Guidelines for Building World-Class Business Glossaries: Disambiguation by Context

ART02x - image - EDThis is the second part of a series by Ron Ross. To see part one please click here – Guidelines for Building World-Class Business Glossaries: The Kick Off Word.

A fundamental goal for a business vocabulary is to standardize meaning such that every term can be used without ambiguity in any business communication. Therefore, each term should have one and only one meaning.

Achieving that goal, unfortunately, is not always possible. The scope of intended usage for a vocabulary may include some audience for which a particular term has a deeply ingrained and well-justified meaning that unavoidably clashes with the meaning for some other audience — or possibly even that same audience. As the scope of the vocabulary grows wider, the more likely such clashes become.

Where standardizing the meaning of an entry proves pragmatically unachievable, the entry should be disambiguated by context.

Extracted from: How to Define Business Terms in Plain English: A Primer, Ronald G. Ross, 2016 (free download)

Let’s take a close look at some examples where disambiguation by context may be the only viable solution.

Example: work product

Definition likely to clash: a diagram, document, or collection of notes created by business analysts in business modeling or requirements development

This definition defines work product for an audience of business analysts. But operational business areas also have work products for conducting day-to-day work — e.g., bills of lading, blueprints, estimates, price quotes, schematics, etc.

The definition above is therefore likely to clash with understanding of work product by a different business audience. Even if no business audience is within the scope of vocabulary usage per se, the definition could cause confusion within the business analyst audience itself. Day-to-day work products used by some targeted business area are often examined as a routine part of business analysis activity.

The preferred solution is to rename work product for business analysts’ own activities using appropriate qualification— e.g., business analysis work product.

That solution, however, may be deemed too disruptive. In such case the entry should be qualified by context, as follows:

work product [business analysis]

a diagram, document, or collection of notes created by business analysts in business modeling or requirements development

This revised entry includes a second term in brackets, business analysis, to ensure the context of the definition is clear. This second term should itself also have a definition in the business vocabulary.

Example: product

Definition likely to clash: a solution created by business analysts for some business need(s), usually but not always ultimately including software

This definition defines product for an audience of business analysts. But in day-to-day work, operational business areas also support products — the value-add goods or services requested by third parties. The definition above is therefore likely to clash.

The preferred solution is to rename product for business analysts’ own activities using the appropriate qualification — e.g., business analysis product.

That solution, however, may be deemed too disruptive. In such case the entry should be qualified by context, as follows:

product [business analysis]

a solution created by business analysts for some business need(s), usually but not always ultimately including software

This revised entry includes a second term in brackets, business analysis, to ensure the context of the definition is clear.

Working Together in Harmony

The careful reader may have noticed that the two disambiguated definitions in the examples presented in this discussion (for work product [business analysis] and product [business analysis], respectively) violate common-sense guidelines. The definition of the qualified term, work product [business analysis], does not build on the definition of the unqualified term, product [business analysis].

This anomaly can be eliminated by using the latter term as the kick-off word in the definition of the former term.

work product [business analysis]

a product [business analysis] in the form of a diagram, document, or collection of notes created in business modeling or requirements development

This revised definition for work product [business analysis] features the new kick-off word product [business analysis]. The phrase by business analysts has also been removed from the definition since it already appears in the definition of broader concept, product [business analysis]. The revised definition assumes a work product [business analysis]
has the sense of solutionfor some business need(s), the essence of the meaning of product [business analysis]. This assumption, of course, should be validated carefully.

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About Ronald Ross

Ronald G. Ross, Principal and Co-Founder of Business Rules Solutions, LLC, is internationally acknowledged as the “father of business rules.” Recognizing early on the importance of independently managed business rules for business operations and architecture, he has pioneered innovative techniques and standards since the mid-1980s. He wrote the industry’s first book on business rules in 1994. With BRS’s client roster of Fortune 500 companies and governments, Ron consults,speaks and teaches worldwide. He has served as the chair of the International Business Rules & Decisions Forum conference since 1997, now part of the Building Business Capability (BBC) conference. Ron is also the author of 10 professional books, as well as the executive editor of the Business Rules Journal. Through these publications, as well as on the online forum BRCommunity and his blog, Ron enjoys sharing his knowledge and experience in consulting and business rules. Outside of work, Ron enjoys walking his dogs, travelling with his three children, and tweeting. For fresh nuggets of information, follow him @Ronald_G_Ross!

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