The Template Annihilation Paradox

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Hello all – BobtheBA here. I have recently read some blogs, tweets, had several conversations and listened to various viewpoints on the subject of “Template Zombies” and use of templates in general. The concept of “Template Zombies” was first addressed (as far as I am aware of) in a book entitled “Adrenaline Junkies and Template Zombies” by Tom Demarco (and team) which focused on patterns of project behavior. There is a recent blog out on BA Times (kudos to Robin Grace for addressing this). However, I was in a heated discussion just last night on this topic so I felt the need to blog (my therapy) because there is a lot to say. The general thought in the latest arguments (I mean discussions) that I have had is that templates are to blame when it comes to poor requirements because bad templates encourage bad behavior. If we simply annihilate templates we would suddenly be free to elicit, document and communicate requirements untethered right? I tend to disagree – hence the title of Template Annihilation Paradox. It is not the template, but rather people that are at the root cause (track the behavior). We cannot annihilate people (who would do the work?) nor should we annihilate the template (it provides a structure to communicate – it is a starting point). What we can do is educate the people who can fix the template and then educate the people using the template.

Yes, there are absolutely “template zombies” out there. There are people that do the bare minimum and they find creative ways to document as little as possible because the template dictates the process in the organization and that is all that is needed to pass audit. However, that is not the fault of the template it is the fault of the people that created the template or those who use it. The person doing the work is at fault if they knowingly do this. They are impacting the stakeholders and the shareholders when they do this. They are not adding value and meeting the business need. The person that created the template is at fault if they did not ensure proper education continuously. Both of these contribute to template zombification.

So I am a big fan of business analysis maturity models (Centers of Excellence, Competency, Communities of Practices etc…) and standardization of templates comes into play. There are good templates and bad templates. There are positives from the following that can be taken into account to help out in the creation of templates but they are generally leading contributors to bad templates including: (a) people that have no background in business analysis and magical crazy ideas and sections appear in the template (b) they have taken their ideas from their old job because if it worked there it will work here in their new job (c) the template does not relate at all to the industry they are currently in (d) they have not taken into account the education (I could write several blogs on this one alone) that is needed (e) tons of other things that cannot be discussed in a very short tirade (um… I mean blog). A LOT goes into creating an effective template but the template cannot create or fill itself out – people do.

So what makes a good template? The minimum needed to effectively document the business needs that can be clearly understood by all stakeholders. It is a structured starting point. This “minimum” also needs to be specific to the industry and organization while being flexible enough to allow additional information to be added based on the size and complexity of the requirements efforts. I ALWAYS add additional things – things the template cannot address. A good template will allow for that flexibility. The bad ones = zombified which is another way of saying too much information or sections that add no value (you know what I am talking about – the sections no one reads). The process should drive the template and not the template driving the process. Education, education, education. Educate on creation of the template, educate on how to use the template, educate on how NOT to use the template, educate on how to add to the template, and education in business analysis. Get trained in your field of business analysis so that you won’t get bit by the template and become a zombie. Finally, continuously evaluate and improve. Our business changes daily and we need to keep up with the times which include our templates.

So what is my point? The idea that we can live without templates of some kind is a paradox. They are necessary and help provide structure. It is a communications device driven by the process. What we need is more education and follow-through and that is done by people. And when we achieve that, our requirements successes will be greater and we will wonder what all the fuss about template zombies was ever about.

4 thoughts on “The Template Annihilation Paradox

  1. Hi Bob,
    I think you have some very good points in this article. I agree that education is the key here, and a template will never replace practice knowledge.

    What I see happening frequently is mindless methodology customization using modified templates and diagrams. These teams create their own process based on what they don’t like about another process. They don’t like that a swim lane doesn’t show triggers and logic, so they add that to the diagram. Or maybe a mind map doesn’t show sequence, so they add a sequence to the mind map. The result is a methodology that only an engineer would understand. Of course that defeats the purpose of creating a diagram or a document.

    It’s important for the skilled BA to understand the purpose of each document in the process, so they don’t end up creating the “One document fits all” strategy.

  2. Thanks Jim. I like the visual you just gave me with “mindless methodology customization”. It is so true isn’t it? One document must be better than two so therefore we will customize it without understanding the true purpose. Great insights on this – thank you for the comments!

  3. Great topic, and one that’s worth an argument (call it what it is!), a debate, and even (gasp!) edu-mi-cation.

    As the author of many templates, I used to tell my BAs, “You can change anything you want in the template – do anything!” As the look of shock set in, I would continue with “…and when you do, note your rationale for the change in your Business Analysis Plan, and send the plan and the doc to me.” Shock turned to terror. “I need to see it so I can incorporate your innovations in the next version of the template.” Terror segued to suspicion. “Just make sure you’re clear about why the benefits of your changes outweigh the benefits of standardization across the enterprise.” Suspicion to realization. Templates are a place to start, not a place to stop.

    In the words of Terry Pratchett, “Rules exist so you think before you break them.” The very relevant phrase “process is no substitue for critical thinking” came up in a webinar I hosted today. If you are a BA who thinks of the template (or the process or the standard or the rules or the BABOK® Guide or…) as the thing that constrains and contains you, well, you’re in for a world of hurt. If you think of these things as a platform, a framework, a place to begin… Now you’re looking at business value, recognition, and promotion.

    • Well said Julian and a great example of how BAs should treat the template. BAs need to know that it is a starting point and also an opportunity to educate their business partners, project team members and organization on why. There is huge opportunity out there for BAs to lead in their domain and reverse this scary trend. I foresee a conference panel or presentation on this in one or both of our futures…

      PS: Anyone that quotes Terry Pratchett with that kind of relatability rocks in my book. Okay, Terry Pratchett alone might have done it. 🙂

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