KK: How To Write Data and Process Specifications

Using a Data Flow Diagram to Define Process and Data Specs Provides the Level of Detail that Solution Providers Need


Author: Tom and Angela Hathaway
Video Duration: 13:31 minutes

This KnowledgeKnugget™ is part of an eBook and an eCourse

Video Overview

This KnowledgeKnugget™ (KK) assumes you have a detailed Data Flow Diagram (DFD) and need to write process specifications for one or more processes. The KK introduces techniques for writing the details that express process specifications and relevant data. To be efficient, express the details using tools that the Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) and the solution providers understand.

Video Transcript Excerpt

Use the “Right Documentation Approach” to Communicate Process Specifications

At this point on your project you have created a data flow diagram, exploded complex processes to the appropriate level of detail, and balanced the two levels. You will discover that there are process details that those who will develop the solution need to know but that you cannot express using the symbols of a data flow diagram. How can you capture and communicate process specifications to the solution providers?

In data flow diagramming language, any process that you do not explode to a lower level of detail is called a ‘Functional Primitive’. Functional Primitives are not good candidates for further explosion because analyzing the transformation, transportation, and storage of data within them reveals nothing of value. You may need to describe what happens inside a Functional Primitive but need a different tool to enable a thorough analysis or to inform the downstream developers what the process really does. A description of a Functional Primitive is called a ‘Mini-Spec’ or a ‘Process Specification’. You have a wide range of possible tools for documenting process specifications. To illustrate that, here are several examples of how you might document the Functional Primitive SORT MAIL.

You could use plain, simple English by writing a brief description:

The mail arrives between 8am and 10am Monday through Friday. The Mail Clerk opens each envelope and separates the contents into four stacks: Orders with Payments, Orders without Payments, Payments, and Complaints. Once that is complete, the Mail Clerk processes the stack of Orders with Payments.

For each order, he carefully separates the check from the order without damaging either, makes a copy of the order, staples the check to the copy, and adds the copy with check attached to the stack of Payments destined for ACCOUNTING. If the amount of payment exceeds 50% of the total price, he stamps the order “Credit OK” and puts it on a stack labeled Prepaid Orders; otherwise, he places the original order on the Orders without Payment stack.

Once he has processed all Orders with Payment, the Mail Clerk distributes the stacks to the appropriate department:

  • Original Orders stay in the Order Entry Department
  • Payments and Copies of Orders with Payment got to Accounting
  • Complaints go to Customer Service

If you and your target audience are comfortable with concepts such as Pseudo Code or Structured English, you could also write the specification like this:

… [end of excerpt]


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