How can an organization develop its business analysis function? What actions can encourage, support and grow the business analyst mindset of the practitioners who play a pivotal role in enabling successful changes in an organization?
Any business organization that needs to change and evolve will benefit from having a business analyst or a team of analysts supporting analysis of business needs and identifying requirements for change. The importance of the right mindset to make these business analysis activities effective has been documented. Now it is essential to focus on methods and processes used to develop the mindset of a business analysis team, and how to make it work in any organization.
Business analysis maturity
If the organization has taken steps to evaluate its project management and business analysis practices maturity, it may have a good idea of areas for improvement. In the absence of a formal assessment, try answering a few simple questions:
- Is there a high staff turnover among business analysts?
- Do major projects start and finish with the same lead business analyst, or is it typical to have a few people take over from each other before the project is completed?
- Is there a perception among business stakeholders that technology and solution delivery groups do not understand them?
- Is there a perception among solution delivery groups that business does not understand or does not articulate their requirements well, and there are too many ambiguities in their requirements?
- Is there a general feeling of frustration that requirements workshops are ineffective and do not progress fast enough?
- Is requirements quality cited often as one of the reasons for project failure?
These are just some of the signs pointing to a lack of business analysis practice maturity. Focussing on maturing the practice and fostering the business analyst mindset can deliver a significant value to the business by improving both the requirements quality and the trust between technology and business stakeholders.
Analysis practice – key components
To determine what is required for a mature business analysis practice, examine this model from the book “Business analyst: a profession and a mindset”
Figure 1. Business analysis professional – a model
A business analyst, like any other professional, needs to possess or acquire required skills, training, knowledge, and learn tools and techniques of the trade. On-the-job experience is extremely important for a job where each new assignment will be in some way new and unique. This experience will expose the analyst to different activities, methodologies and processes, often more efficiently than a formal class training.
Choosing the activity that will help achieve required outcome in the most efficient way will be influenced by the analyst’s knowledge, experience and mindset. The drive to help the customer and find creative solution to business problems will come from business analyst’s motivation. And the capability to understand human nature, find the best ways to communicate with different audiences and use diplomacy and tact in dealing with difficult people and situations, will come from the business analyst mindset.
Fostering the business analyst mindset
What can an organization do to support development of the right mindset, and attract and retain the analysts who possess it?
- Acknowledge the importance of business analysis in the process of organizational change. Even those process changes and improvements that do not involve any technology work can benefit from applying analysis best practices to a business problem.
- Involve analysts in feasibility analysis and cost-benefit assessments, making it easier to conduct more thorough feasibility studies. Doing so will improve the decisions and, as an added bonus, capture some early analysis results and potential gaps.
- Encourage creating a business analysis practice or centre of excellence. Learning from peers, sharing best practices, explaining and clarifying complex requirements and business rules to the group will not only improve individual contributors’ output, but can also help detect missed cross-project impacts.
- Encourage or mandate peer reviews of business requirements documents and packages. Any business analyst should be able to review the work of a peer to assess readability, clarity, logic and structure, ask good questions and help indicate potential issues.
- Practice good facilitation for requirements analysis meetings and workshops. This is one of the most critical factors impacting requirements quality. Providing facilitation training and coaching can be quite effective and a good investment into analysts’ professional development.
- Boost facilitation function for important requirements workshops, especially with large disparate groups or very important stakeholders. For example, provide a facilitator plus a scribe, a lead analyst supported by a partner (back up), or hire an independent facilitator to manage the participants while the business analyst can focus on the analysis itself.
- Create and develop a culture of sharing, including sharing of knowledge and experience. Knowledgeable analysts who are hoarding knowledge and best practices to protect their jobs can create an unhealthy and excessively competitive environment.
- Encourage and allow time for professional training. Online webinars, participation in local IIBA chapters or attending a business analysis conference all provide great exposure to best practices, new ideas and fresh points of view to support flexible approach to problem solving.
- Don’t offer tools as a replacement for culture or methodology. Requirements management tools do not work without the right attitude and methodology in place.
- Value business knowledge at least as much as methodology expertise. Develop the waterfall analysts and train them on the agile methodologies if this is the organization’s direction. Replacing current staff with new analysts who have experience is not a winning strategy by itself.
- Create a lending library for business analysis books. Just the fact that a company would spend money on creating such a resource should send the message about the importance of business analysis and expected quality of requirements to the rest of organization.
- Create a shared business models repository. Maintaining a catalog of artifacts, actors, process blocks and use cases for sharing among analysts and projects will support standardization and better alignment of individual initiatives with the overall enterprise architecture.
- If the company does not have a business architect, consider creating this role. A business architect, if positioned optimally in the organizational structure, can provide direction to business analysis activities and become a uniting force for the business analysis practice.
- Find the right person to lead the business analysis team. Not every people manager will know how to manage workers intuitively with this special combination of hard and soft skills that analysts need. Someone with prior business analysis or business architecture experience is highly desirable. A manager who is used to managing repeatable processes will need additional training to understand the nature of business analysis activities and the unique challenges to be dealt with on each project.
Nurturing a business analysis practice is an investment well worth the effort and resources. If unsure where to start, give this mandate to a seasoned and mature business analysis or business architecture professional, who will know firsthand what works and what does not. Provide support in form of resources, training, time to do a quality job and respect. And then, when the business analysts deliver thorough analysis, find gaps or make recommendation – give them airtime and listen to what they have to say. Nurturing and respecting the business analyst mindset and professional will deliver exceptional benefits across the organization.