by Vivek Venkatraman,
Business Analysts Pty Ltd Consultant
I would like to discuss the importance of understanding the link between process and data while performing business analysis. Process and data are the fundamental elements of any business. It is critical to understand how they are linked to understand the product or service delivery because almost every business process has data linked to or flowing through it. Understanding the linkage helps gain better understanding of new domains and/or complex processes and helps to elicit requirements more effectively. It also helps uncover essential processes or links that may otherwise be overlooked. Insufficient understanding of the linkage between process and data might lead to incorrect and or incomplete requirements.
Identifying the linkage pattern can be quite useful when:
- creating a new business process
- analysing an existing process to understand the overall business process
- understanding the terminologies of the existing business process
- creating new data models from process flows
- defining epics and user stories
- writing effective acceptance criteria for user stories
There are a few steps which can be followed to help understand the linkage between process and data. Following steps can be followed for analysing existing business process to understand the business:
- Begin with the process flow diagram to understand the sequence of tasks in a process.
- Identify the data elements that passes through every task in a process.
- Use these data elements to understand more about the data models and how it links back to different tasks in the process.
- An in-depth understanding of the data model would help identify other processes that may relate to the current process.
- Understanding the business processes that are related or linked to the current process would help gain a holistic view of the product/application.
Creating a new process to a level of detail requires an in-depth understanding of the process and data flows. This involves asking a lot of questions while charting out the business process flow diagrams and this is an iterative process. As we gain better understanding of the process and data, the quality of questions and the level of details would significantly improve.
- From the initial elicitation information available, create a high-level process flow diagram.
- Within each of the tasks, determine what data would flow through it.
- From the identified data, create data models by liaising with the stakeholders.
- This is an iterative process and as we gain better and better understanding of the data and process models, more questions would pop up till we are satisfied with the level of detail in the process flow diagram.
Later, I will discuss with examples on how the quality of questions would improve as we understand process and data together.
A few techniques can be used for this purpose:
- The question that we need to ask to identify data when looking at the process flow is – “what data flows through this task and how does it relate to my process?”
- From the data modelling, we can ask questions like “is this data used in any other task in the process and if so, how does is it used?”
- For understanding the data and in turn the application as a whole, we can ask “what are the other processes this data is used in?”
Leveraging the English language
- A well written process task is written in “Verb Adjective Noun” format.
- The “Adjective Noun” in the process would help identify the data element which could then be used to understand the data.
I will discuss a couple of examples on how understanding data and process as a whole can help analyse or create better business processes.
An example of a customer order – Designing a new process to allow the user to create, edit and submit an order. The system validates the order and confirms the order.
The process flow in the previous slide is quite simple but understanding the data might help understand the underlying business objective for writing better requirements. A few questions that would then help model the data are
- What is the customer trying to order?
- What are the attributes of a customer order?
- Are the attributes linked to any other data source and what is the relationship?
- If there is a relationship with other data elements, are those elements linked to the current process?
We can then create a data model once we have the above questions answered and relationships defined
A better understanding of process and data helps ask better questions which directly benefits in writing better requirements. It is by our understanding of process and data that we are able to ask the below questions:
- Does the customer have a registered account and if not, does it have to be linked?
- Does the asset exist and if so, do we have all the necessary details?
- Has the validation for the asset and account been done already or does it have to be done as part of the order validation?
These are very valuables questions that help create the process flow in a detail that we need. Failing to get these questions answered may lead to missing details from the process flow diagrams. Understanding the process and data together thus helps writing better requirements, user stories and acceptance criteria.
Another example I would like to discuss is that of an Income process where we only have a high-level process flow.
The above high-level process doesn’t help understanding the entire business process. Let us try to use some techniques we discussed earlier to help understand the business process.
- Looking at the process flow, let’s try to identify the data by using the “Verb Adjective Noun” technique.
- Using this technique, “Income Announcement” will have to be the data for the first task.
- Similarly, “Client Holdings” and “Customer Payment” should have to be the data for the subsequent tasks.
Let’s look at the data models to gain a better understanding
From the above diagram, it is evident that
- For an “Announcement” to exist, there needs to be an “Asset”.
- To gain better understanding of the “Capture Income Announcement” task, ask “how do we get the payable and record date information” and if there is a process for that, understand that process as well.
- For a “Create Customer Payment” task, we can understand from the data that a Payment needs to have an announcement, Asset, Holding and Account.
- Since we can see that Announcement is created from an Asset and Holding is created from Asset & Account, a payment can be created from the announcement and holding information which is in the previous two tasks.
This linkage between data and process thus helps understand what the business process is and what the outputs of the process are.
From the examples, we can conclude that linking data and process is essential for:
- In-depth understanding of any business process
- Understanding new domains quickly
- Understanding the terminologies used in different domains
- Developing better requirements
- Improving quality of user stories and acceptance criteria
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