Business Analysis is the practice of enabling change in an organizational context, by defining needs and recommending solutions that deliver value to stakeholders. (The International Institute for Business Analysis).
Business Analysis, while ultimately process driven, is closely linked to system development.
- Most modern business processes are supported by information systems to a large degree
- Most process improvement solutions involve a significant systems component: build, upgrade, replace, merge information systems
Typically, a specific goal of business analysis is to define system requirements. Business Analysts do this through identifying areas for improvement, providing solutions that will add value and working with the team to translate those solutions to actionable tasks.
Why is Business Analysis Important?
IT projects have a fairly high rate of failure for a variety of reasons: exceeding budget, missing deadlines, missing functionality and so on. These failings are in large part due to poor planning and lack of proper analysis. What are the most common reasons these projects get off track?
- Lack of end-user involvement and input
- Incomplete requirements
- Changing requirements
- Incorrect requirements
- Lack of executive support
- Technology incompetence
- Lack of resources
- Unrealistic expectations
- Unclear objectives
All of these can lead to rework or restarts, time and cost overruns and insufficient budgets or resources.
Overtime the industry has grown to utilize a mature model for best practices and good habits.
- Diagnostic Mindset: Addressing the root cause and not just applying a band aid. As a business analyst, we must be very careful in jumping to solutions. When an end user requests the addition of 3 new fields, we should try to understand the reasoning so that we can provide the best possible solution. This can help eliminate unnecessary work now, or rework in the future. For example, if you go to the doctor and ask to have surgery on your leg, the doctor doesn’t just do it. He will assess the root cause and determine the best path forward.
- Process Orientation: Systems support processes; they are not ends unto themselves. It is important to write requirements in a process framework and if the process isn’t clear, even the fanciest systems will still have core problems. Complete solutions involve both process and system modifications.
- Iteration: Constantly iterate! It is critical to always ask more questions, correct misunderstandings, clarify, and demonstrate. Being iterative is critical to successful projects as it allows analysts to keep thinking of questions and users to keep remembering functionality!
- Modeling: Drawing pictures is a great way to help get the point across. Many people are visual learners and formal modeling is a great way to validate understanding, uncover new requirements, discover business rules, and aid in communications.
- Measurability: Misunderstandings often result from not being specific enough. The best way to be specific is to quantify things. Instead of saying “the system must be reliable”, say “the system must have an uptime rate of 99%”. You can attach numeric measures to goals, tasks, and system behavior.
- Traceability: Traceability means creating and retaining links all along the requirements hierarchy. This allows for effective change management and helps keep projects within scope. For example, the business needs should be tied to requirements and those requirements should be tied to technical specifications and test scenarios.
- Standardization: It is critical to start standardizing business analysis in your company. That includes recognizing business analysts as a special function, integrating IT and the business, standardizing modeling techniques, and utilizing specialized tools for capturing requirements
Analysis vs. Design
A Well-Rounded Business Analyst
Business Analysts should be technically savvy, but that is not their entire role. The “art” of analysis lies in facilitating discussions with stakeholders and drawing out information. The role is unique since hard skills
are just as valuable as soft skills. You need the capability to analyze, model, define, organize, and document…but you also need the skills to ask, listen, probe, translate, and facilitate.