Business analysts are not professional scribes

It is easy to reduce business analysts to scribes – those human recorders who type out the dictates of business into a business approved template. Which is then signed off by business and forced down IS/IT’s throat for implementation and all the other good things that happen in downstream.

But is that really the function of the BA organisation and the analysts that walk its corridors?

In many enterprises, the BA organisation does not exist. And in most others, it exists in name only. And yet in many others, business analysts are mere scribes, who simply document aspirations and ambitions of business and to take the blame where such ambitions end up as the type of statistics describing project failures.

I have sat back many times and watched the craft of business analysis reduced to writing specifications for new systems or parts thereof and or documenting the what the business thinks it needs in a business requirements document. Most of these scenarios were job interviews – and you know what they say about fighting your interviewers?

Where I could fight, I did. Putting down my feet firmly and insisting on more value driven work which may lead to or not lead to the writing of a requirements spec. – this occurs mostly on the job, where one has developed the balls to query the status quo.

But I have been burned a few times. Those times being those where there is very little analysis maturity within the organisation or where the analysis organisation is simply an appendage following recommendations by McKinsey or other.

I have seen this happen to project management, where professionals are reduced to administrators tending MS project day in and day out.

A simple definition of business analysis I have given many times and which I continue to believe approximates the profession is:

…helping business understand its needs in the context of its environment (cultural, regulatory, industry etc.) in order to be able to maximise its requirements for optimal asset creation.

This definition is reason my conversations with clients – as I refer to internal teams I am working with – often involves evaluations using some of the tools and techniques detailed later on in this piece, to help situate.

Factors in support of BAs Scribing

There are a myriad of reasons for reducing the BA practise to a record creating initiative some of which includes the following:

Business analysis is still a mere afterthought and supportive appendage and cost centre for the business and not really a value creation centre. This is normal in the early days of setting up a BA organisation. However, this should continue for long as the entire justification for the BA organisation will be eroded and the BA enterprise will be eligible to be written off in the next cost saving exercise.

A weak, un-empowered or poorly resourced BA organisation. Weak, un-empowered and poor resourced are all the same. The difference only being in the source of the anomaly:

  • Pretence: The enterprise is not truly committed to setting up a BA practise but wants to be seen to be taking advise from the consultants further.
  • Round pegs forced into square holes: Resources within the organisation are randomly assigned to perform business analysis, without any recourse to their interests, past experiences etc or the validation of such where outside resources are being brought in. I have met many a business analysis consultant whose employs swears by thunder to be senior business analysts but knows little more than testing or filling out templates – PPPs, RDS’, test cases etc.
  • Disengagement: BAs who have grown tired of swimming upstream against the tide of business’ insistence on what it needs written down. This is often as result of organisational pretence of interest in setting up and maintaining a business analysis practise, exacerbated by the non-allocation of an executive to take care of the BA practise.

But, what value can BAs bring to the party?

For one clarity by consultation and collaboration.

No doubt business knows business and knows its ambitions. But are there chances that in the daily wrestling of big pictures that details fall into cracks and are forgotten forever – until projects fail that is?

Or could it not be possible that given the short-term targets business chases daily leading to the development of tunnel vision, business may miss an entire forest for a tree?

Herein are two scenarios where the business analyst organisation transforms a mere cost centre to a value creation capability.

Models and tools that BAs can deploy to help create value

PESTLE – especially when the projects have regulatory or legal or commercial impacts. Understanding the macro-economic and external conditions impacting the business or the business unit in question, helps shape the conversations around what business is really aiming to achieve with the planned or ongoing projects.

Porter’s 5 Forces – hardly shows up except in commercial improvement projects. Tool helps further shed lights on the likely ripple effect our project can generate and what may result as a result. This not only help shape the conversation, it also helps prepare the team for the likely outcomes of the project and thus puts it in a ready position when those predictions come alive. Sometimes, though, the project ends up being refined in order to avoid some previously unforeseen but now suspected unintended consequences.

UCS – which I deploy visually to aid the understanding of the markets we are playing in, what our competitors are doing and wat the customer truly needs and what we are producing that we should probably not continue to produce as it offers no strategic or tactical benefits. I oft bring this up when projects are of a strategic nature or when making recommendations to business on what new areas or markets we may need to start to target.

All the models and tools listed above don’t make it into any requirements spec. Rather they are the reasons why certain projects are accelerated, capped, or continued.

Note this is a series of writings that are geared towards my planned 2019 book: The BA book. I am tacitly grouping them together here as first drafts as that is what most of them are. Doing this helps me stay accountable as well as gain early feedback from stakeholders.

Your comments and feedback on this early thoughts will be appreciated and applied towards further shaping the research that will go into the writing the book.




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