Decision Making: An Underlying Competency or What A Business Analyst Does
I don’t read the BABOK® all the time, but when I do I focus on the Underlying Competencies. This area is somewhat hidden but needs to be found by all business analysis professionals. The Underlying Competency knowledge area in the BABOK® provides a description of the behaviors, characteristics, knowledge and personal qualities that support the practice of business analysis. However I say they don’t support what you do as a business analysis professional, it is what you do as a business analysis professional. For today’s post I am going to have us take a look at a specific Underlying Competency—decision making—to make my case.
You should view decision making not as something that supports your work, but rather all analysis techniques and processes support decision making. One of your main responsibilities is to help others make better decisions. If decisions are not made during a project nothing can be accomplished. Think about your work. How do you decide on what tasks to do first in your day? We all know that there is not enough time in the day to do everything you want to accomplish. Therefore, you have to make decisions on a daily basis of what activities you should or should not focus on, prioritization. This decision should be based on the work yielding the highest impact on the issues that are most important to your customers. Before you can make good decisions about what to focus on, you need to help your customer decide what is most important to them. To help them do this use supporting techniques and processes, examples include Impact Mapping, Root Cause Analysis, and defining the problem and business outcomes. You see, these tools help to make decisions; decision making does not support them.
Throughout a project there are so many activities that support decision making. One of the key reasons for undertaking stakeholder analysis is to determine who the decision makers are and how they make decisions. Not everyone will agree on the top priorities for the project, so understanding who makes the final decision is critical. If you can’t get a group to decide on the best path, this decision maker has to make the call so the project can move forward. The absence of a decision maker means the risk of project failure increases.
Once you know who the decision makers are you need to know their speed in decision making and what information they’ll need to make a decision. How do you find this out? By asking them. When it comes to the speed of decision making, I split people into two groups: The first is the person that does not want any information until the last responsible moment, and then they want it all. They can take in this information and make a decision fairly quickly. The other wants information over time. Even if the information is changing, they like to get the information so it can whirl around in their head for a longer period of time. Then, when they need to make a decision they feel comfortable making the call. If you approach either one in the opposite way, they will get frustrated. Stakeholder analysis supports decision making!
Elicitation is another activity that completely supports decision making. What? Elicitation is about drawing out information. Yes, this is true, but who cares if you draw out information and don’t use it. You draw out information to help make decisions. Sometimes I think brainstorming is the most misunderstood activity because it gets viewed as a way to quickly come up with ideas. There is so much more to brainstorming. After coming up with great ideas you have to make decisions about how to move forward, like ordering features or stories in terms of importance. The beauty of brainstorming is it allows for the best chance of buy-in. By having everyone share their thoughts and ideas openly they are more likely to buy into a decision on moving forward. Their idea does not have to be chosen, they just need to know their idea was heard by the group. I wrote a blog post about buy-in if you want more information about it.
The last technique I want to hit on today is prototyping. You draw pictures of a part of the system to help your customer make decisions on how they want to interact with a system. You can have multiple pictures and play the eye doctor role, do you like it better like this or like this…one….or two. And it helps the development team decide on the best ways to design the system or features.
Start thinking of all the analysis techniques and processes as tools to facilitate decision making. Having this mindset will allow you to make decisions about what is most important. If the activity you are about to take on helps the team come to a good decision faster: do it.
I have decided I have said enough for now!