Tuesday, 12 February 2013 03:44

The Art of Business Analysis

Written by Jeanna Balistreri, Charlene Ceci and Alan Smith

This is the third of a four-part series exploring whether ‘business analysis’ is art or science. In the first article, Greg Kulander talked about how his career taught him both the art and science of the profession. Then, in the second article, Cathy Brunsting made the argument for Business Analysis being science. This week we’ll look at the argument for Art.

“Is Business Analysis art or science?”

Business Analysis is an art

Art is defined by the Britannica Encyclopedia as: "the use of skill and imagination in the creation of aesthetic objects, environments, or experiences that can be shared with others.” An artist takes in all the influences they have had, everything they have seen, and all they have experienced. Then, they use this to synthesize something new.

Since being a Business Analyst often requires taking a creative approach, much of the work we perform falls into this definition. The work of the BA is a problem of people, personalities, and conflicting narratives. Solutions are found by thinking about the situation, coming up with ideas to solve the problems and overcoming hurdles. Although there is no exact process, book, or formula that will resolve these issues, everything we have read, done, and learned from mentors and previous project experience are part of the BA’s toolbox.

Steve Jobs said, “Creativity is connecting things.” Using their experience to come up with something new by combining two or more elements that already exist is what artists do. And this is what is required of the Business Analyst.

Business Analysis is about people

One aspect of being a BA is to watch and actively listen not only to what people are saying, but to what they are meaning. Sometimes the business doesn’t feel comfortable speaking freely in the presence of IT. In this case, it is important to notice their body language, adapt your communication style and assess the overall group attitude to drive to the root of the business problem.

As the business problem unfolds, the BA assesses if this is the root problem or symptoms of another problem. This assessment is critical for building a solution that the business actually will use in their organization. The BA must guide the business user down a chain of reasoning to understand how decision A does not lead to the expected end result of B. This is a very challenging conversation, fraught with issues of ego, anxiety about time constraints, negative experiences with the success of past projects, and limited by the fast pace of business. To accomplish a solution requires art.

Business Analysis is about understanding and navigating personalities

One of Jeanna’s most memorable experiences as a Business Analyst was when the company she worked for was hired to assist a top provider in the entertainment industry in defining and implementing the Business Analyst role in their IT organization. Her team had to master the maneuvering of difficult personalities in order to show our value in the organization.

The entertainment industry is very competitive and highly dependent on technology in order to stay ahead of the curve. And, to make things even trickier, the client had a history of tension between the rapidly evolving expectations of the business and IT’s ability to deliver on those expectations. As a result, the business and IT had developed a very adversarial relationship where neither side really ever heard what the other was saying. Jeanna’s team had to suit up, jump into the trenches, referee and listen to both sides of the story. They had to play the role of both advocate as well as a “neutral” problem solver. It took a unique set of skills to listen to the story and understand why the Development Lead was an angst ridden naysayer and why the Product Owner felt like the development team threw their hands up at every feature requested by the business.

By sitting down with both sides, assessing the personalities involved and adjusting her communication approach in order to compliment the situation, Jeanna was able to uncover a great mystery at the root of the problem: The business had little understanding of the limitations of the system and infrastructure. And, no one in development had ever taken the time to sit down with the stakeholders and explain what was at stake by delivering some of the requested features. Once this conversation took place, both sides slowly got on board and started working toward the common goal of delivering an exceptional customer experience through high performing technology.

This situation demonstrates that BA’s needs to recognize that there is a myriad of personality types on a project who all need to work together, but don’t always communicate effectively. The job of the BA, in this case, is to be the translator between the business and IT; to assist in bridging the communication chasm in order to build trust, and to ultimately define the solution for the business problem. We must understand the technology limitations as well as the needs of the business to build that bridge between business and technology. We ensure the solution works end-to-end – from the tools the business will use to the organizational process where the tools are used to do their jobs.

There isn’t a science for this. Every person is different, and every group involves many different personalities. It takes art to make the group work together seamlessly.

Business Analysis is about being the hub of the wheel

Business Analysts are at the center of the circle in today’s projects - between business pressures, technology limitations, quality, and solution. BAs often find themselves as the one who has the role of building a strategy, facilitating and executing a problem to resolution. A good BA navigates the challenging steps between the desires of all the stakeholders, the capabilities of technology and delivering quality requirements that will establish an excellent product or service.

Good BAs do not inject their own desires into this product. Rather, they facilitate all the stakeholders to understand the actual implications (pros and cons) of their decisions. The “easy way out” for the Business Analyst is either to mindlessly write requirements for whatever the business asks (ignoring the true meaning of what the business actually wants) or to be a gatekeeper of technology by challenging every business requirement as technically unfeasible or difficult.

The BA must stay in the center of the conversation, as a true collaborative facilitator, to help business and technology understand each other without interjecting their own agenda. They must work to build strong communication that will lead to a successful project, product, or service.

This is what makes the good BA a true artist.

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1Jeanna Balistreri is a Sr. Business Analyst at Geneca, a custom software development company. Jeanna has over 10 years of experience in various IT roles such as Project Management, Process Re-engineering and Business Analysis. Jeanna’s core competency is focused on bridging the gap between business and technology in order to help solve business problems through technology solutions. Currently, her focus at Geneca is centered on successfully delivering software through the Getting Predictable principles.

2Ms. Ceci has over fifteen years experience in all aspects of business analysis and project management. Her proven ability to streamline processes, rapidly define requirements, control scope, mitigate risks, and delegate tasks results in the implementation of powerful systems. She builds high-performing teams with local, virtual and off-shore resources. Known for her excellent cross organizational communication and problem solving skills consistently leads to exceed expectations. Ms. Ceci is a Senior Lead Business Analyst at the Chicago-based custom software development firm Geneca, and plays an instrumental role in the adoption and success of Geneca’s business analysis best practices.

3Alan is a Senior Business Analyst at custom software development firm, Geneca. Alan has 12 years of technology experience working with various Insurance systems, Financial Systems, Telecommunications and Digital Entertainment. Alan is experienced with project definition, business analysis, requirements facilitation and analysis, quality assurance and all phases of testing. Alan specializes in Agile methodology, including XP, Scrum and Lean. Alan holds a Masters Degree in Adult Therapy from Loyola University Chicago. Alan loves building strong client relationships, and showing his clients how their engaged input into the requirements process will make their projects successful.

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