Too Many Words

We've all heard that a picture's worth a thousand words and I would say that's a conservative number. The right picture has the ability to convey tens of thousands of words if it's structured properly. As much as we all know and realize this, I still don't feel business analysts put enough value into this sage nugget of wisdom. All too often, I'm inundated with reams of documentation when entering an effort mid-stream instead of a nice, one-page picture that could tell me what I need to know about what’s going on. I've uncovered some of the key reasons why we don't see more valuable graphics in requirements documents, and I'll share some ideas for working through the blocks.


Problem #1: It's Not Normal

Let's first address what's normal. A question I would pose for you to consider is this: how many graphics would you expect to see in a typical requirements document (tables don't count). If you're experience is anything like mine, you'd say a small number that's greater than zero. So, in a typical 100-page requirements document, you might see maybe five or six graphics–does that sound reasonably accurate? And if there are some other graphics floating around somewhere (e.g., in a PowerPoint presentation), then why are they not in the requirements document to help explain the concepts? This is because you don't normally see a requirements document flooded with graphics. And the tendency is for business analysts to do what other business analysts do.

So, challenge the norm! Given this insight to strive for a proliferation of visual support, defy the norm and be the exception.


Problem #2: You're Not Good At It

In most cases, creating graphics is not part of a business analyst's job description. As such, there is a mixed bag of business analysts: those who have artistic talent and those that don't. In fairness, the business analysts that do have an eye for art leverage that skill into their requirements documents (but not enough). However, most business analysts are at best "okay" at creating illustrations to present their ideas. Since it takes so much effort to create something that's just going to turn out "okay," it's not worth it.

So, instead of replacing your picture with a thousand words, find someone who is good at graphics and ask them to help. Sketch something down on paper and give it to a creative genius who can whip something up much faster than you can write all those words. It's a better outcome and a much better use of your time.


Problem #3: They're Hard To Maintain

We all know how fluid some requirements can be. Just when you think you have them locked down, past decisions get revisited, and scope is moving around again. When this happens, it's hard enough to adjust the text of the requirements, but when there's graphics involved, you've taken the maintenance to a whole new level. I get it. But it doesn't have to be as hard as it seems.

First of all, changing a graphic is a whole lot easier than creating one if you set it up properly. Which lends to my second point: if you use someone to create your graphics, have them use some technology you have a basic understanding of. Your graphic artist may be able to do wonders in Adobe Photoshop, but if you don't even have a copy of Photoshop installed on your machine, much less know how to use it, the maintenance becomes a nightmare. Instead, use something you can reasonably figure out and manage like PowerPoint. Finally, take some time to learn these tools. You don't have to be a pro, but the better you are, the easier your life will be.



Adding more graphics and illustrations to your requirements document saves you time writing, greatly benefits the reader, and isn't that hard to pull off. Pride yourself in being different and heavily pepper your documents with process visuals, charts, infographics, pictures–anything to break up the monotony of the typical tomes we write. If you're artistically challenged, find an expert and work as a team to figure out the best technology and work processes to keep your graphics maintained when scope changes are thrown at you. The world of requirements needs more art! Please do your part to make that happen.

About the Author

John Weathington

John Weathington is President and CEO of Excellent Management Systems, Inc., a management consultancy that helps guide organizations to achieve strategic goals, improve critical processes, and leverage the power of information. For over 20 years, John has helped clients of all sizes including an impressive list of Fortune 100 firms to include Visa, PayPal (eBay), Hewlett Packard, Sun Microsystems, Hitachi Data Systems, Cisco, and Silicon Graphics. His unique blend of leadership, management, and technical talent and skills are a rare find in the consulting arena.

Start the discussion at