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One Note About Organizing Your Thoughts… for Business Analysts

One of the challenges we encounter when creating software requirements is that of sifting through significant amounts of information while ensuring that we have sufficiently “covered all the bases”.  This can be especially daunting as we transition from defining the “why” (Business Objectives) to defining the “what” (Business or Functional Requirements).

At Seilevel, we use a model for organizing our thoughts called an Affinity Diagram.  For instance, during a brainstorming session whose purpose is to kick off the discovery of “what” we are going to do, we often start by eliciting thoughts and recording those ideas on sticky notes.  As this phase begins to run out of steam, categories are defined, written on a whiteboard, and the sticky notes are placed below each category, forming columns on the whiteboard.  Moving into the next phase, we then ask folks to sequentially focus on the individual categories, so that we can record the maximum amount of information in a single session.

There are a couple of difficulties that we often run across while performing these operations.  One is a simple space limitation, where we quickly run out of real estate on a whiteboard while gathering information about larger projects.  The other is that this process does not work as well when it comes to a global audience.  Some organizations may have video capabilities in their conference rooms; however, even when this is the case, reading words off of sticky notes from such a display can be quite an adventure.

There is a fantastically simple solution for conquering these challenges: Microsoft OneNote.  Using OneNote, a projector, and some conferencing software (such as Microsoft’s Live Meeting), the meeting organizer can successfully entice a global audience to participate in a session.

For example, when eliciting information about a particular topic (in this case, brainstorming the creation of www.triviatise.com), the organizer can start with a blank page, and record the output of the original elicitation activity under a folder within OneNote for everyone to see.


Once this initial list is obtained, the subpage capability can be utilized to identify the different categories (Target Audience, Branding, and Determining Winners in this example), and items from the master list can be copied into the appropriate category subpage.

As we move deeper into the process, by switching to a particular subpage, you can effectively narrow focus to that subject in order to expand on that list.  Using OneNote in this way has the added advantage of not leaving the original list up on the screen for all to see, so wandering minds do not get distracted while thinking about some of the other concepts involved in the project.

I have found OneNote to be immensely useful, not only for elicitation sessions, but also for organizing notes about my various projects.  By pulling content out of important emails and storing that content in OneNote, I can use the various tabs, pages, and subpages to appropriately organize what would otherwise be overwhelming volumes of information.  OneNote is a fantastic tool for organizing your thoughts, and can help you to retain your sanity in today’s environment of limited resources and heightened responsibility.

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