A Ruined Dinner and Definitions

Dagmar   Cole
Dagmar Cole Business Analyst / Project Manager Read Author Bio || Read All Articles by Dagmar Cole

A friend asked me to come to dinner one Sunday and I gladly accepted.  When I rang the bell at four o'clock, my friend angrily answered the door and informed me, "dinner was ruined" because I was so late.

Late for dinner at four o'clock in the afternoon?

In my world, 'lunch' occurs during midday whereas 'dinner' is after twilight every day of the week.  I discovered too late, my friend refers to 'dinner' on Sunday as being served midday.

I failed to clarify what was meant by 'dinner', so the result was overcooked chicken.

We do the same in our requirements sessions; we assume everyone knows the definitions of common terms that may have completely different meanings for each stakeholder.  Once, I started a requirements-gathering session by asking the stakeholders to define the term 'customer'.  The stakeholders were rather upset with me for asking such a silly question and told me that a "good BA" would know such a basic concept.  As they were chastising me for wasting their time, we discovered there were three very different versions of 'customer' being used by the group:  a wholesale customer who bought product for resale from a specialized sales team; a business customer who consumed the products and services ordered from a specific call center; and a retail customer who bought retail products at brick-and-mortar stores across the country.  They realized … not such a silly question after all.

As BAs, we sometimes hesitate to ask questions because we don't want the stakeholders to think we aren't the expert.  We need to check our egos and not let pride get in the way of doing our job.  Terms need to be defined and confirmed, regardless of the stakeholder attitude.

As a best practice, review the documentation and prepare a glossary before the requirements gathering meetings, and review the meaning of each term with the team.  Refrain from using jargon, slang, or using the same term in the definition as the word being defined.  There is nothing more maddening than to see the definition of "jarlang" is "jarlang"!  

When writing the definition, do not confuse the 'definition' with the 'definitional rule', as these are different.  When defining the term, the definition should describe "what is" for the stakeholders.  The definition is virtually immutable; it should not change.  A 'definitional rule' — also known as a 'structural rule' — identifies the criteria of the definition and can differ.  For example:

  • Definition of 'dinner':   a meal

  • Friend's definitional rule of 'dinner':  a meal eaten between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. on Sunday.

  • Dagmar's definitional rule of 'dinner':  a meal eaten between 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. any day of the week.

As you can see by this example, the definition of 'dinner' is the same for both definitional rules, but the conditions for each definitional rule are different.

Hopefully this will help your definitions to be clear and your dinners perfectly cooked!

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Standard citation for this article:


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Dagmar Cole , "A Ruined Dinner and Definitions" Business Rules Journal Vol. 18, No. 12, (Dec. 2017)
URL: http://www.brcommunity.com/a2017/b935.html

About our Contributor:


Dagmar   Cole
Dagmar Cole Business Analyst / Project Manager

Dagmar Cole has over twenty years of experience working in all facets of the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC). Her interest in applying quantitative management techniques to software began at George Mason University. While majoring in Decision Science, she published a paper on Software Quality Assurance. Later, she published her master's thesis in strategic information systems planning at Marymount University.

As a business analyst and project manager, Dagmar continues her quest to apply quantitative techniques to the SDLC. She is an active member of the Fort Worth Chapter of IIBA and was a speaker at the IIBA BBC 2015 conference. She also has extensive training in conflict resolution and is returning to the IIBA BBC conference in 2016 to discuss conflict resolution.

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