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Making Requirement Artifacts Consumable

One of the things that I’ve noticed that some business analysts have a tendency to do is to try and get as much information onto one page as possible. I can understand that desire, wanting to keep all relevant information together.  For example, when creating a process flow, there is a natural tendency to put the entire flow on one diagram.

But there is a challenge to that approach. It can make the resulting model not consumable for your stakeholders. When a stakeholder looks at a process flow, or any other visual model, and it has so much information on it that there is very little whitespace, they get overwhelmed. They get overwhelmed to the point that they just can’t consume the information. And if they can’t consume the information, then they can’t provide feedback and input into correcting the models.

Let’s look at an example.  This first example is a process flow for a sales process.  It is a level 2 process flow, meaning that it has more information than a high level (L1) process flow, but not as much detail as a lower level (L3) process flow.  This particular flow takes the process from when sales requests a credit review through the approval process to funding.

Many

As you can see, there is a lot of information on this process flow.  And unless you are familiar with process flows, it is a lot of information to absorb. The process is correct, however there is a lot to review and focus on.  Reviewing this with a stakeholder or a subject matter expert would take quite a bit of time: to get them focused, to explain to them how this is organized, to keep them on track.

Now let’s look at a different example. This is the same process, however what I have done is focused only on the first line of the original process flow.  As you can see, the information is the same. I did organize it slightly differently, since I had the space to do so.

Few

Now the process is much cleaner, and easier to consume. It allows me to focus my discussions on a small part of the process. It allows me to keep my stakeholders and subject matter experts focused as well.

Granted, by breaking the process down into multiple process flows means that I will have numerous pages for a single process. And I agree, that can be a pain to create and maintain. However, the tradeoff of being able to have my reviewers consume and understand the information much more quickly makes it worth the effort.

There is a concept that was initially developed by a psychologist George Miller, called Miller’s Magic Number.  The number is 7 ± 2.

Millers Magic Number

What George Miller demonstrated is that people can only process  7 ± 2 things at any time. We like to use Miller’s Magic Number as a guideline for all of our visual models. By keeping the number of objects to roughly  7 ± 2 things, it helps people process that information.

While this approach may mean a bit more work for us as business analysts, the most important thing is that we are able to get feedback and approvals from our stakeholders. We must be willing to modify our approach and processes in order to provide the best requirements possible.

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