I recently recognized that we who wear the Business Analysis hat are actually in the garbage business. This may sound controversial on the face of it, but let me explain. Early pioneers of information technology experienced an obvious epiphany when they expressed the “GIGO” effect: Garbage In, Garbage Out. Simple. Elegant. Powerful. In my younger years as a developer, I used this handy acronym to explain many “errors” reported by users of applications I developed or designed. I never contemplated that GIGO could be used to explain a lot more than just bad input to an application. It seems that the outcome of any process is pretty much predetermined by the quality of whatever you put into it. This includes at its very heart the process of defining requirements for IT solutions.
My personal epiphany was to realize that GIGO is a phenomenal explanation for all forms of problems with requirements. If you pass ambiguous, subject, and vague (just a few of the attributes that turn a statement into “garbage”) requirements to developers, you can hardly expect the delivered application to have high quality. Any piece of a requirement that is missing or that can be misunderstood, miscommunicated, or misconstrued adds to the “garbaginess” of the requirement as a whole.
The one wearing the BA hat is responsible for recognizing and removing “garbage” (e.g., bad requirements) on the “in” side of the equation. This is not a simple task because garbage does not always smell bad (at least not until we can use IT to take advantage of our olfactory sense; once that happens, the statement “this application stinks” might take on a whole different meaning). In addition, another adage gets it the way, “One person’s trash is another person’s treasure.” Garbage is not garbage in every setting. You need a robust tool kit to determine whether a requirement is garbage in the context of your project or actually represents a legitimate business need. Once you identify a requirement as garbage, you also need a variety of techniques for cleaning it up, refurbishing it, refining it, or otherwise eliminating whatever attributes cause it to be “garbage”.
Interestingly enough, biology can be a notable exception to the GIGO effect. Although the genes going into a new plant, animal, or person may not be of the highest quality, they do not necessarily determine the quality of the being that is produced. Offspring can and often do exhibit traits far superior to those that the progenitors possess. One factor that counterbalances the GIGO effect is good parenting, or the simple act of guiding offspring to avoid making at least some of the same mistakes we made. The corollary to good parenting in business analysis is following best practices in the requirements elicitation, analysis, and management processes. The more attention you pay to the process of defining the product, the fewer problems you will experience with designing and delivering it. If you can find the time to develop high-quality requirements, you just might be able to get out of the garbage business.