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Business Data Dictionary Template


Quick Summary
A business data dictionary organizes and defines all the data elements relevant to a particular software system, and includes additional information that helps establish a common understanding of the nature of the data element.


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What this is

A business data dictionary provides a way of organizing all of the data elements that are relevant to a particular software system. In addition to the definition, each data element is accompanied by other information that provides all audiences a common understanding of the nature of the data element.


Why it's useful

Data dictionaries assist with gathering requirements, standardize data element definitions, reduce redundancy, and enhance consistency between systems. What may seem like administrative busy work when you're launching a project can become a time- and money-saving resource by revealing complexities that were overlooked in initial specifications and spotting costly inconsistencies before they are deeply embedded in the organization's systems.

For example, consider a simple requirement to capture a customer's name. At first glance, this may seem intuitive—not worth documenting. But should the fields allow extended characters for foreign names? What about spaces or dashes for compound first names? How many fields should be used? How long should they be? Imagine the frustrations and maintenance or integration expenses that might be incurred if different departments implemented these so-called simple fields in different ways. A well maintained data dictionary can prevent these kinds of difficulties.


How to use it

The general steps for creating and maintaining a data dictionary are sketched here. For more information, see the first page of the downloadable template.

  1. Decide with the team how your data dictionary will be structured. You may choose to align it to the logical data model, arrange it by business functions, or simply alphabetize it. There may be some other way to organize it that will be more meaningful to your project. There is no wrong way to do this, as long as it facilitates the use and maintenance of the document.
  2. Decide how to store and structure your data dictionary. Smaller applications may be able to use a single list within a fairly small document. However, larger data dictionaries can benefit from automated requirements management tools, especially if multiple data elements will be used in multiple use cases or other functional requirements.
  3. Start with what you know. There are likely a handful of data elements that are already known by one or more team members. Even if not all of the details about those elements are available yet, add them to the list.
  4. Assign roles & responsibilities.
  5. Assign a target date for baselining. Data dictionary creation need not be tied to functional requirements documentation; it can be done before, concurrently, or afterward.
  6. Review, Approve, and Baseline.
  7. Manage changes.
About the Author

Sinikka L. Waugh, PMP, is the founder and head coach of the project management coaching firm Your Clear Next Step, L.L.C. Sinikka is an actively practicing project management consultant, known for consistently helping teams find innovative ways to leverage effective project strategies across multiple disciplines and technologies. With over 10 years in project roles (primarily program manager, project manager, and business analyst) Sinikka has successfully applied project and leadership expertise to improve project performance in a wide variety of industries, including publishing, education, product fulfillment and distribution, insurance, event and travel management, human resources, and financial services. As a coach, SinikkaÕs down-to-earth, Òtry-this-nowÓ approach blends with her passion for helping others improve. Her energetic and engaging style helps make both the art and science of project management accessible to those she works with.

Sinikka holds a BA from Central College, an MA from the University of Iowa, and is a certified Project Management Professional through the Project Management Institute.


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