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A Business Analyst’s Best Friends: The CIO

Successful BAs are the calm, center point of the project storm.  They evaluate the people, roles, systems, and processes swirling around them.   BAs find connections between the elements of the project storm.  They make sure all of the moving pieces align.

In order to maintain this alignment, BAs rely on strong relationships with many friends.  BAs need to anticipate their friends’ needs and learn how to influence cooperation. 

In January, I set the stage for a series describing the BA’s best friends.  This month’s friend is the CIO. 

How does the CIO benefit from a BA?

Here’s a scary thought:  The CIO knows who you are.  Yes, even if you work at a Fortune 500 company, it is likely the CIO knows you by name or reputation.

Here’s an even scarier thought: The CIO has seen your deliverables!  That big requirements document or that issue log or that PowerPoint presentation or that status report might make a journey all the way to the CIOs smart phone, laptop, or desk.   

Based on those thoughts, the CIO realizes the following benefits from a great BA:

  • Easy to Understand Deliverables
    • Use visuals: pictures, charts, diagrams 
    • Structure documents with summaries that introduce details
    • Highlight or prioritize the most important concepts or issues
    • Minimize jargon
  • Successful Projects
    • Meet the needs of stakeholders with minimal issues or rework
  • Bridge to Partners 
    • Build trusting and cooperative relationships with stakeholders

What makes a top-notch BA from the CIO’s perspective?

From the CIO’s perspective, a top-notch BA maximizes the value of the project.  What does this mean how do you do it?

For the sake of discussion lets define “value” as “a fair return”.  Like anyone, CIOs want to get a fair return on their money.  A CIO’s success hinges on the value he/she provides to the organization. 

BAs partner with stakeholders to define “value” for each project.   The “fair return” is the outcome of the project—does the solution meet the needs of the organization.  A top-notch BA maximizes value by using tools and techniques that:

  • Increase revenue, decrease costs, minimize or maximize risk to the organization
  • Improve accuracy:  requirements are correct and complete
  • Minimize rework:  Inspire an enduring solution that meets the needs of the stakeholders
  • Minimize maintenance:  Inspire a solution that minimizes ongoing support  

What frustrates a CIO about the BA role?

Remember the “scarier” thought above: CIOs see your deliverables.  Keep that in mind when you are creating requirements documents, issue logs, status reports, and presentations.  CIOs don’t have time for details.  They get frustrated by big, wordy, complex documents. 

So, assume that your documents will travel.  Do the hard work needed to simplify requirements.  Everyone will benefit.  Here are a few tips:

  • Use Appropriate Headings: Use headings that have business meaning and are understandable so that the reader (no matter what area or level) can predict what details are in that section of the document and decide effectively if they need and want to read the details.
  • Use Charts:  When you need to include details, group them in a chart or diagram. 
  • Use Pictures:  Use a picture to supplement or replace text. 
  • Create Decomposition and Summaries:  Prepare an executive summary for large or complex documents.  Focus on who, what, where, and when.  Minimize how. 
  • Use “white space”: Use white space on the document strategically to not overwhelm the reader with text or visuals that are too detailed. 

How to say no to a CIO?

Do you know your CIO’s name?  Have you met your CIO?  Do you chat with your CIO daily?  The relationship between a CIO and a BA varies based on the size and structure of an organization and the experience level of the BA. 

In most cases, a BA would not be in a position to say “NO” directly to a CIO.  Instead, a BA would supply information to the CIO via one of the CIO’s direct reports.  Prepare the direct report by outlining the consequences of possible decisions.  

For BAs that interact with the CIO directly, your best approach would be to challenge politely by asking questions.  

Always remember the CIO might be making decisions based on information you do not have and he/she cannot share. 

How to influence a CIO to get what you need?

Again, most BAs interact with CIOs through at least one layer of management.

All CIOs have goals and priorities for their organization.  BAs can work within the layers of management to understand the CIO’s priorities.  When BAs frame their needs in the context of the CIOs goals, BAs will have more influence. 

What’s most important to the CIO?  Here are a few possibilities: 

  • Value to the organization:  How will this bring value to our stakeholders?
  • Perception of IT:  Will this bring a positive perception of IT to the organization?
  • Bottom Line:  How will this affect my budget?  How will this increase profits? 
  • Service: How will this improve/hinder customer service?
  • Operations: How will this impact processes and procedures?  How will this improve quality? 
  • Morale: Will this lift morale?
  • Productivity: Will this decrease productivity?
  • Time to Market: How will this affect our delivery timelines?

How to communicate the value of the BA role to a CIO?

In many organizations, CIOs spend more of their budget keeping the lights on—maintaining, fixing, or enhancing existing systems.  That only leaves less than desired for strategic projects that have the power to shift the direction of the organization, innovate, and bring fun exciting projects to the organization.

Most CIOs and their business partners, want to flip their percentages and funnel more of their technology dollars to strategic projects.  Compared to maintenance projects, strategic projects provide more value to the organization—they are a vehicle for creativity and innovation.  CEOs and CIOs compare dollars spent in IT on “keeping the lights on” vs. strategic initiatives, there is constant pressure in the industry and internally to move these numbers in the right direction to move the organization forward.

I have worked with organizations where missed or inaccurate requirements led to fixes for fixes that were ten layers deep!  How many of your project originated as fixes to other projects?  How many layers of fixes have you seen?  We can as BAs change this and create more value to the organization by getting it right the first time!

I have seen BA talent reverse this trend and tip the scales in favor of strategic projects. 

Tell your CIO that great BAs create free space for strategic projects!  They get requirements right the first time—minimizing the need for fixes and enhancements.

What do you think? 

  • BAs:  Are you just keeping the lights on or are you creating free space for your CIO’s strategic projects? 
  • CIOs: Are your BAs helping your organization move forward?

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.