The World of Words – Communicating without Process Models

communicating process modelsAll too often, we try to communicate with only words. We live in a world of text and try to communicate solely in that medium. As powerful as words are, they can be deceiving.

Given the following (well-structured) business requirements:

  1. The system will determine the current credit status of existing customers prior to processing an order.
  2. All item numbers and descriptions on the order have to match item numbers and descriptions in our inventory before the order can be sent to Fulfillment.
  3. Payments and partial payments for orders must be sent to Accounting before the order can be processed.
  4. Orders from new customers will be sent to the credit department for a credit check before they are processed.
  5. Valid orders will be batched into shipping zones before they are sent to Fulfillment.
  6. Accounting must apply all payments received to the correct customer account.

The Analysis Challenge

Before reading any further, try to answer the following questions:

  1. Which of these requirements impact our order entry process?
  2. What is the sequence in which those requirements impact our order entry process?
  3. What questions do you have for the subject matter expert to identify potentially missing business requirements?

The Power of Process Models

Next, study the activity diagram below:

Order Entry Activity Diagram

Analysis Revisited

Now, try to answer the same questions:

  1. Which of those requirements impact our order entry process?
  2. What is the sequence in which those requirements impact our order entry process?
  3. What questions do you have for the subject matter expert to identify potentially missing business requirements?

The Payback of Process Models

Studying the diagram could (dare we say should?) lead you to the following questions:

  1. What happens to existing customers who do not have good credit?
  2. What happens to new customers who have bad credit?
  3. Where do the orders with item number/description mismatches go?
  4. When do we get the orders with item number/description mismatches back?
  5. Where does customer data come from?
  6. Where does inventory data come from?
  7. Where do shipping zones come from?

Each of these questions represents a potentially missing business requirement. Missing business requirements are one of the biggest contributors to failed and challenged IT projects. If the diagram helped you identify at least one of the 8 questions listed above (or any number of other questions I am not thinking about) that lead you to find a single missing business requirement, you would have just paid for the time it took you to create and analyze the diagram many times over.

If you would like to delve into more detail on process models, we have several Knowledge Knuggets™, an ebook, as well as ILT training on defining process models for requirements analysis.

The Future of Modeling

Confucius (or another one of the early Chinese geniuses) is credited with saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. In today‘s world of fast-paced, agile development, we often wonder whether this proverb can still be heard by the overworked and stressed-out analysts above the clamor for rapid analysis and fast turn-around. All too often in our training, we experience moments of enlightenment in the eyes of our students when we present the concept of creating a diagram of what the subject matter experts actually do before they start to figure out how to do it differently. To put it succinctly, if you want to do something faster AND better, you need to see the whole picture first.