Early in their careers, IT business analysts quickly learn that every work day revolves around meetings with customers for requirements gathering and end-to-end project documentation. Among the documents needed for IT projects are business proposals, project plans, requirements documents, test plans, and lots of memos or reports for management. The business analyst's tool kit depends on several factors: company budget, project size, and number of people assigned to the project.
Text and Graphics Tools
Professional word processing software is used for creating requirements documentation. In addition, it can be used it for preparing meeting minutes, which serve as a record of the requirements gathering meetings, and for management reports on project statuses. Most professional word processors contain standard templates for all types of documents that allow for diagrams, charts, matrices and tables. Graphics tools are useful for creating various diagrams to enhance the requirements document with process maps, flow charts, data diagrams, tables and graphs. Professional versions allow graphic elements to be copied and pasted into the primary requirements document. For large, complex documents, desktop publishing offers the best of both in text and graphics worlds. While there might be a short learning curve, business analysts can produce high quality IT documentation with a single software tool.
When developing new software, both the customer and coder want to know what it will look like when it's finished. This is especially important when adding new features to existing software. Screen captures are actual pictures of prototypes or existing software that can be modified to add new features. The revisions are shown to customers for feedback, and approved screen captures are included in the final requirements document later on.
Requirements suites are targeted to business analysts who work on large projects that generate hundreds of documents. These suites have a centralized system of storing documents all in one places, making documents easily accessible to everyone working on the project. But, these suites can be difficult to use, taking up valuable time that could be spent on the project. They can be inflexible and end up making the business change its internal processes so project members can better use the tool.
Choosing the Best Tools
When choosing tools for documentation, companies need to consider the big picture. Before deciding on office software or a documentation suite, ask the vendor to provide a trial or demo system. Ask business analysts for feedback, and examine all aspects carefully to ensure the final choice meets company needs.
Alice Dusenberry is a writer based in the Pacific Northwest. She spent 25 years in private industry as a technical writer and senior business systems analyst, specializing in business, marketing and technical communication. Dusenberry holds an M.B.A. in marketing from William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J.