As business analysts, there is no doubt that we are instrumental in helping organisations specify and deliver valuable change. When many people think about business analysis, they think about ‘requirements’, and whilst requirements analysis is absolutely crucial, the BA role is broad and requires a range of skills and competencies. We have a wide range of tools and techniques at our disposal, and as skilled analysts, the art is to choose the right approach and the right set of tools for the situation.
This can be particularly tricky when we are parachuted into a project and it appears that a decision over the solution has already been made. I am certain that many people reading this blog will have experienced this situation: Stakeholders say things like “We don’t need any analysis, we’ve already decided we want XYZ system, and it’s off the shelf, so all we need to do is go and buy it!”. These types of assertions tend to send shudders down the spine of experienced analysts; it is very easy to get caught in a trap of going with the flow. But if we do this, we’ll likely deliver exactly what they asked for and find out later that unfortunately it wasn’t what they needed.
This isn’t intended as a criticism on our stakeholders. It seems it is human nature to think in term of solutions rather than to consider problems and strategic alignment. As someone who likes gadgets, I have a whole range of ‘shiny solutions’ that looked great on the shelf… only to get them home to find they solved a problem that I didn’t have. I suspect at least some people reading this will have a similar collection. Look within the solution architecture in most organisations and you’ll find a plethora of systems and processes that never quite met the business need. If you dig further, you’ll probably find there was little business analysis conducted up-front.
The Value of Pre-Project Strategy Analysis
If you are familiar with BABOK® v3, you’ll be aware that there is an entire knowledge area labelled ‘Strategy Analysis’. This contains a bundle of activities that typically start pre-project and help the organisation to understand the nature of the problems or opportunities that are being targeted. The important question of why is addressed, so that there is a clear appreciation of the outcomes and benefits that the initiative is seeking to gain. Divergent thinking is encouraged—rather than prematurely fixating on a single solution, we should consider a range of solutions, and determine which is most feasible and desirable.
This area of business analysis isn’t easy. It requires us to maintain a really good understanding of the internal and external business environment. It’s crucial that we take into account how the competitive landscape is changing. So many household names have struggled in recent years precisely because they didn’t see the market shifting—and as business analysts we can work with our stakeholders to ensure that these angles are covered.
Most of all, though, it requires us to gain a quick appreciation of a problem situation and work with others to determine the root causes. Once we have determined the root causes, we can help facilitate discussions over different types of solution approach that will be valuable. At this early stage everything is a ‘best guess’, a hypothesis of value, and early business analysis ensures that we can easily pivot if an assumption turns out to be incorrect or if something in the business environment changes.
This is one area where good quality analysis can make a significant difference to project outcomes. It isn’t easy, but it is well worth investing in!
Adrian Reed is a true advocate of the analysis profession. In his day job, he acts as Principal Consultant and Director at Blackmetric Business Solutions where he provides business analysis consultancy and training solutions to a range of clients in varying industries. He is a Past President of the UK chapter of the IIBA® and he speaks internationally on topics relating to business analysis and business change. Adrian wrote the 2016 book ‘Be a Great Problem Solver… Now’ and the 2018 book ‘Business Analyst’ You can read Adrian’s blog at http://www.adrianreed.co.uk and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/UKAdrianReed
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