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BA Practice Lead Handbook 10 – Business Analyst Practice Sustainability: Change the Way we do Projects

The remaining articles in this series will be about sustainability: building a BA practice to last. In this piece, we present the BA Practice Lead’s role as critical to changing the way we do projects to focus on business benefits, customer value, creativity, and innovation.

Changing the Way We Do Projects

An organization’s culture is durable because it is “the way we do things around here.” Changing the way it selects projects, develops and manages requirements, and manages projects, while focusing not only on business value but also on innovation, is likely a significant shift for an organization. Even today, many organizational cultures still promote the practice of piling project requests, accompanied by sparse requirements, onto the IT and new-product development groups and then wondering why they cannot seem to deliver.

Creating and Sustaining the New Vision of Project Work

A common vision is essential for an organization to bring about significant change. A clear vision helps to direct, align, and inspire people’s actions.

Whether implementing professional business analysis practices, a new innovative product, or a major new business solution, the business analyst needs to articulate a clear vision and involve the stakeholders in the initiative as early as possible. Executives and middle managers are essential allies in bringing about change of any magnitude. They all must deliver a consistent message about the need for the change. Select the most credible and influential members of your organization, seek their advice and counsel, and have them become the voice of change. The greater the number of influential managers, executives, and technical/business experts articulating the same vision, the better chance you have of being successful.

Implementing Cultural Change

Rita Hadden, specialist in software best practices, process improvement, and corporate culture change, offers some insight into the enormity of the effort to truly change the way we do projects. To achieve culture change, Hadden suggests organizations must have a management plan to deal with the technical complexity of the change and a leadership plan to address the human aspects of the change. According to Hadden, successful culture change requires a mix the following elements:

  • A compelling vision and call to action
  • Credible knowledge and skills to guide the change
  • A reward system aligned with the change
  • Adequate resources to implement the change
  • A detailed plan and schedule.

Make sure you understand the concerns and motivations of the people you hope to influence. Clearly define the desired outcomes for the change and how to measure progress, assess the organization’s readiness for change, and develop plans to minimize the barriers to success. The goal of your BA Practice is to create a critical mass, a situation in which enough people in the organization integrate professional business analysis practices into their projects and maintain them as a standard. To become leaders in their organizations, your business analysts need to learn all about change management—becoming skilled change experts. 

Fostering Creative Leadership

I must follow the people, am I not their leader?
—Benjamin Disraeli, British Prime Minister, parliamentarian, statesman and literary figure

Creativity has always been important in the world of business, but until now it hasn’t been at the top of the management agenda. Perhaps this is because creativity was considered too vague, too hard to pin down. It is even more likely that creativity has not been the focus of management attention because concentrating on it produced a less immediate dividend than improving execution. Although there are similarities in the roles of manager, leader, and creative leader, there are subtle differences as well. The table below shows the distinctions between these roles. 

Objective Manager Leader Creative Leader
Define what must be done

Planning and budgeting:

  • Short time frame
  • Detail oriented
  • Eliminate risk

Establishing direction:

  • Long time frame
  • Big picture
  • Calculated risk

Establishing breakthrough goals and objectives:

  • Envisioning the future direction
  • Aligning with and forging new strategy
Create networks of people and relationships

Organizing and staffing:

  • Specialization
  • Getting the right people
  • Compliance

Aligning people:

  • Integration
  • Aligning the organization
  • Gaining commitment

Aligning teams and stakeholders to the future vision:

  • Innovation
  • Integration
  • Expectations
  • Political mastery
  • Gaining commitment;
Ensure the job gets done Controlling and problem-solving:

  • Containment
  • Control
  • Predictability

Motivating and inspiring:

  • Empowerment
  • Expansion
  • Energizing

Building creative teams:

  • High performance
  • Trust development
  • Empowerment
  • Courageous disruption
  • Innovation

Comparison of Managers, Leaders, and Creative Leaders

Sustaining a Culture of Creativity

Good, and sometimes great, ideas often come from operational levels of organizations when workers are given a large degree of autonomy. To stay competitive in the 21st century, CEOs are attempting to distribute creative responsibility up, down, and across the organization. Success is unsustainable if it depends too much on the ingenuity of a single person or a few people, as is too often seen in start-ups that flourish for a few years and then fall flat; they were not built to last, to continually innovate. Success is no longer about continuous improvement; it is about continuous innovation. Because creativity is, in part, the ability to produce something novel, we have long acknowledged that creativity is essential to the entrepreneurship that starts new businesses. But what sustains the best companies as they try to achieve a global reach? We are now beginning to realize that in the 21st century, sustainability is about creativity, transformation, and innovation.

Although academia has focused on creativity for years (we have decades of research to draw on), the shift to a more innovation-driven economy has been sudden, as evidenced by the fact that CEOs lament the absence of creative leaders. As competitive positioning turns into a contest of who can generate the best and greatest number of innovations, creativity scholars are being asked pointed questions about their research. What guidance is available for leaders in creativity-dependent businesses? How do we creatively manage the complexities of this new global environment? How do we find creative leaders, and how do we nurture and manage them? The conclusion of participants in the Harvard Business School colloquium Creativity, Entrepreneurship, and Organizations of the Future was that “one doesn’t manage creativity; one manages for creativity.” Management’s role is to get the creative people, position them at the right time and place, remove all barriers imposed upon them by the organization, and then get out of their way.
Putting it all Together

So what does this mean for the Business Analyst?

Understand Creativity as an Art and a Discipline. BAs would be prudent to take into account the views of John Kao, author of Jamming: The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity. According to Kao, drawing up a “Creativity Bill of Rights” can help you and your team members feel as if they are truly responsible for their own decisions. The Creativity Bill of Rights proclaims the following beliefs:

  • Everyone has the ability to be creative.
  • All ideas deserve an impartial hearing.
  • Similar to quality, creativity is part of every job description.
  • Shutting down dialogue prematurely and excessive judgment are fundamental transgressions.
  • Creativity is about finding balance between art and discipline.
  • Creativity involves openness to an extensive variety of inputs.
  • Experiments are always encouraged.
  • Dignified failure is respectable, poor implementation or bad choices are not.
  • Creativity involves mastery of change.
  • Creativity involves a balance of intuition and facts.
  • Creativity can and should be managed. The business analyst instinctively knows when to bring the dialogue to a close.
  • Creative work is not an excuse for chaos, disarray, or sloppiness in execution.

So what does this mean for the BA Practice Lead?

Mature organizations devote a significant amount of time and energy to conducting due diligence and encouraging experimentation and creativity before rushing to construction. The due diligence activities include enterprise analysis, competitive analysis, problem analysis, and creative solution alternative analysis, all performed before selecting and prioritizing projects.

This new approach involves a significant cultural shift for most organizations—spending more time up front to make certain the solution is creative, innovative, and even disruptive. If you are a BA Practice Lead, insist on these up front activities before a Business Case is created and used to propose a new initiative. If your BAs are on projects and these activities have not been adequately performed, help them pull together a small expert team and facilitate them through this important due diligence and create/recreate the business cases for their projects.

Portions of this article are adapted with permission from The Enterprise Business Analyst: Developing Creative Solutions to Complex Business Problems by Kathleen B. Hass, PMP. © 2011 by Management Concepts, Inc. All rights reserved. The Enterprise Business Analyst: Developing Creative Solutions to Complex Business Problems

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  • Rita Chao Hadden, Leading Culture Change in Your Software Organization: Delivering Results Early (Vienna, VA: Management Concepts, 2003), Page 133-226.
  • Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, “The Creativity Crisis,” Newsweek (July 19, 2010): 44–50,  (accessed April 2011).
  • Teresa M. Amabile and Mukti Khaire, “Creativity and the Role of the Leader,” Harvard Business Review (October 2008),(accessed July 2010).
  • John Kao, Jamming: The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity (New York: Harper Collins, 1996Page 75-93.