In an episode of “The Big Bang Theory”, Leonard arrives home with his arms full of food and says “I hope you’re hungry” to which Sheldon responds “Interesting. A friendly sentiment in this country, cruel taunt in the Sudan. It’s a lesson in context.” The humor may be dark, but the point is one we need to remember—context matters.
A group of us were at the end of a very productive, but very intense, all day session on the business rules for a third party system. The Business Analyst switched topics and started telling us about a report that would be provided by the system. While I understood he was talking about a report, I couldn’t make any sense of the details he was giving me because I didn’t know when the report was used or what it was used for. I had to ask him to stop and provide context. It turned out everyone else in the room was as confused as I was. It was a good reminder to set context when providing information.
This applies not only when presenting information to a group, but also to work products. This can be as simple as giving a document a name which indicates its content, the small effort of adding an introduction section to a document, or as extensive as creating a vision and scope document for a large project. Requirements models are great for providing context and pulling together diverse information as well.
Context—it’s one of those things that makes the difference between providing good information and providing excellent information.