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BA Templates – Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

by Jarett Hailes5

I must admit, I have a love-hate relationship with templates. On the one hand they can be an effective way to support well-defined business analysis processes, ensuring deliverables are presented in a consistent manner and facilitate a shared vision. On the other hand they can be cumbersome, overly-complicated forms that lead to confusing, boring deliverables that detract from their original intent. As Business Analysts, what can we do to define and refine our templates so they help more than they hinder our goals?

When I’ve worked with clients to enhance their organizational business analysis maturity I’ve developed templates to support the business analysis processes being put in place. Through my work with these organizations, I have come up with some initial overall assessment and template-specific criteria to help figure out when a template is needed and if the developed template is ready for use.

Initial Overall Assessment Criteria

To get started, I usually want to determine which templates are needed versus what may be nice to have or even hamper business analysis activities. Some of the typical questions I will ask include:

  • Who performs the business analysis activities for the organization?
  • What is their level of expertise and competency in business analysis activities?
  • What are the deliverables within the business analysis function for the organization?
  • What tools are available to develop and maintain business analysis deliverables?
  • How will the content within the business analysis deliverables be used by stakeholders?
  • Are there related job functions within the organization that will contribute to a shared deliverable or where the business analysis output is already defined in one of their templates?
  • What is the size of the organization or organizational units in scope that will use the templates?
  • How diverse is the employee population (in terms of educational background, cultures, and job functions)?
  • What is the recent employee turnover rate for the organization?

For each deliverable a BA may expect to develop, you can use the above information to determine whether a template is mandatory, helpful but not absolutely necessary, or has limited value.

In smaller organizations or organizational unit (less than 200 people), I have found less need to have templates for intermediate or seldom-performed activities, particularly if they share a similar background or have been predominantly working together for many years with little turnover. In these situations staff can often quickly understand each other through a variety of communication methods, and are less reliant on standard documentation to achieve a shared vision. In some circumstances, the rigidity of a template can inhibit their dynamic communication or adds an unnecessary layer of work before they can continue to the next task in the process.

Organizations that rely on people to perform business analysis as a secondary job function, or who frequently bring in business analysis consultants or contractors to perform BA tasks, often benefit from having more templates than fewer ones.

Template Quality Criteria

A good template is like a good deliverable: it should be understandable to its target audience, be purpose-driven, and present a clear and consistent message. The University of Reading in the UK has a very good list of 16 quality criteria for any document, which can also apply to templates.

When a template is drafted, the following questions can be put to all the stakeholders involved in the creation and use of deliverables based on the template:

  • Is the purpose of the template clearly defined?
  • Is it easy to see when the template should be used, either in the business analysis process documentation or within the template itself?
  • Are there instructions on how to complete the template? Have they been vetted by the users of the template as being clear and relevant?
  • Are there examples on how to complete the template?
  • Are there related templates for diagrams or other artifacts that go into the template?
  • Is it clear which sections must be completed versus optional?
  • For optional sections, does it clearly state when these sections should be included?
  • If there are many optional sections:
    • Are there several either/or sections?
    • Are there sections for infrequent occurrences?
    • Would it be better to have separate templates for alternative circumstances?
    • Where there is information being pulled from other sources, is it clear how to bring that information into the template in a consistent manner?
    • After you’ve used the template a couple of times, do you find yourself having to spend more time customizing or removing information from the template than you do putting information into the template?

Once the template is developed, it should be reviewed regularly to ensure it still meets the needs of the organization given the inevitable changes that occur over time. The only thing worse than no standards is out-of-date standards.

Beyond Traditional Documents

As Business Analyst tools and techniques have matured, alternatives to traditional Office document deliverables are starting to become more prevalent. Whether you are using a wiki, a video, an interactive web-based presentation, a functional or non-functional prototype, or some other manifestation of business analysis work, the above principles for template development still apply. Some level of standardization with these outputs develops consistent stakeholder expectations and ensures the resulting outputs are able to be used in the next stage of the overall organizational process that business analysis is occurring within.

Templates can be a helpful addition to a BA’s toolkit or a hindrance to getting work done; if you are going to use them take the time to develop meaningful and actionable templates that will make your life simpler in the future.

Your Thoughts Please

 How has your experience been working with templates? Please use the comment area below to leave your feedback or any questions.

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Article by

Jarett Hailes (CBAP) is President of Larimar Consulting Inc. Since 2007, Jarett has worked with organizations to identify problems and opportunities quicker, deliver meaningful solutions faster, and ensure all stakeholders are working towards a shared vision. Jarett uses a combination of business analysis, change management, financial analysis and project management to help his clients successfully navigate change. Prior to starting his consulting practice, Jarett co-founded two University spin-off companies to commercialize mathematical algorithms with applications in finance, defense, and advertising. Jarett also teaches business analysis courses at the University of Alberta.

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5 Responses to “BA Templates – Separating the Wheat from the Chaff”

  1. Good articles. One difference. I have NOT found where templates are NOT USEFUL if they are of the right size with optional sections to be filled later as one progresses in the analysis / assessment / conclusions phases of the work.

    I find bullets are used for all points in the article. If the number of bullets is more than three it is advantageous to use numbers in stead of symbols.

    I find TEMPLATE QUALITY CRITERIA most useful of this article. By the way I satisfy all the criteria fully with respect to my templates for BA & RE and other activities too.

    As I evolved templates they became too elaborate and long (to the extent of inhibiting the users including myself). Then I identified “minimum essential sections / fields to be filled” and reorganized all my templates. This is a key quality factor of a template.

    I did add instructions and examples—they are very necessary and helpful in teaching, training and actual professional work (when others are involved). All my templates are filled incrementally and iteratively with clear instructions.

    I have NOT put all my templates and checklists on slideshare but there are a few usable samples there. Please take a look and give me feedback.

    http://www.slideshare.net/putchavn

    Cheers,
    01MAY14

  2. Preethi says:

    An advantage of Templates if well structured, will help us to cover all areas being addressed,but at times this can get us also bogged down by trying to capture all minute details resulting in actual problem being overlooked . But should say it’s an effective tool for a BA who just joined as it guides them to understand what to look for . as documentation process varies organisation to organisations,and this can be a effective tool for standardisation.

  3. Swati Pitre says:

    Hey Yamo, interesting and important subject for all BAs and you have written it neatly, while giving due importance to the importance of the templates as well as sighting the areas one should watch out for. Indeed it has happened with me in earlier days of practicing as BA when I used to just need templates as a huge support for business analysis work. That even though inspired me to look for and/or create/customize templates for the organization, it also used to have me bogged down by the task of filling up contents of the templates. Eventually I realized there is a need to find that golden mean where in you ask right questions during planning stage of business analysis, check whether some templates are really necessary (and are sufficient). If not, we need to just choose not to use them. It is also very important to consult with all the key stakeholders to see if they are comfortable with using the templates. Especially for diagram based models, stakeholders may prefer to create process templates (for e.g.) using certain tools/ways than others. In the end, templates are for us and not the reverse way. And an optimal template set can enormously help BA and overall project team in multifold ways.

  4. Jim says:

    I think templates can be very useful if they are used correctly. However, I’ve seen many a template filled with minimum text that is often meaningless. The advantage, that I see, is templates can be used to hold the contractor’s feet to the fire and force them to plan and inform the client what they will be doing or have done. Some contractors often do not want to document anything as they view it as a waste of time and money. They do not realize that not documenting can cost them more money and create delays in the the execution of the project.

  5. Sakshi Varma says:

    A very good article indeed!!

    Well drafted templates are not only helpful for the existing BA ‘s in an organisation but also assist the new starters in understanding the processes and guidelines used by the company.

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