Greatness Comes from Showing Pictures

As far as I’m concerned there are three skills a BA must learn to be great.

  1. How to ask questions
  2. How to explain concepts graphically
  3. How to tell stories

Everything else, and there is a lot to the everything else, takes second place to these three things. The first item is vital because it’s how you learn. The second two are vital because it’s how you should share what you have learned.

We deal in complex ideas. They are not simple. I regularly quote from Rich Hickey’s presentation to StrangeLoop 2011, Simple Made Easy. Rich discusses how difficult it is for us to really grasp multiple, interrelated concepts at the same time. As Business Analysts, this is exactly our job; to communicate multiple, difficult, interrelated concepts (MDIC).

And communicating MDIC needs more than just another document. It’s not that we don’t write a lot of documents, we do. (Yes, story cards are a document.) More important than the document is the understanding. And understanding MDIC doesn’t come best or easiest via the written word. If you want to build understanding, then you need to communicate based on how your audience will best understand. Being human, the best ways to get through to your audience is by pictures and stories.

With pictures (graphics) I see and understand relationships, order, hierarchy, proportion, and all kinds of other things. If the picture is good, I can do this is less than 10% of the time it would take me to read words describing the same thing. If it’s really good, I can do this in less than 5% of the time.

Now, it sometimes takes me 10-20 times longer to develop the right picture, so there are tradeoffs depending on the role and size of your audience, but never underestimate the importance of a good image. If you work with MDIC, you probably need a picture, or twenty.


If you are ready to improve your skills in this area, I suggest looking at the following resources:

  1. Visual Models for Software Requirements. Much of what I know about requirements gathering I learned while working with authors, Joy Beatty and Anthony Chen.* Find excerpts here and here.
  2. The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures and Unfolding the Napkin: The Hands-On Method for Solving Complex Problems with Simple Pictures, by Dan Roam. His first book was an instant hit because it was provided thought-provoking concepts about why to use drawings and how determine what type you need.  I have not read his follow-up book, but some reviewers like even more.
  3. Anything by Edward Tufte. Seriously, I love all his work. I hesitate going to his website because I can easily loose a day there.
  4. More infographics than explanatory, but I also like Show Me the Numbers: Designing Tables and Graphs to Enlighten by Stephen Few.
  5. Hundreds of great infographic examples. A good resource when you need a leaping off point for your idea.

* Author’s Note: I heartily recommend their book even though I do not yet own a copy. One, I have that much faith in them. Two, I am waiting to get a signed copy of the book.  


What books and resources would you add to my list? Please let me know below!


  1. Joe   •  

    You should check out Thinking With A Pencil by Henning Nelms

    • @JeffreyGoodReq   •     Author

      I’m looking at the book on and the new copies cost $199. Even the used copies cost $129! Wow, with demand like that I think it deserves a reprinting.

      Does anyone have a copy I can borrow?

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