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Most of us have heard that a picture tells a thousand words. Consensually built pictures, especially around complex topics and interactions, can be used to help solve and resolve a thousand arguments.

We are reminded by the IIBA (International Institute of Business Analysis) Quick Tip Bulletin #58 about the value of one picture type, called a Context Diagram.

Context Diagram - A Consensually Built Picture Can Resolve a Thousand Arguments

Illustrative Context Diagram

A Context Diagram, also known as a Scoping Picture or Picture of the Business (area) may look complicated and un-informing to the uninformed, but a picture of the business quickly enables a session leader to tighten the reign on scope creep issues that plague many meetings and workshops.

The Context Diagram on the right illustrates “who” the business interacts (here, an organization or business called “Home Finance”) with, “what” the business receives from them, and “what” the business gives to them. Many refer to the “whats” as inputs and outputs. Inputs and outputs are used in requirements gathering to narrow the scope of discovery and discussion. The picture helps both the participants and the facilitator focus on the deliverable.

How to Build a Context Diagram

Consider using the simple agenda shown below.  It captures the answers to three simple questions to complete the modeling:

  1. WHO do we work with to support our purpose (eg, Actors or Agents)?
  2. WHAT do we get from them (inputs)?
  3. WHAT do we give them (outputs)?

Consequently, modify this “plain vanilla” agenda for a Context Diagram as shown or as you see fit.  Use the MG Rush 7-step introductory sequence and 4-step review and wrap for the workshop bookends. Have an ample supply of Post-It® Notes available, in at least three different colors, sizes, or shapes to distinguish the WHO from the inputs and outputs. Once complete, and consensually validated, you can proceed further with follow-up meetings or workshops to further define and illustrate WHO the business uses to support their purpose, and what activities (Activity Flow or Functional Decomposition workshop, leading to use cases such as SIPOC) and information (Logical Modeling or Entity Relationship Diagram) are also required to support their business purpose.

The following shows the simple agenda that typically takes two to four hours to complete. Also refer to your MG Rush Professional Facilitative Leadership manual for more details.

  • INTRODUCTION
  • PURPOSE OF THE BUSINESS AREA
  • WHO INTERACTS (Actors)
  • WHAT COMES IN (Inputs)
  • WHAT GOES OUT (Outputs)
  • MODEL AND VALIDATION (Walk-thru)
  • THE SCOPE DEFINED (Narrative)
  • REVIEW AND WRAP

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Don’t ruin your career or reputation with bad meetings. Register for a class or forward this to someone who should. Taught by world-class instructors, MG RUSH  professional facilitation curriculum focuses on practice. Each student thoroughly practices and rehearses tools, methods, and approaches throughout the week. While some call this immersion, we call it the road to building impactful facilitation skills.

Our courses also provide an excellent way to earn up to 40 SEUs from the Scrum Alliance, 40 PDUs from PMI, and 40 CDUs from IIBA, as well as 3.2 CEUs for other professions. (See individual class descriptions for details.)

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Facilitation Expert

Terrence Metz, CSM, PSPO, CSPF, is the Managing Director of MG RUSH Facilitation Training and Coaching, the acknowledged leader in structured facilitation training. His FAST Facilitation Best Practices blog features over 300 articles on facilitation skills and tools aimed at helping others lead faster, more productive meetings and workshops that yield higher quality decisions. His clients include Agilists, Scrum teams, program and project managers, senior officers, and the business analyst community among numerous private and public companies and global corporations. As an undergraduate of Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and MBA graduate from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, his professional experience has focused on process improvement and product development. He continually aspires to make it easier for others to succeed.

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2 Comments

  1. Well I am a project manager and have been going through the guide to Scrum Body of Knowledge by Scrumstudy which provide a complete guide for the scrum project. I highly recommend this books to all those who are planning to implement scrum in your organization. You can go directly to http://www.SCRUMstudy.com for first chapter is available there.

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