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What Business Analysts can learn from Twitter

If you are a Twitter user then it could not have escaped your notice last week when Twitter announced they have increased their character limit to 280 characters. I for one am not a big fan; the previous 140 characters allowed users approximately 20 well-chosen words to convey a simple message. This took skill and ingenuity, resulting in some tweets that demonstrated clearly the power of a well-honed phrase.

I have always been a firm believer that 'less is more' when it comes to clear and concise written communication, and was reminded of this recently when we were inviting proposals for a key internal service and asked three companies to bid for the work. To guide our prospective bidders, we put together a short but informative brief. We then sent the document out and waited for the responses.

One provider failed to reply but we received two responses. Unfortunately, one supplier decided to submit a 40-page document that, despite the size of the document, ignored our main requirements. After yawning my way through 12 pages of impervious gobbledegook I looked for the Management Summary. Sadly, there wasn't one. Then I looked for the pricing. It covered 8 pages and, even after several attempts, it wasn't clear what was included in the total price and what services might turn out to be 'extras'.

Happily, the alternative proposal, from the other supplier, was 8 pages long, covered all our requirements and the single page of pricing was crystal clear. Suffice to say we selected this supplier.

The mistake of confusing word volume with effective written communication is something I come across all too often. Within the business analysis profession, when an inexperienced analyst hasn't really understood a requirement or been confident in the veracity of their message, they may camouflage their lack of knowledge by submitting an overlong document packed with superfluous words and phrases.

Being able to share ideas clearly is key to the BA skill set and while I'm not suggesting that we hone down our requirement documents and business cases to 140 or 280 characters, we have to accept that we live in a world where attention spans are short and instant gratification is the expectation. 

Back in the 1960's Kelly Johnson lead engineer at Lockheed coined the acronym KISS. It stood for Keep it Simple Stupid but over time has been adapted to mean - particularly in our office - KEEP it SHORT and SIMPLE.

I couldn't agree more.

I am still to write my first 280 character tweet, as a tweet of 140 characters seems long enough to me. Interestingly, a quote from a BBC article said Twitter announced that just 5% of tweets sent during the trial were longer than 140 characters. Which meant users were not using the space just because it was there (good news) but also, that there doesn’t appear to be a demand for the increase (so why make the change?). Also, if Twitter has increased their character limit to 280, what will stop them doing it again to 560, then 1120. It would be a pity if Twitter continued down this road but it is also frightening to think what damage some misinformed (but powerful) Twitter users could do with an increased amount of word ammunition.

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