BOSCARD: How to write a Terms of Reference

BOSCARD terms of reference Banner

When a business analyst meets their project objectives, there’s no magic or luck involved!

In Fact:

Research shows that the ability to eliminate misunderstanding between project stakeholders is highly dependent on the way a project is launched.

So I’m giving you 7 areas that MUST be observed before a project is even kicked off.

It’s in the form of a BOSCARD template, and even though writing one makes you think hard, this document could be the pinnacle of project success.

Psst. Visit my BA Templates post where you can download 72 templates for free here

What is a BOSCARD Terms of Reference Document (ToR)?

It’s an agreement between stakeholders, made at the very beginning of a project.

For YOU to agree the aim and boundaries of the project, the criteria for success and, where required, the responsibilities of all the stakeholders.

It is re-referenced right through the project – YES – right to the end.

So once done, keep it in a handy location



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FREE BONUS SECTION: Here's An EXACT copy of my Terms of Reference when I undertook a process improvement project. Within a Finance department processing thousands of invoices every week – Download it here

Actually, what are the benefits of BOSCARD and a ToR?

I’ve created a Terms of Reference for every process improvement project I’ve ever conducted,

And then personally had it agreed with the highest level project stakeholders.

Why? Because I know that over a 3 month period anyone can ‘change their mind’. Especially managers.

So by having this agreement available, it’s sooo easy to refer back to and PROVE the agreement. Especially with the project Sponsor.

The best thing?

More often than not, it can help prove that YOU are RIGHT.

The BOSCARD terms of reference is such a proven technique that is even a focused module of the ISEB Business Analysis Diploma Business Analysis Essentials.

If you are or want to be a contractor, after all that’s where you’ll earn the most money, this document will be the difference between success (life) and failure (death).

What does BOSCARD stand for?

BOSCARD actually stands for Background, Objectives, Scope, Assumptions, Roles, and Deliverables

But I’ve created the BOSCARD plus(+) because there’s some other useful info to include in a ToR, so here goes…

  • Background & Opportunity
  • Objectives & Benefits
  • Scope In/Out
  • Constraints & Risks
  • Assumptions & Dependencies
  • Roles/ Governance
  • Deliverables

· Approach (optional for added clarity)

Who Writes a TOR: Project Manager or Business Analyst?

I’ll keep this blunt so we can get into the action.

More often than not, the Project Manager will write a terms of reference

BUT

If they haven’t done it, don’t think as a Business Analyst you can’t write one

You Can.

And if you’re a consulting contractor working as a Business Analyst

You’d better get your pen out, because it’s all down to you.

Step 1: Hold a Kick-off Meeting

So a manager or business owner has requested you start (or even join) a project.

No-one really knows EXACTLY what they want you to do. But they have a vague idea

So YOU need to ask the questions. You can’t rely on anyone else at this point.

Your questions should be in the form of BOSCARD.

TIP: Remembering BOSCARD will help you get exactly what you need out of a kick-off meeting so you can get your teeth into the ToR immediately

Step 2: Write the Terms of Reference

Background & Opportunity

Answer these…

What are the reasons for creating the project?

Who are the key business function who will benefit from the project result?

What is one key opportunity for change that the project relies on?

Opportunities could be DIRECT or INDIRECT but will have a positive impact on the business if the project is successful.

Objectives & Benefits

Describe the specific project objectives and link each of them with the SMART framework for project objectives –

S = Specific – objectives must be clearly defined.
M = Measurable – measuring criteria for objectives must be fully understood.
A = Achievable – objectives must be possible to achieve.
R = Relevant – to provide a willingness to involvement make them relevant to the people involved.
T = Timely – an objective must be bound with a time frame. e.g. within 2 months

List the benefits that the project is going to deliver. Where possible, these must be quantifiable benefits and are often related to the SMART framework

Scope – In / Out?

This section is KEY and needs to be agreed so to avoiding scope creep later in the project.

In Scope?

What business areas ARE included and impacted?

Which tasks ARE included?

Is there anything else you need to include?

Out of Scope?

What business areas will NOT be included, but may be included by assumption.

Which tasks will NOT be included, but may be included by assumption?

Is there anything else that could be assumed to be included but you know it isn’t?

Constraint / Risks

Identify ANYTHING that could delay you reaching your ultimate goal – the constraints

A great example s lack of resource

Identify ANYTHING that could cause the project to fail – the risks

Include a quick assessment of the significance of each risk and how to address them.

Document in a table format

Constraints and risks MUST be added to the project plan (when done) and addressed throughout the project.

Assumptions & Dependencies

Get your assumptions wrong and the project WILL be delayed!

Or worse still – FAIL!

So…

Specify all factors that are, considered to be true, without validation.

Validate your assumptions throughout the project.

Not recognizing the project’s dependencies WILL mean you fail to obtain the right resource or assets for reaching your goal

So ask yourself this…

What do we need?

Who do we need involved?

Where do we need to work?

What other projects need to be completed FIRST?

Tip: ALWAYS actively work to remove constraints and assumptions

Roles/Governance

My view is this…

When people don’t know what their roles are in a project, they can react in different ways – BAD!

Some people might be REALLY enthusiastic and try to do everything

Some might become demotivated because there’s no leadership

So…

Defining the roles of the project stakeholders will make sure everyone can work together in conjunction with each other.

Do this…

Provide the roles of the management team who will govern the project.

Provide details of team member (or Subject Expert) requirements and how much of their time will be taken up by project work.

Deliverables

What are you actually delivering?

This is the absolutely key

The bottom line:

If you get this wrong there will be disagreements at the end of the project

AND some upset stakeholders

So be absolutely sure to complete this section.

Define the key deliverables that the project is required to produce in order to achieve the stated objectives.

Deliverables must be tangible, e.g. Documents, Presentations or even development of a system functionality

Approach

This is a bonus section.

But it gives the stakeholders a great insight into your key activities

It also helps you determine the length of the project

SO even if you don’t include it in your ToR

DO have a think about it and let your stakeholders know.

Provide details of the work that will be completed by the project team so to meet the required deliverables. This will include key steps and high level tasks for each of those steps that you will undertake in order to complete the project.

Step 3: Distribute the Terms of Reference

When you’re happy with your ToR

Don’t just sit on it

And don’t delay this

Make sure you send it to your key stakeholders

Give them a date for when you want them to read it by

Follow up with a phone call if you don’t hear anything.

Read my article on how to manage this - http://www.ba-guru.com/stakeholder-analysis-engage-business-areas/

Step 4: Obtain Terms of Reference Sign-off

This is the whole reason for creating your terms of reference

Make sure you get agreement on what you’ve written

You DON’T need to get an actual signature

But you DO need to try and get an email

Although DON’T let this delay the start project

Use your influencing skills to emphasise the importance of agreement

Step 5: Refer back to the Terms of Reference (ToR)

I told you this at the start, so I probably don’t need to say it again

But doing this will help you stay on track

So keep referring back to your terms of reference document

And roll through your project with confidence and strategy!

18 thoughts on “BOSCARD: How to write a Terms of Reference

    1. Hey Baba,
      There are a number of courses for Business Analytics/Business Analysis and the price can vary massively. If you drop me an email with your goals, I can maybe point you in the right direction.

      Cheers,
      Matt

  1. Hi Matthew

    I have recently received an opportunity as a BA in a start up. Coming from a non technical background with absolutely no skills except communication and product knowledge, I’m finding it hard to cope up when I hear my boss using fancy terms .. How do I cope up with this

    1. Great question – Firstly don’t be afraid to ask what certain terms actually mean – that’s the only thing we can do. Another way is to write down the terms and search for them in your own time – usually good if there’s a wider group in the meeting. Be persistent your knowledge will grow over time.

  2. Hi Matthew – thank you for posting this! I will be using at my work as a Project Engineer / Technical Writer.Could you point an aspiring Business Analyst in the direction with resources to get started in BA?

    Cheers,
    Nathan

    1. Hi Nathan,

      Really appreciate the positive feedback – thanks! There’s loads of info right across the ba-guru website for aspiring BAs but I also really like the blog businessanalystlearnings.com.

      Let me know if there’s anything in particular you’re interested in.

      Cheers,
      Matt

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