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The BA Practice Lead Handbook 8 – Running your Business Analysis Practice Like a Business

So, assuming you have read the prior seven articles in this series, and you are now beginning to put your BA Practice into operation, what now? Step back and review your progress to date. Be sure you have proven you are ready by:

  1. Developing the business case for a BA Practice,
  2. Securing a BA Practice Sponsor who has taken on accountability for the budget and business benefits of a mature BA Practice, and
  3. Establishing a steering committee or guidance team comprised of influential individuals within your organization to add clout and political cover.

Furthermore, be sure you have established the infrastructure needed to operate a mature BA Practice by implementing the initial iteration of:

  1. The BA Center of Excellence
  2. A capable BA team, and
  3. Effective BA standards.

The BA Practice Framework

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According to our BA Practice Framework, the real work lies ahead: The work to ensure sustainability, continuous improvement, and real business benefits. So, now what? How to you build a BA Practice to Last? Your focus at this point is on:

  • Continually increasing the capabilities of your BA team and the maturity of your BA practice.
  • Measuring the business benefits of your BA practice and of projects in terms of value to your customers and/or wealth to the bottom line
  • Creating and executing a strategic communication plan

Continually increase the capabilities of your BA Team and the maturity of your BA Practice.

In previous articles we have provided models that you can use as roadmaps for building a capable team and mature practice. Refer to prior articles for the models and capabilities required for each level of maturity.

BA Practice Maturity Roadmap

Converting the BA Practice Maturity Model into the roadmap below provides you with a solid footing as you build on your BA practices. Undoubtedly, you have practices in place now that are contained in all four levels. It is important to realize that practices at higher levels are at risk if lower-level practices are not in place and functioning well.

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The Current State of BA Practice Maturity

Please refer to the diagram below which depicts the findings from the ground breaking research study, The Bottom Line on Project Complexity, the results of which were presented at the PMI Global Congress 2010 North America. The study correlated the current state of BA practice maturity with project complexity and project outcomes.

In the absence of a formal maturity assessment, it is difficult for you to know the current state of the maturity of your BA practices. However, research provides us with an industry benchmark, which you can use as a starting baseline. The study discovered that current practices are not yet mature enough to be successful on moderately complex projects – level 2 in the maturity roadmap presented above. So it is appropriate for you to assume your maturity level falls close to the industry benchmark identified in the research, which indicates that gaps still exist at level 2.

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The industries represented in the study were Insurance (Ins), Financial Services (FS), Information Technology (IS/IT), Government and Non Profit (NP), Health Care (HC), and Transportation (Trans). The diamonds represent the typical complexity level of projects within the industry. The research findings indicate that the average BA maturity level for these industries is 1.68 as represented by the black horizontal line in the diagram. But the complexity of projects mostly fell at level 3, highly complex projects. Therefore, there is a gap between the complexity level of most projects and maturity levels of BA practitioners working on the projects. The BAs were also asked to predict the probable outcome of their projects in terms of budget, schedule, and scope of solution features and functions. The diamonds are color coded to represent the degree of challenge the BAs predicted will be evident at the end of the projects.

The Bottom Line on BA Practice Maturity

It is appropriate for you to assume your maturity level falls close to the industry benchmark identified in the research, which indicates that gaps still exist in our ability to perform well on moderately complex projects, level 2. If this assumption is correct, your highly complex projects are likely to be between 10% and sometimes greater than 30% over schedule, and budget, and reduction in scope. Refer back to the prior article in this series, and begin to work to close the gaps, first at level 2, and then at level 3 in the BA Practice Maturity Model. Increased BA maturity has a strong correlation to improve time, cost, scope, and business benefit performance.

Measure the business benefits of your BA Practice and of projects in terms of Value to your Customers and/or Wealth to the Bottom Line

The traditional measures of project success have been performance to schedule, budget, and scope. However, the most important measure of project success is the business benefits realized after the new business solution is deployed.

How do we Measure Business Benefits?

Business benefits from the project solution are initially predicted in the Business Case that was created to secure funding for the project. Ideally, you as BA have been continually updating and validating the assumptions and predictions contained within the Business Case. Business benefits are measured in terms of:

  • Value to the customer
  • Wealth to the bottom line

For your most important projects, there are several steps you can take to ensure you can measure business benefits of projects, which is the key responsibility of business analysts.

  • If you don’t have a business case for your project, and the project is critical to your organization, call together a small expert team to build the business case. Identify all costs, including the cost to operate the new/changed business solution. Then, predict business benefits in terms of customer value and bottom line results.
  • Present the business benefits predicted in business case to the executive sponsor of your project and ask, “Does this accurately describe the benefits you are expecting from this project?”
  • Continue to validate and update the business case throughout the project. If the case begins to erode, reconvene the expert team to review options, restate the business case, and recommend the most feasible change in course to the executive sponsor.
  • After the new solution is deployed, the BA serves as a Business Realization Manager. Measure the value of the new solution, and make improvements and adjustments to the solution or how it is used, to optimize business benefits.

Create and execute a Strategic Communication Plan

Refer back to article #2 in The BA Practice Lead Handbook Series, Why Business Analysis? What’s in it for me? Prepare unique communication strategies for the major stakeholders of your BA Practice. Your goal is to explain the value of Business Analysis, driving an understanding of the WIIFM (What’s in it for me?) for all key stakeholders. Effective communications involves an enterprise focus, an emphasis on executing strategy and advancing enterprise capabilities, delivering innovative products and services, and measuring and communicating improved project outcomes.

Strategic communication requires targeted approaches for each key stakeholder. First, identify WIIFM for each key individual and group.

  • What’s in it for the CIO? The CFO? The CEO?
  • What’s in it for the Business Manager?
  • What’s in it for the Technologists?
  • What’s in it for the Project Manager?
  • What’s in it for your customers?

Then, devise a customized communicate strategy and key messages for each stakeholder. Convert the messages to a short, concise ‘elevator speech’. Determine the appropriate media and timing of the communication. Focus communications on how projects using mature BA practices produce value to the customer and wealth to the bottom line. After each communiqué, determine the effectiveness of the message, and make improvements to it.

Putting it all Together

So what does this mean for the Business Analyst?

For the individual BA, consider these strategies:

  1. Make sure you have a valid business case for your project
  2. Ensure you can measure business benefits after the solution is delivered
  3. Work with your BA Practice lead and BA team to improve BA Practice maturity.

So what does this mean for the BA Practice Lead?

It is critical for your BA Practice sustainability for you to run your practice like a business. Examine the strategy of your organization, and determine how your BA Practice contributes toward advancing that strategy. Focus on real financial measurements, those of concern to your management team. If your organization has a corporate scorecard, provide your measurements in the same format.

Work with the BAs on critical projects to ensure they are insisting upon a focus on value to the customer and wealth to the bottom line. Compile all project benefit estimates vs. actuals into an overall enterprise measure of the value of a focus on the business, business analysis, and business benefits.

In addition, compare your on schedule, budget, and scope results to those of the industry benchmarks identified in the study cited above. For instance, if you are in the Health Care industry, the study revealed your projects are highly complex, and your results are typically 30% over schedule, over budget, and with significant reduction in scope. Compare your actual results for projects that are working with the BACOE to the industry benchmark, and monetize the time, budget, and scope improvements to demonstrate the value your BA Practice has contributed to your organization.

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