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History Repeats Itself, But It Doesn’t Have To!

Why does it take an ‘Act of Congress’ for some organizations to realize that what they are doing is not working? I have been in many industries (media, manufacturing, financial and the judicial system) and no matter what industry I’ve been in, I’ve seen some of the same themes. I’ve come to realize that common sense is not that common and some organizations would prefer, for whatever reason, to continue to do things the same way even though it has been proven that the current way DOES NOT work. So you may ask, “What are some of the common themes that I’ve seen?” Well, I’m here to tell you and I’m sure some of you are experiencing, or have experienced, the same thing. I am not pinpointing any industry over another.

  1. No time for planning – What I have witnessed is that someone comes up with a great project idea; however, no one wants to spend the time needed to effectively plan the initiative and truly understand what the initiative is about. There is an expectation that the idea will go from an idea to a reality in an unrealistic timeline. Someone of influence in the organization has committed to an objective without consulting those that will have to bring this idea to fruition. Then when the project team advises that the timeline is unrealistic as they start to look more into what is being asked for, they are told to make it happen because the promise has already been made. In a lot of these cases, the amount of resources needed to complete the project effectively is under estimated, if even committed, and this means burnout for those few who will have to work on the project.
  2. Choosing solutions before understanding the business needs – Let’s take this one step further. Most organizations have vendors that they have built relationships with over the years. What I have found is that “someone of influence” in the organization has a vested interest in maintaining a certain vendor relationship. This maintenance could be because they are the more cost-effective vendor (this doesn’t mean they have delivered projects successfully by any means), personal relationships that have been established over the years (you rub my back and I’ll rub yours sort of thing) or other reasons. This particular individual has been sold on an idea regarding some additional functionality that the organization can possibly use, conversations occur and the vendor makes commitments without truly understanding what is needed. This “someone of influence” sells how this particular vendor can solve all of the needs of the organization, and since this someone of influence has credibility, they are told to go forward with their suggestion. This project is then funneled down to the project team, who finds out the exact depth of what is being asked of the solution, people start having heart attacks, aneurisms and heart burn because it is determined the system won’t meet the business need. So instead of the requirements driving the solution, the solution is driving the requirements.
  3. Politics – Politics to me equals personal agendas and ulterior motives. I have not come across an industry in which I worked yet that didn’t have some level of politics. We have projects that evolve and people have their stake in the projects, which is to be expected, and that is why we have stakeholders. However, that doesn’t mean bring in your own personal agendas or ulterior motives to bring unnecessary negative energy to the project. Half the time politics is a waste of time. Projects are hard enough so why complicate it with politics? It’s a waste of energy and that energy could be utilized positively to build better solutions opposed to fighting among ourselves and everyone getting so frustrated or focused on the politics that work can’t get done. There are realistic reasons to have hard conversations to build better solutions, but I’ve actually been in elicitation sessions where I have individuals intentionally throwing wrenches into the project process because they may feel they are not getting their way. I’ve seen people trying to save their job so they make things more complicated on the project than it really needs to be. I’ve also seen the business; project team and technology teams point fingers to ensure neither look bad in front of the sponsors. All of this is a waste of energy because no one knows the future, and believe it or not, maybe the way you present yourself in these meetings may save your job if you have a fear of losing it.
  4. Lack of honesty and integrity – People are not stupid. If the project that is being executed is going to eliminate jobs, people tend to figure that out during the requirements elicitation phase. I have had SMEs admit to me that based on the requirements being gathered, they can tell that the system will replace their job. I’m by no means saying you shouldn’t be sensitive to the situation and handle the business partners with care, but I have been[G1]  parts of organizations that just flat out lie to people to ensure they get what is needed for project success (because they have to look good of course) and then these same individuals are kicked to the curb as if they weren’t even valued when the project ends. This also puts those who are part of the project team in a bad and uncomfortable position.
  5. Lack of learning – Every organization that I have been a part of has conducted a ‘lessons learned’ session after the entire project is complete or during project phases along the way. I am convinced that some of these organizations only conduct these to mark a task complete on the project schedule because nothing has changed from the way projects are run going forward.

Despite all of this, I do believe there is still hope and that business analysts are important to this hope. There are some steps we can take to mitigate what is listed above:

  1. Plan upfront – Planning upfront is CRUCIAL to project success. This doesn’t matter if you are using a plan-driven approach (i.e., waterfall) or change-driven approach (i.e., agile); regardless, there needs to be some level of planning. Spend the time upfront to really understand what is needed opposed to doing little work and then realizing two months in that instead of a bread box of a project you have a submarine of a project. Utilize the business analysts in the organization to help with planning upfront. Good business analysts are equipped to do Enterprise Analysis (higher-level statements of the goals, objectives or needs of the enterprise) in addition to Requirements Analysis (statements of the needs of a particular stakeholder or class of stakeholders). Engage the business analyst upfront to have some of those critical conversations opposed to just filling out a template with a high-level scope that is so broad that almost anything can go into it producing your submarine opposed to your bread box.
  2. Don’t jump the gun –- Opposed to choosing solutions due to past relationships or other reasons, again, leverage the business analyst to understand the true business need so the needs drive the solution opposed to the solution driving the requirements, which in turn limits the true needs of the business. I would strongly recommend that leaders of the organization go out onto the floor and meet with those that actually do the work to find out the true pain points they encounter day in and day out. Just because you are a leader, don’t get too disengaged from what is going on within your organization. I know this can be as challenging as schedules, but there is value in staying connected with those who are actually doing the work. If anyone understands the pain of the system or process, it’s the one using the actual system or process, so don’t take that for granted. This is also a great opportunity to leverage the business analyst as well. Maybe have the business analyst do some job shadowing as part of their planning to understand truly what the needs are. This will help leaders make more informed decisions.
  3. Channel positive energy – Let’s take energy away from politics and channel that energy to producing better solutions. There are crucial conversations that may need to take place and hard conversations to be had, but those conversations should occur for the benefit of the project not because of someone’s ulterior motives and personal agendas. When a project is created, the end goal of everyone on the project team should be project success.
  4. Don’t compromise – Character is the very fabric of who we are, and if we lose our character because of dishonesty or lack of integrity then how are we going to gain that credibility needed to become a person of influence, if you are not one yet, or a credible leader to those you lead? Be sensitive to projects that are eliminating jobs as you are impacting someone’s life, but don’t lose your credibility in the process. Fellow business analysts don’t fall into the trap of having to lie to do your job. In all things, be honest and kind. Don’t compromise your character to get your job done because sometimes we are put in that position. Once you compromise that you are compromising the business analysis profession based on perception.[G2] 
  5. Learn from your past – If you are going to do lessons learned then truly learn from them. If anything, to my fellow business analysts, learn what went well and what didn’t go well in requirements gathering and use that as your thermometer for other projects. Everyone on the project team should learn from the past, but if no one else does, business analysts I really encourage you to learn from your mistakes because this makes you a stronger business analyst.

With the themes above, someone of influence is driving the actual theme whether positive or negative. As business analysts, it is imperative we become someone of influence in our organization. This is not going to happen without credibility and proven success on projects, and I will be honest, even with this, sometimes it’s hard to influence due to company structure. However, if you take time to learn your organization’s culture, learn the key players in your organization, establish relationships where you can to start gaining credibility, you will become that someone of influence in the organization. We need more business analysts to be leaders and people of influence in the organization because we have the skill set to promote organizational cultural shifts that will make the organization stronger and better. Changing an organization’s culture can be extremely difficult; look at organizations that had to change from a waterfall methodology to an iterative methodology and the pain that came with that.

And for those business analysts that are consultants/contractors, you have a very important role as well because you can help organizations reach their optimal potential. Though you may be there for a temporary amount of time, you can still have massive impact on the organization as a whole.

Don’t let history repeat itself in your organization because it doesn’t have to. As business analysts, we have come too far to go backwards now. Keep pushing forward and help organizations realize the benefits business analysts bring to the organization.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

Paula Bell is a Business Analyst, mentor and coach known for consistently producing exceptional work, providing guidance to aspiring business analysts (including those that just want to sharpen their skills), as well as providing creative and strategic ways to build relationships for successful projects. With 14 years in project roles to include business analyst, requirements manager, technical writer, project manager, developer, test lead and implementation lead, Paula has experience in a variety of industries including media, courts, carpet manufacturing, banking and mortgage. Paula has had the opportunity to speak on a variety of topics to include business analysis, project management, relationship building, diversity and software methodology.