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Agile Business Analysis using UML

Following the lead of another forum, where the question was asked about the use of UML by Business Analysts, I would like to ask the same question when we come to Agile Analysis.

The answer is NOT simple and like all professional questions needs analysis. This means, I shall post a series of these blog pages, expanding one point at a time. I will NOT rush in and give you the answer now.

  • Business Analysis is a coat of many colours:
    • It starts with the real business professional or consultant. They are masters of politics, hand waving and general waffle. Above all they speak 'Management speak' and that certainly does NOT include a solid diagramatic approach. They know that 'If a person has time to read a document, they are NOT a manager.' It is the members of this group who very often help make the decision to start a program of work on computer systems to meet some business. requirements. These are the people who read the documents aimed at managers. They are really Business Consultants.
    • Then there are Real Business Analysts. These guys map out how the business works and how to change it. BPR is a term I most often associate with them. Producing a spec for a software system is something they can do if the need arises. BPMN is probably central to the diagramatic aspects of their work. Costing floor space, business growth etc is as important They do NOT need two products doing the same job, so UML is one of the many methods they need to know about without needing to be able to use it.
    • Next comes the Computing Business Analyst. They analyse the business, including mapping Business Processes and identifying Business Requirements. They may also produce Business Requirements Documents, or respond to them with System Specifications, responses to tender. They work on the basis that if there is a relevant Business Process, it MUST be documented. This documentation is often very helpful to a person doing a full analysis of a Business requirement. They differ largely from the 'Real Business Analyst' in that they are brought onto a project in order to help create a new computer product; Real Business Analysts, are interested in how the business will respond to such a computer system, and the computing side is just a small part of their job.
    • Finally, there is the Business Systems Analyst, for whom the Business Process Diagram is a necessary evel that they may sometimes have to resort to. These are the guys who really should be using UML. They should define the requirements for the computer system and ensure that someone designs and builds them. This is also the group that will have the greatest trouble talking to the potential end users, the project sponsors and the senior management. 

These categories have been mapped out, just to show that the question is NOT a simple as it seems. You need to start with the definition of what or who a Business Analyst is. NO two BAs are ever the same. NO one BA ever does the same job twice. There are many shades of grey.

This changes the question from 'Should BAs use UML? into 'When should BAs use UML, if at all?

Finally, I will leave you with a thought for the next  page. 'Do Business Analysts ever Analyse?'


This entry was published on Feb 26, 2009 / Gil. Posted in Unified Modeling Language (UML), Systems Analysis, Business Analysis, Agile Methods. Bookmark the Permalink or E-mail it to a friend.
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gbcambridge posted on Friday, March 6, 2009 6:29 AM
there are a lot of points to discuss in the above article. Firstly UML is large and its audience spans more than only the BA. The majority of UML is aimed at technical staff. In fact the Use Case portions of the UML are a bolt-on and significantly pre-date the UML itself.
The most useful parts of the UML for a BA are likely to be the Use Cases, Activity Diagrams (aka Flow Charts) and State Diagrams. The rest is primarily aimed at technical staff.
Use Cases exist in a variety of flavours and levels. Of the flavours the most interesting are the Business Use Cases and the Systems Use Case, where it is usual that a Business Use Case has a one-to-many relationship with Systems Use Cases, the latter merely being the automated portions of a total Business Process. The former is the start for the BA and the Systems Use Case usually will need some technical input.

Significant use of Use Cases cannot ignore the tools for managing them. Most tools, Enterprise Architect, NoMagic, Poseidon.... are really aimed at technical staff. They make an attempt at managing Use Cases but generally they are too complex for BA use and too weak in the total Use Case area. They really exist to support the technical world of Class diagrams, sequence and collaboration diagrams, patterns and code generation (and more ...).
Friendlier and more powerful tools do exist and I can suggest TopTeam from TechnoSolutions as a possible tool for managing all types of Use Case, prototyping, simulations, glossaries, estimation, release planning and so on. This is an example of what I call a "front-loaded" tool as opposed to those mentioned previously which are "back-loaded".
Use Cases provide a great opportunity to clarify and remove misunderstandings between the BA and the technical staff. They have an excellent track record and are part of a development technique underpinned by UML from beginning to end. Where appropriate it should be used as early as possible in the development process.
I hope this helps in the discussion
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