Category Archives: Modelling

A meme on modelling

Craig Brown of Better Projects has launched a modelling meme for BAs and PMs.

He asks us to 

Recall the first and last analysis model you used at work. 

An interesting question for a BA.  

My first diagrams were probably Wide Area Networking diagrams from back in the day. Admittedly my job title wasn’t “Business Analyst” but it was still all about balancing requirements, technology and budget.  

For a while after that they’d have been web page designs, and then the branch and workarea diagrams for Interwoven TeamSite installations.  Since then I’ve done every sort of process diagram, dataflow diagrams and influence diagrams, soft systems diagrams and of course a shed-load of UML.  

It’s been a while since I’ve done any modelling at work though I was messing around with Visio and a process flow today.

My two most recent models haven’t been done on my employer’s time.  One is a model of investigative questions, and directly relates to The Business Analyst’s Guide to Questions, which is a series of posts I am publishing over the next few months.  


Question grid based on Kipling's honest serving men

Question grid based on Kipling's honest serving men

The other hasn’t been drawn yet, but will plot quantative research vs qualitative research in a 2×2.  This is something I’m thinking about as a result of my MSc.  These two research methodologies are normally  considered to be opposing poles of the same scale, but I wonder if there’s something useful to uncover if we model them as two different dimensions which sit at right angles to each other.   Surely collecting statistics about how pople feel is BOTH quantative and qualitative and sits out there in the middle of a 2×2.  I’ve not done the analysis yet, so we shall see.

Orthogonally parked in a parallel universe – not so Smart after all

I learned a new word in a workshop the other week: Orthogonal.  It means “at a right angle to”  in the same way that “diagonal” doesn’t.  X and Y axes are “orthogonals”, so are longitude and latitude.

Words like that make me shiver with pleasure.  The problem is that though I find them exciting and sexy, other people can find them really off-putting. (I guess it depends on whether you found reading an exciting escape from the humdrum as a child or whether it was what you were forced to do when it was too wet to play football). Anyway, I held up the meeting and said “back up a minute, what does that mean?” But you can’t do that when you are reading a document.  

Ultimately words are there to communicate, so although “orthogonal” is undeniably funky, it makes more sense to use “in another dimension” to put the point across.  Shame though.  It’s an oddly satisfying word.  

Almost worth buying a Smart car to do some orthogonal parking.

Towards a corporate hierarchy of needs

Most of us are familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which suggests that we prioritise bodily needs over security, our sence of belonging over our own self esteem (which is how peer pressure works) and that we won’t tackle the things that fulfil us until the rest of our needs are met.  

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

What is discussed less frequently is that organisations have a similar hierarchy of needs, and that organisational focus shifts in turbulent times.  

As I understand it, Donald Marchand suggests that organisations focus their attention on information like this:

  1. Minimise risks
  2. Reduce costs
  3. Add value
  4. Create new reality

This is a sequence I recognise, in large organisations at least.  Mind you, it seems to me that small organisations and entrepreneurs run the sequence in the opposite direction.   Maybe that is what makes them entrepreneurs.

Marchand presents it diagramatically thus:

Marchand's strategic information framework

I’ve not yet read Marchand on the subject (I came across the idea in an excellent book on Taxonomies by Richard Lambe).  I need to go to the source to understand the details of he is saying, why he has drawn it like that, and whether or not I agree with him, but this a useful thought-provoker, and may also be helpful tool for working out where strategic attention is or should be focused.  I’m tempted by the tabloid thinking which suggests the banks’ sudden attention to risk is because they spent too much time in the previous years creating a new reality in terms of mortgages-repackaged-as-“securities”.   It’s tempting, but I think there’s more to it than that.

Marchand’s framework is about knowledge.  Lambe, who references it, thinks it misses out two important areas of corporate knowledge, specificially: strategic planning and talent management.    As I said, I’ve not yet played with the framework, so I’m reserving my final judgement.  

However, translating the hierarchy of needs from people to organisations is something well worth doing in these interesting times.


Lambe, Patrick Organising Knowledge: Taxonomies, Knowledge and Organisational Effectiveness. Oxford: Chandos Publishing. 2007.  

Marchand, Donald, (ed) Competing with Information: A Manager’s Guide to Creating Business Value with Information Content. Chichester: John Wiley. 2000.

Wikipedia: Abraham Maslow.