Friday, May 28, 2010

Quick tips for better business analysis (from the IIBA)

I couldn't resist but repost the great tidbits of wisdom included in the latest International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) newsletter.

Quick Tips for Better Business Analysis™ are licensed by the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.

Quick Tip 17: Improve Your Written Communication

These rules can improve your business writing. Like all rules, think before you break them.
Simple over Impressive
Use short words if you can. Long words may seem impressive—but are you trying to impress, or to help stakeholders understand? Examples:
  • "If you can" (3 words, 3 syllables) vs. "Whenever possible" (2 words, 6 syllables)
  • "Given the indeterminate nature of the participant's internal motivations, as well as the way he managed to not understand the conundrum, no decisions were undertaken." (25 words) vs. "He didn't understand the problem. We didn't know what he wanted. We did nothing." (14 words)
Active over Passive
Use the active voice by default and the passive voice when necessary. Active phrases make better requirements. Passive phrases may be useful for touchy topics. To use the active voice, put the subject first, verb second and object third. "Someone does something" and "actor—action—acted-upon" are other ways to describe this. Passive phrases are longer, may hide the actor, and are often unclear. For example, "the event was triggered" should not be in a requirement, but may be part of an email about a mistake someone made.
Necessary and Sufficient
Cut meaningless phrases like "managed to" and "in fact". Some phrases, like "as well as" can be replaced with single words, like "and". For example, "In fact, Alex managed to write a response as well as phone Bess," vs. "Alex wrote and phoned Bess."
Color vs. Monochrome
Adjectives change the meaning of a phrase. In most business writing—and in all requirements—adjectives can make text ambiguous, and should be removed. Carefully consider the rest.
The Mom Rule
To test how well your text flows, read it out loud. To test how easy it is to understand, read it out loud starting with, "Mom, ..."

My take

Those tips also applies to any types of communication: speaking at conference, writing blog posts, or presenting web analytics insight! The traditional "essay" format is pretty much dead - do we really have time for fancy writing in this day and age of 140 characters Tweets? On the other end, excellent writing skills seems to be something we are collectively loosing (and I feel I'm contributing to this decline since my mother tong isn't English).

I have tutored to hundreds of students, spoken two dozens times at conferences in America and Europe, seen hundreds of PowerPoint presentations, written hundreds of blog posts, read thousands others... When teaching, listening, watching I'm often very impressed by the communication efficiency. Other times... well... I have to wonder how this person can even claim to be an analyst if he/she can't articulate a clear thought, demonstrate and analytical mindset, problem solving and synthesis skills of what is essential and worth to communicate. How many times have we seen boring PowerPoint presentations with long phrases of small text? I spare you the times I have received long and lethargic litany of text without any type of headlines or even simple paragraphs breaks!

As a member of the jury to the WAA Championship we came up with the six fatal flaws of analysis. The tidbits above should be considered the five golden rules of efficient insight communication.