Effective BA Practice Day 8: Business Glossary

Photo by Keila Hötzel on Unsplash

Today is about the discipline of using consistent business terminology. This is fundamental for a shared understanding of requirements.

Define the terms, publish and share the definitions in a glossary or business dictionary.

Then, promote the use of correct terms. A business analyst is in the right position to enforce consistency and use correct terms in all requirements artifacts. Nothing encourages reuse more than seeing the same term over and over in key documents and models!

A simple term like customer can generate many interpretations, with consequences. Misunderstandings can lead to defects, unexpected behaviour, and even privacy breaches. A set of business rules may be required to support fundamental definitions.

Define the terms, agree on what they mean – and then use and reuse them. And fight the entropy – with time, different groups may gravitate to a variety of definitions that will dilute the initial meaning.

Then, either reinforce the terms or update them. You have to minimize ambiguity and confusion to create a shared understanding.

Let’s explore examples of the terms that can overlap and blend in to create the term confusion, starting, of course, with the customer.

Who is a Customer vs. Client vs. User vs. Account vs. Contact?

How many of these concepts mean something distinct in the context of your business?

What are the relationships between them?

Can one account be associated with more than one person or customer, as in household accounts?

Can one client subscribe more than one user to your platform?

Can one corporate customer designate multiple contacts for communication?

Another concept that frequently creates confusion is a start date of an engagement. 

For example, when we deal with customers, we can track the date of the first contact – the date we first recorded a lead.

We may track the date when the customer first created an account, the date the account was approved, and the date the first order was placed or paid. 

If you are looking for customer-based metrics such as the number of new customers per month, which date would you use? The right answer depends on your business rules and policies, but once defined, it must be used consistently.

And what happens if different departments or different reports refer to different dates, and perhaps use their own terms for these dates?

Without the alignment of terms, the metrics will not align either.

This effort can start with fundamental concepts that identify persons (customer, user or contact), places (location, store, warehouse or pick-up point) and things (products and product categories). Then, concepts such as account, order, property, contract, or asset can be defined. Then, you can start tackling business metrics and performance indicators. In large organizations, this may fall into the domain of data governance, but it’s still not common to have a well-developed data governance function, especially in smaller and mid-sized companies.

A business analyst can play the role of business data dictionary custodian if there is no dedicated data governance group in the company. Even if it exists, companies where business analysts actively contribute to data governance activities are doing a smart thing.

Contact Yulia for business analysis training options or explore these one-day corporate training programs. For self-paced business analysis courses visit Why Change Academy.

Please share your thoughts!

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