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It’s All About Decision Making

In August 2013 I started out on a mission to convince the world what business analysis was really about. After long conversations about decision making with my colleague Kate McGoey, who first introduced me to the concept, I wrote this blog post “Decision Making: An Underlying Competency Or What A Business Analyst Does

It was my early take on the concept. Based on the positive reaction to the post, I knew a revolution started. Since that post, we started helping clients use this concept to improve their project outcomes. I created a 1-hour seminar to spread the message, and a workshop was formed to take a deeper dive into understanding how decisions help teams become more efficient. David Olson, a Senior BA, wrote a post on LinkedIn outlining the same message I was trying to spread. My views on decision making have expanded since this last post almost 3 years ago, so I want to share some of those thoughts here.

Related Article: 8 Steps to Making Better Decisions

Let’s look at how the IIBA defines business analysis:

“Business Analysis is the practice of enabling change in an organizational context, by defining needs and recommending solutions that deliver value to stakeholders.”

They go on to say:

“Business analysis is used to identify and articulate the need for change in how organizations work, and to facilitate that change. As business analysts, we identify and define the solutions that will maximize the value delivered by an organization to its stakeholders.”

For me, that definition is too abstract and maybe inaccurate. Is business analysis about defining needs and recommending solutions? I bet many of you can name many conversations where your business partners came to you saying we need to implement system “x” because we have problem “y.” I can often argue that is done without any “business analysis.” That says to me you can define needs and recommend solutions without knowing anything about business analysis or involvement from a person that practices business analysis. So what is then?

I think it is very simple.  Great business analysis is all about facilitating decisions. The goal is not just to enable change; it’s about enabling the right change. The practice of business analysis is helping other make decisions so the right needs are being met. I don’t think it is a secret that if a decision is not made, nothing happens.

I am going to assume you are with me at the conceptual level. Now, I want to cover a piece of the puzzle that answers the questions of why should you care at the tactical level.

Viewing your role as a facilitator of decisions answers the question of what is just enough analysis. There is plenty of talk that good business analysts need to do just enough analysis. Analysis paralysis is not an option in today’s fast moving environment. It’s easy to say, “just do enough analysis.” But how do you do it?

The first step is realizing everything that happens on an initiative boils down to a set of decisions to be made. Someone needs to decide on what problem or opportunity we are going to go after and someone needs to decide if that problem or opportunity is worth solving/going after. Once in the details, someone has to decide the priority of the features or stories or functions. The solution team has to decide how to build the thing that will address the problem or opportunity. Are you feeling it? Who’s with me?!

So if all these decisions have to be made, business analysis is the set of activities to help the decision makers make the best decision. Good business analysis is facilitating all the necessary decisions. There are three key components that pull all of this together.

  1. You need to define all the decisions to be made.
  2. You need to know who the decision maker is for each decision. This may be one person; it may be many.
  3. You need to know the criteria, or information, the decision maker(s) will use to make the decision.

Knowing the criteria each decision maker has for each decision to be made is how you determine what information you need to elicit, analyze, and communicate. Once the decision is made, stop analyzing. Once a decision could be made you have done enough analysis.

Easy, right? Not so much. There are many factors at play. For one, it is not always clear to decision makers what their criteria is for each decision. And when multiple people need to make a decision they are not always on the same page. Gaining buy-in from all decision makers takes some work.

The good thing is I’m excited to be delivering a 1-hour webinar via BA Times on this exact topic on May 17th. Please join in so I can get you to think about business analysis in a whole new light!

All the best,