Language, Glossary & the Business Analyst

“Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say "infinitely" when you mean "very", or you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.”

C.S. Lewis

I’ve read in numerous places how important it is for analysts to understand business terms and speak the same language as business owners. The importance of this never really struck me until I had a recent experience with 2 stakeholders who defined the same term differently. Arriving at a common definition was important because this definition would determine what formula to use for computation. Analysts are required to understand stakeholder vocabulary as well as bring everyone to a common understanding of what relevant business terms mean. This can quickly become challenging when the analyst is in a new business domain and new terms are flying around.

You may wonder what the definition of business terms has to do with system functionality. I’d say everything. People’s expectations are often derived from their understanding of what they believe the system should do (their requirements). To identify these requirements, stakeholders must be able to define, understand and more importantly, agree on the elements that constitute their requirements. Conflicting views lead to conflicting expectations which in turn can have a negative impact on system acceptance.

This is why having a glossary of common business terms is essential. Having a glossary to draw on can also force stakeholders to question their assumptions. Sometimes, we think we understand a concept completely until someone else comes with up an alternative definition that challenges our views.

So, whether you’re new to a project or mired in the complexities of a new domain, remember to draw on the strengths of a glossary.