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Difficult Decisions in Business Analysis: Truth or Dare

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The Business Analyst plays “Truth or Dare.” Does Dare accept the challenge of an impossible task and possibly discover hidden opportunity or accept the conventional truth and bypass the challenge?


In the game Truth or Dare, a player either responds to a question by telling the truth or is dared to complete a difficult task. Often, the Business Analyst is caught in a game of Truth or Dare when asking a question about a specific task. The stakeholder responds either by reciting a litany of reasons they believe to be true why this process is impossible, demanding that the process bypass this step, or daring the BA to undertake a task that is perceived impossible to complete. The stakeholders will have many excuses for avoiding the task; two most common are: “we tried it before and failed” or “it’s too hard.” Everyone is aware of a problem, but could there a solution no one has thought of? Often the difference between problem and solution is the mental state. A savvy Business Analyst recognizes these impossible tasks can be mined for hidden gems of opportunity for improving the business process and willingly accepts the dare!

Decision Steps

In Business Analysis, use a decision process to identify if this task is worth investigating by following these steps:

  1. Define the goal.
  2. Identify the barriers.
  3. Identify and review alternatives.
  4. Select a solution.

Goal Definition

The problem is only a problem because there is some desired goal that cannot be met. Begin with defining the objective so that relates it to both the business as well as to the process under review. If the goal does not meet both criteria, then the decision is simple: the goal is out of scope and no further investigation is necessary. However, if the goal is both related to the business and the process, then the goal is in scope and a solution should be sought.

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“Framing” is art of crafting a message to influence, when pursuing an “impossible task” choose your words carefully. Social science has determined that people are more responsive when an issue is framed positively than negatively. The impossible task already has a negative perception that needs to be overcome; do not define the glass as “half empty” but rather “half full”. Explain how this task represents the future and untapped opportunity, make the task sound desirable to the stakeholders.

Barrier Identification

Analyze the gap between the “as is” and the “to be.” What, specifically, is preventing the current process from becoming the future process? This is the list of barriers.

Decompose the major barriers; be careful not to sabotage your effort by listing every minor impediment. View the barriers realistically, there are some problems with obstacles so great they cannot be overcome. If the task truly is impossible, document the reasons. Policies, regulations, and attitudes can change over time. The task may be insurmountable today, but conditions could change next year.

Alternative Identification and Review

Identifying and reviewing alternatives is an iterative cycle; begin reviewing alternative review as soon as possible. One option will be rejected only to be replaced with a new option. It is critical to ensure every alternative meets the goal definition; do not be distracted by solving unrelated issues. Also, do not be a victim of tunnel vision and generate only one or two alternatives, be willing to explore many ideas. The alternative does not have to be solved at once but it may be a candidate for a phased implementation. For each alternative develop the:

  • Description
  • Resources
  • Compatibility
  • Cost and Benefits
  • Risk

The description describes the alternative at a high level, and should be framed as an attainable objective. Identify the resources needed to achieve the goal; are the resources available or do they need to be hired, will training be required? Explain the compatibility of the alternative with the existing operations or how the alternative moves the organization toward their strategic vision. Be creative when identifying benefits, identify competitive, market, and technology advantages. The task may be a sunk cost without any quantifiable benefit to your project but may be an enabler for other organizational efforts. Do not fall into the trap of trying to estimate “hard” dollars at this level but identify areas where costs will be incurred as well as avoided (benefit!). The project risk is obviously high, otherwise the task would already be completed, so identify the risk of not solving the problem. Also include the “as is” alternative; what is the cost to the organization for not fixing this problem?

Once the alternatives are narrowed to three or five, perform “what-if” analysis using a decision table. A decision table provides a visual representation of a set of business rules and can be created in common tools such as Word or Excel. There are many formats for creating a decision table; one example is provided below:

Condition Rule 1 Rule 2
Customer ordered < $50


Customer ordered > $50


No Discount


10% Discount


Table 1: Sample Decision Table

A hurdle to overcome is attitude: yours and the rest of the organization. Recognize that you, the stakeholders, and decision makers will experience psychological barriers to the alternative review. You must first convince yourself the problem is solvable to sell it to the stakeholders. If you don’t believe, neither will they. There is already “groupthink” which considers the task as impossible, so some stakeholders will be critical of any option. Those open to considering the task as achievable may have a favorite alternative (theirs) and be biased against any other solution. A successful strategy is to review the alternatives with stakeholders individually and safely test assumptions without fear of reprisal or going against the group. Be patient, it may take time to lobby for a solution, and may require some additional training.

Select a Solution

You have dared to go where the rest of the organization has feared to tread, and now it is time to face the truth: there will a selection or the status quo. The reality is, sometimes the task truly is impossible now. Document each alternative considered and the rationale why each cannot be achieved today. The task may be reviewed in the future, and the current barriers may no longer exist. If a solution is selected, be prepared that the solution may not be the best alternative but the feasible alternative. The best alternative is perception, but the feasible alternative is the one which everyone agrees to, or at least accepts as the optimal solution. Regardless of the outcome, remember:

Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try. — Unknown


Dagmar Anne Cole, CBAP

Dagmar Anne Cole, CBAP is a highly experienced IT professional who is consistently recognized for her ability to identify strategic opportunities by aligning business processes and corresponding technologies. She has extensive training, certification, and experience in conflict resolution and mediation. Dagmar is viewed as a “out of the box” thinker and troubleshooter for intricate projects. She is a valued facilitator due to her ability to broker successful “win-win” solutions under pressure with difficult teams and ability to deal with the “C” Suite level executives. Dagmar is a frequent speaker in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and has presented at several IIBA Building Business Capability conferences. Dagmar holds degrees from George Mason and Marymount universities, as well as certifications from a variety of institutions.

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