Your customer comes to you with this shiny new gadget, all excited and telling you to install it now! This will solve everything! Sound familiar? Unfortunately, that has happened all too often for many of us. We are often thrown into the situation where we need to make something work that has already been decided upon and purchased. Ugh. This is hard to do if the customer has been swayed by a really good salesperson, and the product does not meet their needs. Many projects fail as a result.
"Business Analysts are responsible for discovering, synthesizing, and analyzing information from a variety of sources within an enterprise, including tools, processes, documentation, and stakeholders, in order to determine underlying issues and causes."
How do we prevent this from happening? In my experience, the secret sauce of project success is Business Analysis (BA). To better understand this practice, refer to the Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® (BABOK®) published by the International Institute of Business Analysis™ (IIBA®). With BA,
• Business Analysis is the set of tasks and techniques used to work as a liaison among stakeholders in order to understand the current state, to define the future state, and to determine the activities required to move from the current to the future state. [BABOK®]
• Business Analysts are responsible for discovering, synthesizing, and analyzing information from a variety of sources within an enterprise, including tools, processes, documentation, and stakeholders, in order to determine underlying issues and causes. [BABOK®]
By performing this level of work before a product selection is made, both you and your customer have a greater understanding of your customer’s needs. Your customer’s requirements are discovered through discussions and analysis, and documented. The requirements can then be used to identify best fit among various technology solutions. If only one solution is being considered, then the requirements can be used to determine impact to your customer’s business processes. Change management for your customer can transpire much more smoothly with this information available.
The price of performing BA work is time. Gathering and analyzing this information takes time, and the customer is typically in a hurry. The key is to socialize this approach so that the customer involves you earlier in the process, thereby allowing the time for the BA work to be performed. Of course, the time spent up-front with the BA work saves time on the back-end with problems associated with unclear requirements and other issues.
Another aspect to consider is that not all BA work is the same. At the City of Henderson, we have developed a BA Needs Assessment worksheet and use it to determine the level of BA work needed for a project:
(1) Low BA Work Needed: The level of effort is less than 40 hours and can be done by Project Manager; Overall risk level is low.
(2) Average BA Work Needed: The level of effort is 40 to 160 hours; Overall risk is medium.
(3) Significant BA Work Needed: The level of effort is greater than 160 hours; Overall risk is high.
Risk takes several factors into consideration such as process changes needed, number of systems affected, changes to user experience, business skill level, technology skill level, vendor support, and data volume.
Stratifying our BA work in this matter helps us with resource planning as well as managing customer expectations. Our customers have been very satisfied with the results generated by the BA process.
When I came to the City of Henderson as the CIO, Business Analysis was not a practice within the IT Department. I was able to justify a position to perform this function, but one position could not accommodate all the BA work we needed to do. We focused our first Business Analyst on establishing our BA methodology.
We then reached out to the other departments who had business analysts within their ranks. We established an organization-wide BA Community of Practice which comprised of our business analyst and the business analysts from the other departments. We established a five-year training plan set against the BABOK® for them to complete (we are in year fourth now).
In addition to training, the group meets on a regular basis, establishes annual goals and works to achieve them, shares knowledge and experiences, and grows our BA practice organization-wide. This approach has been very successful for gaining buy-in to the BA processes throughout the organization. Business analysts organization-wide are now being tapped by the City Manager’s Office with the responsibility of achieving tangible, measureable savings via continuous process improvement on an annual basis. The IT Department has been able to add another business analyst to its staff, and the collaboration with the business analysts in the other departments has made us as a whole greater than our individual parts.
If you have not yet embraced Business Analysis in your organization, I highly recommend it. It goes a long way to ensure project success.