diagram is its author. The modeling process alone may result is benefits like assumption validation and verification of the correctness of gathered information. Thanks to creating a model, intrinsic contradictions may be detected and potential simplification and options to optimize may be revealed. It is sometimes difficult to spot even the obvious errors in the description until we actually create a diagram based on it.
Achieving common understanding
Each stakeholder has his or hers individual understanding of a given topic. Of course, it is never guaranteed that a specific way of understanding something is common for everyone. Until a description or a model is created and everyone involved familiarizes themselves with it, and until common understanding is attained or necessary corrections are processed, there is no guarantee that everyone is on the same page and the common understanding is in fact ‘common’. In this case a main advantage of a diagram model is that it is usually shorter and more comprehensive that a description in a natural language, it is therefore easier to be utilized in this situation.
Due to the advantages described above (models are concise, straightforward, clear and unambiguous) they are also easy to edit and maintain. Diagram models are excellent for documenting requirements and their respective solutions. They are especially well suited as a documentation aimed for a long-term information storage, including a documentation for maintenance and further development of software.
UML, BPMN or getting creative?
Among those who practice Business Analysis, there are many enthusiasts of improvised, ‘home-made’ notations, clumsily imitating the recognized names. Some claim that creating models using UML or BPMN is too complex and elaborate, too formal and difficult, and the notations are not a common knowledge so it is difficult to use them while communicating with the stakeholders.
Is it then worth using the defined notations such as UML or BPMN? In my view, the only answer is ‘yes’. Below is a list of the 3 main arguments in favor of this opinion.
Low entry threshold
It is true that UML and BPMN are very elaborate notations, offering a wide range of options to advanced users. It is also true that getting to know them on the basic level is fairly quick and easy. Many applications require only the basic elements, mastering of which should not be particularly difficult.
Great potential and flexibility
As mentioned before, both, the UML and the BPMN provide proficient users with high potential and advanced possibilities. This allows to adjust diagrams flexibly to the needs of the audience. In case you need to, it is possible to create simple models, using only elementary components. In other circumstances, when you communicate with expert users of the said notations, advanced elements are also available to create complex and information-rich diagrams.
Standardization and documentation
If a professionally defined and documented notation is available, what is the purpose of creating a new one? The benefits seem to be scarce and potential problems are looming straight away. To name the few: issues with incorrect interpretation of particular elements and maintaining coherence. Often what motivates the authors of private notations is a desire to simplify and thus reach unadvanced audience more effectively. However, the possibility offered by the recognized notations to limit the modeling to the base elements so the diagram is as simple as required, seems to be a better solution.
Which diagrams to use?
I have already explained the benefits of modeling by using diagrams and the advantages of using existing, recognized notations. An open question is which type of a diagram to use in given situation? Some of the popular types of diagrams used for Business Analysis are listed below:
- Entity Relational Diagram (ERD)
- BPMN Process Models
- UML Diagrams:
- State Machine
- Use Case
Coming up: There are blog posts on the way dedicated to each of the above diagram type. I will explain how to build a model using each one of them. Stay in touch for the updates (follow me on Facebook).
- Create diagrams and use them to validate gathered information, to search for simpler options, and to communicate with stakeholders
- Try to create documentation based on the diagram models supported by short commentary
- Use the defined and recognized notations
- Adjust the complexity level to your audience
- Select an appropriate diagram type for a given situation
A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® (BABOK® Guide). Version 3. 2015.