Top 3 Visual Models: Increase Your Project Success

In my previous blog post, Visual Models Will Make You A More Successful Business Analyst, we explored the idea that visual models can help on your projects to remove complexity, reduce misconceptions, and identify gaps in requirements.

Here we will expand on that idea and touch on the top 3 visual models utilized by Business Analysts.  So in no particular order, let’s get started!

  #1 – Process Flow Diagram

A cornerstone visual model for the Business Analyst profession is the Process Flow Diagram.  Since all organizations have processes they follow to accomplish their daily tasks, Process Flow Diagrams are universal, regardless of the size of the company, location, or industry.

The Process Flow Diagram is used to visualize those business processes and make them easier to read and understand.  By putting those processes into diagrams, not only are the steps of the process being fully documented, but also process inefficiencies and inconsistencies will be easier to recognize in order to recommend adjustments.

A common point of confusion for people new to Process Flow Diagrams tends to be on selecting a modeling language.  As with many visual models, different industries and organizations have created various modeling languages with their own ways of depicting things. 

While each language has advantages and disadvantages, I personally recommend a simplified version of the Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN).  It has all of the visual depictions needed for both basic and complex process flows, while also being intuitive to both business and technical users.

  #2 – Data Flow Diagram (DFD)

As data has become an increasingly huge asset to organizations, another commonly used visual model is the Data Flow Diagram (DFD).  The purpose of this visual model is to depict how business data is created, consumed, stored, manipulated, and transported through a system and between the system and its environment, without worrying about the sequence of events.

Similar to the Process Flow Diagram, simply putting together the Data Flow Diagram can uncover missing, incomplete, or inconsistent data requirements.  Catching these issues early on in the project will save many stress filled nights reworking the design and data integrations and explaining to stakeholders how much the mistake has cost.

Learning about Data Flow Diagrams can be tricky because many learning tools will dive too deep into technical aspects such as data warehousing.  Not only is this confusing for aspiring Business Analyst, this can confuse the most veteran Business Analyst, so I recommend a less technical and more practical Data Flow Diagram guide.

  #3 – Use Case Diagram

The Use Case Diagram depicts the types of interactions actors (a user or an internal system) have with the system.  

The diagram connects the actors to the use cases they initiate or participate in.  It can also indicate relationships between actors (such as those whose roles overlap) and dependencies between use cases.

Most Use Cases are created late in the requirements process or early in the design phase.  They help to ensure that all influences to the system are accounted for before the system’s interfaces are fully designed and built.

Throughout the years I have seen the popularity of Use Case Diagrams grow tremendously.  They went from something I heard about on very few projects, to something that some organizations expect to be done on any project involving a system change.

As I hadn’t used Use Cases much early in my career, in 2014 I quickly realized I was behind the times.  I utilized this outstanding Use Case course to set the foundation for knowledge.

While there are well over twenty different visual models that Business Analysts could use on their project, these three are critically important.  

If you an aspiring Business Analyst, or if you are working as a Business Analyst today, I highly recommend you know and utilize each of these visual models on your various projects.  Your project team will thank you!

– Written by Jeremy Aschenbrenner, The BA Guide


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