Are Business Requirements Modern Alchemy?

In the Middle Ages Alchemists were often regarded as charlatans or fanatics who were convinced they could change iron into gold. I hope that the comparison with Business Analysts is not accurate. I have to confess as a methodologist I once belonged to the second group, torturing poor subject matter experts for hours with my methodical stringency in the search for the holy grail of the “Truth” of the requirements.

Recently I was training a group of Business Analysts at a global bank. Proudly they informed me that all their projects were now “agile”. As we went through various elicitation techniques I realised that few of the participants had any experience of Use Cases, Scenarios or even with Data or Process Modelling. Instead they showed considerable proficiency in analysing code or listing User Stories.

Where has all the methodology gone?
We have reached a point at which we can take Big Data apart and analyse individuals’ online behaviour, but we seem to have lost the big picture of what happens in total in companies. Worse still, with each generation we understand less of what the system does and why it does it, when we start a transaction. Is this the meaning of Artificial Intelligence?

Actually I am wildly enthusiastic about the possibilities of UML and the various techniques like Case Modelling. In the past we struggled with the issue of handovers from business to IT which were more like “throwing it over the wall”.  Now UML and BABoK Methodology offer us a greatly improved approach to understanding, modelling and communicating business requirements. We can even develop a solution that the business guys recognise! At last Agile offers us a chance systematically to talk about and document priorities as standard procedure. And the magic of Business Analysis can bear fruit and deliver tangible benefits.

Unfortunately some teams have In their enthusiasm for an agile approach thrown documentation overboard. It is praiseworthy to make functionality quickly accessible. But how is your successor supposed to maintain the solution when you’re gone? Are future BA’s supposed to re-invent the wheel again and again? It should be the shining hour for BA’s, because now they can model and document requirements in a structured way that finally permits consistency through to implementation: just consider the power of data or class models, or the steps from business process to Use Case and Activity Diagram.

Alchemy was a mysterious pseudo- science – Business Analysis is on the other hand an analytical form of communication. Talk is silver, requirements are gold.


  • Harlekin5-klein: Bildrechte beim Autor

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