What is a Context?
Context, in the realm of IT business analysis and software development, refers to the surrounding environment within which software operates. It works with many factors that affect, are affected by, and provide an understanding of the change. The context plays a pivotal role in shaping the software product’s requirements, design, and functionality. Context is one of the six key business analysis concepts described in BACCM™.
According to the BABOK® v3, context can be defined as “the circumstances that influence, are influenced by, and provide an understanding of the change.” This definition highlights the dynamic nature of context, emphasizing that it is not a static concept. It is rather a continuously evolving ecosystem that impacts and is impacted by the software product.
Understanding context is crucial for business analysts and software developers. It is so to ensure that the software product aligns with the needs and requirements of the stakeholders. Comprehending the context leads to designing and implementing a product seamlessly integrating into the broader business landscape. By this, we increase delivered value and address the desired change.
By considering the context, business analysts gain insights into various elements. For example, stakeholders, external systems, dependencies, regulations, and business processes. This holistic understanding enables them to make informed decisions and identify potential risks and opportunities. This, in turn, leads to developing software solutions that effectively meet the needs of the stakeholders while operating within the given environment.
Place of Context in Scope
To truly understand the concept of context, it is essential to grasp its place within the broader landscape of IT business analysis and software development. Visualizing context as an onion diagram can help illustrate its hierarchical nature and the interplay between different layers.
Inner context layer
At the core of the onion diagram lies the product scope. This layer represents the specific features, functionalities, and system components we must build within the software product. It encompasses the essential elements required to fulfill the stakeholders’ needs and achieve the desired outcomes. Business analysts work closely with stakeholders to define and refine the product scope, ensuring clarity and alignment with the project objectives.
The next layer of the onion diagram surrounds the product scope and consists of integrated third-party solutions. These solutions, such as APIs, libraries, or other software components, are seamlessly integrated into the software product to enhance its capabilities. Understanding and considering the interactions, dependencies, and constraints associated with these integrated solutions are crucial to ensure the seamless functioning of the overall system.
Outer context layer
Moving outward from the integrated third-party solutions layer, we enter the realm of the outer context. This layer encompasses various external factors we must consider during software development. It includes government regulations, industry standards, legal requirements, compliance guidelines, and other external influences. Understanding and adhering to these external factors are vital to ensure the software product meets legal and regulatory obligations, operates within established boundaries, and aligns with industry best practices.
Out of context layer
Lastly, beyond the outer context layer lies the area that is out of context and out of scope. The software product explicitly excludes the functionalities, features, or system components. By defining what is out of context and out of scope, business analysts set clear boundaries and manage stakeholder expectations. This layer helps the team focus on the relevant areas, preventing scope creep and ensuring efficient resource allocation.
Context Analysis Process
Context analysis is a systematic approach used in IT business analysis and software development to understand the environment in which a software product or system operates. It involves gathering information, analyzing various factors, and gaining a comprehensive understanding of the context to inform decision-making and ensure the successful development and implementation of the software product.
Context analysis is an iterative process involving ongoing collaboration with stakeholders, continuous external environment monitoring, and adjustments to the software product’s requirements and design as necessary. By consistently analyzing and adapting to the context, business analysts can drive successful software development projects that deliver value and meet stakeholder expectations.
Below I would like to describe the typical steps involved in the context analysis process.
1. Identify Stakeholders
Identify the individuals, groups, or organizations with an interest or influence over the software product. Possible stakeholders include end-users, customers, business owners, regulatory bodies, and other relevant parties. Understanding the stakeholders helps establish a foundation for the context analysis.
2. Gather Needs
Engage with stakeholders to gather their needs, expectations, and constraints regarding the software product. Conduct interviews, workshops, or surveys to ensure a comprehensive understanding of their needs and the context within which the product will operate. This step helps clearly understand the desired outcomes and the project scope.
3. Analyze Business Processes
Study and analyze the existing business processes, workflows, and operational procedures that the software product should support or improve. This analysis helps identify the interdependencies and interactions between different components within the broader context. It provides insights into how the software product will integrate into the existing business ecosystem.
4. Identify External Systems
Identify the external systems or applications that interact with the software product. Determine the nature of these interactions, including data exchange, integrations, and dependencies. This step helps understand the interfaces and integration points required for the software product to function effectively within the context.
5. Consider Regulatory and Compliance Factors
Assess any regulatory or compliance requirements the software product must adhere to. This list includes industry standards, data privacy laws, security regulations, and other legal considerations. Analyzing the regulatory and compliance landscape ensures the software product is designed and implemented by applicable guidelines.
6. Define the Major Out of Context and Out of Scope Items
Defining the major functionalities, features, or system components that are explicitly excluded from the software product is extremely important. By defining them, business analysts set boundaries and manage stakeholder expectations effectively by clearly defining what is out of context and out of scope. In the future, this would help prevent scope creep, ensure efficient resource allocation, and maintain focus on the relevant areas that align with the project objectives.
Tools for Analysis
There are several tools and techniques that business analysts can employ to facilitate context analysis. In this article, I will briefly cover those techniques I believe to be the most commonly used, easy to use and read, and comprehensive enough for any case.
The System Context Diagram is a visual representation that provides a high-level view of the software product or system within its external context. It illustrates the interactions and relationships between the software product and its external entities, such as stakeholders, other systems, and the broader environment. The Context Diagram typically depicts the software product as a central entity surrounded by external interfaces, interactions, and actors. It shows the flow of information, data exchanges, and the primary external entities with which the software product interacts.
Business Model Canvas
The Business Model Canvas helps analyze and visualize the key elements of a business or product. It provides a structured framework to explore various aspects of the value proposition, customer segments, revenue streams, key activities, resources, partnerships, and more. While the Business Model Canvas is not specific to context analysis, it can be used to gain insights into the broader business context within which the software product operates.
SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis helps assess the internal and external factors that impact the product’s success within its context. It provides a framework for identifying strengths to leverage, weaknesses to address, opportunities to pursue, and threats to mitigate.
PESTLE (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal, and Environmental) analysis helps evaluate the macro-environmental factors influencing the product. It provides insights into external factors affecting the product’s development, adoption, or success.
Domain modeling is a technique that helps create a visual representation of the relevant entities, relationships, and processes within the product’s domain. It helps understand the context by mapping out the key concepts and their interactions.
Data Flow Diagrams
Data flow diagrams illustrate data flow between different components or systems. They help visualize how information moves within the context and identify the inputs, outputs, and transformations involved.
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