Is Business Analysis Low Tech?

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Many of the people who attend our training workshops ask us the same questions – what are the best business analysis tools, what software should I use, can we have computers in the training room?

But the reality is, the more sophisticated the software you’re using, the greater the chance it will hinder, rather than help, the business analysis process.

Over 10 years ago now, an article by Scott Ambler, Software Modelling on Whiteboards, argued that the modelling tool with the greatest installed base in the world was the whiteboard. They are easy to use – no skills or training are required, and you find them in every office. Scott is the agile practice leader at IBM and author of several books on agile and UML.

Similarly, Alistair Cockburn (of Agile Manifesto fame) put forward in his 2001 book Agile Software Development that face to face is the most effective form of communication – particularly when enhanced with whiteboards, flip charts, paper or index cards. See Scott Ambler’s article on Communication on Software Projects which uses data from Alistair’s book…

“As you move away from this situation, perhaps by removing the shared medium or by no longer being face-to-face you experience a drop in communication effectiveness. As the richness of your communication channel cools you lose physical proximity and the conscious and subconscious clues that such proximity provides. You also lose the benefit of multiple modalities, the ability to communicate through techniques other than words such as gestures and facial expressions”.

OK you might argue, but the world has moved on, smart phones, tablets, cloud computing are part of our everyday life. We now have a huge range of modelling and requirements management tools at our disposal.

So why have recent business analysis articles trumpeted the benefits of such leading edge tools as Etch a Sketch and drawing paper? And we all know that agile was really invented by 3M as a means of boosting post-it note sales!

In the words of Brian Cooney, author of Separating Analysis from Design, would Shakespeare have been a better writer if he had a word processor? If you think so, grab your favourite word processor and write a sonnet which people will be delighted to quote 400 years from now.

What’s clear from all this is that the best tool in the world is the one you’re born with – your brain. Mastering it and applying its enormous capabilities to your business analysis problems is a far better ROI than learning the latest software toolset.

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