As this post goes out, I’m on my way to Cincinnati to spend some time with the South Western Ohio business analysis community at SOBARC 2019. While there, I’m going to share a technique that helps you build a shared understanding of how your product should behave – example mapping.
It’s a good time for me to discuss this topic. This week the team I’m working with started backlog refinement for the product rewrite we’re working on. The nature of this product is such that we’ll want to discuss some behavior aspects, and example mapping will come in handy for that.
The product also does a great deal of calculations behind the scenes. You can use examples to help you understand calculations as well as interactions, but you need to convey the examples in a different format.
My friend Chris Matts, with his uncanny sense of timing, pointed this out in a blog post this past week.
So this week, I’m sharing some resources on how to use examples to understand your product, why context plays a part in the format of those examples, and how you can use an old familiar tool – the spreadsheet – to apply examples in a helpful way.
Take a look at these resources to avoid being someone that walks around with a hammer all day thinking everything looks like a nail.
Examples are concrete descriptions of the expected behavior of an aspect of a solution using real-life data. Examples are useful for describing a solution and providing guidance on ways to validate it. The use of examples to describe a solution is also known as specification by example, behavior-driven development (BDD), or acceptance test driven development (ATDD).
How to build shared understanding with example mapping
One of the primary responsibilities of business analysts, product owners, and all other product people is to build and maintain a shared understanding of the outcome your team seeks to deliver. Conversations are an effective way to build that shared understanding. This session introduces example mapping, a technique that helps you structure your conversations and build a shared understanding around how a system behaves in interactions with your users.
The tragedy of given-when-then
Chris Matts reflected on his 25 years doing analysis and helping others do analysis and points out that examples are extremely helpful for building an understanding of your product, but you need to make sure you use the right type of example for a given context. He points out that while given-when-then is extremely helpful for understanding interaction, it’s lousy for trying to understand the calculations that go on in a system. Furthermore, while example mapping is a helpful way to structure conversations to identify key interactions, it’s not the end of the game.
Using examples to specify calculations
To get an idea of how you might use excel spreadsheets to specify calculations, you can read this article that Chris Matts and Gojko Adzic wrote which goes into more depth about a project where Chris modeled calculations in Excel in order to provide a specification for his team. This project is the one that Chris mentioned in the previous article.
Framework for Integrated Test (FiT)
If you’re looking for another example of how you might use a spreadsheet to specify calculations, take a look at this description of Fit written for product people. Although the intent of the instructions is to put specifications together in order to support automated testing using the Fit tool, the specifications themselves are just as useful even if you don’t use Fit. The best part of this article is the payroll example it shows, which should provide a clear idea of how you can use a similar approach to help explain the calculations your product performs.
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Kent J. McDonald
Founder | KBP.Media