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Lean Business Analysis: More About Decision Making

There are many discussions, theories, and great debates over different kinds of BAs.

There are people that perform business analysis in IT environments; there are ones that are not in IT environments. There are process BAs, waterfall BAs, agile BAs, data BAs, and teams that have multiple people doing analysis. Regardless of when and where team members perform business analysis, they need to perform lean business analysis. To explain what “Lean Business Analysis” is, let’s look at the definition of Lean. From the Lean Enterprise Institute, Lean is defined as such, “The core idea is to maximize customer value while minimizing waste. Simply, lean means creating more value for customers with fewer resources.” So, I define Lean Business Analysis as creating more value for customers with fewer resources.

How do you accomplish this? Some may say you do it by spreading the BA work to other team members therefore eliminating a person on the team. The problem with that solution is it only addresses half of the definition…with fewer resources. You need a solution that completes both halves…more value for the customer and fewer resources. This brings me back to my old friend, Decision Making.

I have written about Decision Making before in the following posts, Decision Making: An Underlying Competency or What A Business Analyst Does and It’s All About Decision Making. If you think about business analysis as the activities done to help others make decisions, you have started on your path to Lean Business Analysis. By first looking at your project as a series of decisions, you can then determine what just enough analysis is for each decision. When a decision is made, you are done and can move to the next one. For example, one key decision is what problem are we trying to address. Another can be prioritizing features or user stories. Another is a developer determining how to best design a solution.

There are three key components to decision making that I want to highlight.

  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 is made you have done enough analysis. Then you have created value for a customer and did it with the right amount of resources.

There is more on this process in my previous blogs, so I won’t repeat myself here. I do want to address a consistent concern I hear about this approach. When I talk about this with people over coffee, during or after a seminar or workshop there is a consistent pushback. “What if bad decisions keep getting made?” It’s a great point. You need to facilitate good decision making! My first response is the process needs to include decision evaluation points to make sure the decisions being made are helping your team meet the overall objectives of the initiative. The other thing is you need to help your customers avoid the four villains of decision making.

In their book, Decisive, Chip and Dan Heath, describe the 4 villains as:

  1. Narrow framing
  2. Confirmation bias
  3. Short-term emotion
  4. Overconfidence in the future

For this post, I want to cover the first two because they focus on how you present or communicate information to decision makers.

Narrow framing is the belief that you have two choices. Either you go out dinner, or you stay in. Do you take a job or not take it? Do we implement a project to go after an opportunity or not? You either do it “this” way or “that” way. There is no in between. People often talk about creativity in business analysis. By expanding the frame and looking at multiple alternatives is a way to get creative. Make sure you provide the decision makers with more than a this or that option. A way to check yourself is looking at the information you are presenting and seeing if one option looks like it really leaves the decision maker with no other choice then choosing the other option.

The second is confirmation bias. This is when you are evaluating options. Many people lean towards gathering information or listening to information that supports their view. Have you ever had a person come to you with the solution they wanted to be implemented? I know, silly question. People have ideas, thoughts and even look for information to help them make a decision. That information just happens to support their belief. The rest of the project team including you fall into the trap of confirmation bias. You are on the project you want it to succeed. It is a hard villain to combat.
One way to help combat this confirmation bias is to find a Red Team. A Red Team’s job is to poke holes in your thinking and/or your decision. They are used by the CIA, Army, news organizations, and businesses around the world. In our environment, we say stakeholders for a project are those impacted or can impact your project. A Red Team is a group of people that don’t have a stake in the project. They have no emotional connection. They have nothing to win or lose by your project. Your Red Team needs to poke holes in your logic and ensure you avoid confirmation bias.
The decision-making process is how you can do just enough business analysis or perform lean business analysis. Try it today and share your stories here!

All the best,