Beyond Language Workshops – Specialist Glossary Requirements

Terry Smith, Intraversed


We’re in the middle of a blog series focusing on the role of Business Analysts (BAs).

In our last blog, we covered the pro’s and con’s of workshops and interviews, and the situations we think best suit each. You can read that blog here.

In that blog, we began talking about business term glossaries and how, in our experience, workshops are far superior at achieving stakeholder buy-in and effective definitions for your glossary terms.

But effective workshops are not the only thing a BA needs to achieve a successful project glossary. Those terms and definitions need to be stored somewhere.

And where they’re stored can make all the difference.

Beyond Language Workshops – Specialist Glossary Requirements

But first, a quick word on the relationship between glossaries and project success

Most BAs know that term definition activity at the start of the project is necessary for IT scoping staff to do an accurate job of costing the project.

But we want to emphasise here that glossaries are not just useful for accurate scoping. Glossaries carry the success of the whole project, and can mean the difference between a solution being successful at delivering what the business requested or that solution failing significantly and being unfixable.

We’ve seen this first hand… one project that had not only failed due to one misused business term that was central to the deliverables of the project, but the subsequent investment of hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to fix the project, only to continually fail – because that one business term still hadn’t been clearly defined.

In next month’s blog, we’ll be discussing how to write a business case for establishing a great glossary.

For now, please believe us, the glossary is vital to the success of the project. You can read our case study on the above scenario here.

Elements of an Effective Glossary Tool

When establishing your glossary of terms, you need to store those terms and their definitions somewhere.

It needs to be somewhere that everyone can access it. It needs to be a tool that many people are able to open and navigate easily. It needs to be easy to enter information into.

These are probably the baseline needs of any tool used as a glossary. And it’s true to say, Word and Excel tick these three boxes.

But we’d argue that a truly useful, functional, beneficial glossary is one that has been established within a specifically designed glossary tool, which will delivery added benefits, beyond just the terms and their definitions.

Let’s quickly lay out the functionality of truly effective glossary software.

Great glossary software will:

  • be truly collaborative, not just readable by many

  • ensure quality is maintained in the definition writing

  • relate terms together, in ways that allow clearer understanding, easy navigation, and consistent definitions

  • include the ability to use terms for classification of information resources that are stored in other systems

  • give users the capacity to identify issues with definitions and related information

  • allow those issues to be resolved collaboratively

  • deliver transparency in decision making and issues resolution to all users

  • include effective, clear and structured ownership of terms and definition writing, their stakeholders, and the issues raised against them (i.e. governance)

  • incorporate lifecycle management of terms, because language can change over time

  • ensure that the definition is accessible for collaborative input throughout its life cycle

  • give governance teams the capacity to ensure compliance is easily tracked and measured.

When you start to consider all the ways terms in our glossaries need to be managed, it’s easy to see why specialised glossary tools are beginning to appear, both as stand alone software, and add-ons included with other packages.

There’s a lot that a great glossary needs to allow, deliver and ensure.

But are they really worth it? Do you really need something more than Word or Excel?

Using Excel or Word for your glossary

To be fair, and in the interests of full disclose, Intraversed do sell its own glossary software, so we’re going to have a somewhat weighted viewpoint here.

But by the same token, we’re not against finding the most cost effective solutions for our clients.

In fact, we once saved a client about half a million dollars by developing an information tracking solution in Excel rather than supporting the purchase of specialised software for their industry that would have cost them much, much more and not achieved the objectives. You can read that case study here.

We have several arguments, however, against using Excel or Word, or other non-specific software options, for your glossary.

  • The software doesn’t have the capacity to detect and prevent multiple entries for a single term. This means (and in our experience, it means this EVERY time) a single term has been entered by several people, and contains differing definitions each time. Those searching for “the” definition are either going to assume the first one they find to be correct, or they will be very confused. And this, needless to say, can have a huge effect on the success of the project.

  • Multiple copies can arise that are maintained by different people and never standardised. Because, in most organisations, Word and Excel are platforms every staff member can use to save documents wherever they want. This invariably means multiple versions of the document will come to exist and there will cease to be consistency and control over definitions.

  • Relationships between terms can not be easily identified or maintained. This may not seem important but it can mean the difference between truly comprehending a definition or misunderstanding it, which can go on to have a large effect on the success of a project.

  • There is no capacity for raising problems with definitions. This is very important because it is the primary way that the corporate knowledge of your staff can be actually useful in preventing the kind of problems that can arise when terms are used differently in different parts of an organisation.

The example I’ve used, above, of the company that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to fix a problem, unsuccessfully, because they didn’t clearly define one term – when Mark and Terry from Intraversed went in and solved that problem, it was clear that if all staff had been able to see the definition of that key term, the staff operating using a different definition could have easily raised this issue and the problem could have been identified quickly and efficiently. Without such an ability, the problem remained invisible.

Specialised Glossary Software

So – fair warning now. We’re about to talk about the benefits of specialised glossary software and we are creators of just such a software product.

While that may seem like too large a conflict of interest, it also puts us in a unique position to understand exactly what glossary software can deliver that Word and Excel can’t.

Well designed glossary software will deliver:

  • a fully online, collaborative definition writing environment

  • a structured definition writing standard that ensures quality and consistency

  • clear governance and ownership structures for all terms and their definitions

  • term lifecycle management and monitoring

  • an efficient method of raising issues with terms and definitions

  • a transparent and collaborative capability to resolve issues

  • the ability to link related terms to each other, to further enhance definitional understanding

  • a governance dashboard to make managing the glossary easy for governance teams.

Further, fantastic glossary software should have further capabilities to add value to the definitional work that you’ve undertaken, such as linking terms to registered documents and information artefacts, which can help define what the documents are referencing and help staff raise issues with the information contained therein.

Where organisations value the investment in glossaries enough to implement organisation-wide glossary software, the benefits can be far reaching, including greater business assurance, more reliable financial, legal and regulatory reporting and clear communication throughout the enterprise.

The Next Step for BAs

In next month’s blog, we’ll be talking about the elephant in the room, given the discussion about buying fancy glossary software – justifying the cost with a business case that outlines a clear ROI.

Anyone who has attempted to write such a justification knows it’s tricky. We’ll be helping you out by outlining our defence of the investment in establishing a really great glossary, and not just for your project, but for the organisation as a whole.

Join the discussion on LinkedIn
Terry Smith, Intraversed

Terry Smith

Terry is a co-founder & Chief Education Officer at Intraversed. She spends her days helping information governance teams implement the Intralign Ecosystem, an award winning methodology that builds stable information foundations for reliable reporting.

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