We may make use of any of a number of techniques in supporting our work with our customers. This is a list of some of our favoured techniques. They are listed alphabetically. The list is not exhaustive. This page includes brief explanations of:
- Business Process Modelling
- Causal Loop Modelling
- Concept identification / mapping
- Context analysis
- Mind mapping
- Stakeholder identification
- SWOT analysis
- Use Case analysis
- Thematic analysis
Business Process Modelling
From its origins (arguably) in flow charting and Business Process Re-engineering, Business Process Modelling (BPM) has emerged as a discipline in its own right, and is significantly exploited by information-intensive industries such as banking, insurance and retail. Arguably, the benefits of the process of performing BPM are less about building the process models and downstream to automated workflows, and more about getting stakeholders in the process jointly sitting in the same (potentially virtual) room and discussing their joint process. The outcomes can be significant group-ownership of processes, useful representations of processes (as BPMN models) and potential process automation.
Causal Loop Modelling
Causal Loop Diagrams are a way to aid visualization of how aspects of a system are interrelated, in a dynamic sense. The diagram appears as a series of nodes, and links between nodes represented by arrows. The nodes or variables represent measurable aspects of a given system. A solid arrow, more specifically an arrow with a ‘+’ annotation, means a positive relationship between two variables: when one increases, the other will increase. Conversely a dotted arrow, or solid arrow with a ‘-‘ annotation, says as one variable increases, the other decreases. Closed cycles in the diagram are particularly important, giving insight into how the system may behave dynamically.
For a nice application and explanation of CLD to a domestic situation we may all recognise, see http://systemsandus.com/2012/07/23/tragedy-of-our-kitchen/
A simple example of a causal loop diagram from the healthcare frailty domain is shown below.
Concept identification / mapping
Concept identification is strongly related to other techniques like information modelling, data modelling, and ontology engineering. UML uses the concept of class, and class diagrams to support this technique, while SysML uses block definition and internal block diagrams. The technique is about identifying concepts in the domain of interest, often associated with specific words or names in the domain. It is also about how these concepts interrelate. At the ‘soft’ end, even ‘rich pictures’ can be used to drive out concepts. The technique is particularly important to establish a project-wide vocabulary that all parties can relate to.
The older analysis techniques such as Yourdon and Ward & Mellor made use of a Context diagram to represent the context of a system, the boundary of the system of interest, and what parties (stakeholders, artefacts or other systems) it interacts with. Context analysis is very important not just to drive out the nature of interfaces to bounding systems, but also is important to gain consensus on what is ‘inside’ the system – and what is ‘outside’ scope. A form of context diagram exists in UML modelling with Use Case Diagrams.
The mind map (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind_map) is a widely used representation for organising thoughts around a subject matter that, at least for those of a strong visual bent, can be an improvement over just bullet points, or brief notes. They can even be used for recording notes to meetings or seminars. Limited interrelationships between concepts can also be captured. Their strength is the ability to informally organise information one a single page, into categories, and at different levels of detail.
We use combinations of techniques, including context analysis, workshops and full lifecycle perspectives to drive out the categories of stakeholders that should be engaged in business investigation or product identification, trialling or refinement.
Use Case analysis
The concept of a Use Case (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Use_case) is supported by the UML and SysML notations, and is used in many software and systems development approaches. Its strength is its focus on customer (or more generally stakeholder) interactions with a envisaged (or current) system.
Frequently business (and product) investigation situations involve the analysis of free-text (unstructured, natural language) responses. One technique that is very useful in this situation is thematic analysis. Thematic Analysis is a common approach to dealing with qualitative data, for instance, responses to, interview materials or open questions: “please explain what you see as the top three issues”. It goes beyond just counting works and phrases in a text, to identifying implicit or explicit ideas in the source material.
We make use of a lightweight form of this technique to drive out salient observations from large quantities of responses. An example of this can be seen in the figure below, which was the outcome of a lightweight thematic analysis of responses to a question “In your opinion what do you see as the three main challenges for MBSE [adoption]?”
See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thematic_analysis for more details of Thematic Analysis.
We are great enthusiasts of good visualization techniques, however the key challenge is always one of selecting the most appropriate visualization for a given situation. There is an informative ‘periodic table’ of visualization techniques here; we would not use all of these, but pick and choose, as fits the situation. Many of the techniques listed on this page produce visualisations of one form or another.
It’s important to map a visualisation both to the audience, and to the source information being visualised; often the same information can be representated in two or more ways – the choice of which form to use may be ultimately how effective one form ‘gets the message over’ to its target audience.
We are proficient at running workshops with anything up to 24 persons, although would generally recommend 8-12 persons, for maximum utility. They can be used for information gathering (as part of Use Case, Context analysis or Concept Mapping), or consensus building (for instance, as part of Business Process Modelling, BPM). Workshops are highly interactive, intended to be both productive and fun, and generally exploit a number of different techniques, and use a mixture of projected material, flipcharts and post-its.