The Business of Business Analysis
If I had a dollar for every time I heard somebody complain about how business analysis just isn’t understood in their organization, I’d probably be very rich indeed.
In fact, I’ve certainly felt this pain first hand in the past, and I suspect you have too. Perhaps you’ve seen situations where stakeholders don’t engage business analysts until far too late in the business change lifecycle (after all the solutioning decisions have been made), or perhaps you’ve come across stakeholders who don’t value business analysis at all. Those classic warning phrases like “we already know what we want, why on earth do we need to do any analysis” are enough to trigger a nervous twitch from even the most experienced of BAs. I nearly boiled over once when a stakeholder turned to me in a meeting and said something along the lines of “Ah, I’m glad we have a BA here, you are the folks that just scribe and take meeting minutes aren’t you?”.
We could have a lengthy philosophical debate around why business analysis is misunderstood, and whilst this would be cathartic it probably wouldn’t be very useful. I sometimes feel like an awkward teenager complaining to his mates about how ‘the world just doesn’t understand me’. Yet like the awkward teenagers that we once were, the sad reality is that the world just doesn’t care about how professionally unappreciated we feel. Most people are too busy going about their own lives and fending off their own issues to worry about ours. And whilst we feel that our injustice is unique, there are many other professions that feel exactly the same. Our problems just aren’t as unique as we think they are, and solving them needs a shift in mindset.
Think Like A Business
It’s time that we faced a harsh reality. People don’t have to engage business analysts. Even if you are an internal BA and your organization’s governance structure says that a BA has to be involved, people can and will find ways around you if they want to. Don’t believe me? Go and look on the desktop of any operational worker. Find all the hidden processes, the unofficial spreadsheets and macros and the ‘cloud based’ packages with individual subscriptions that are being used to fill a functional gap that the organization’s official systems and processes don’t. These stakeholders have navigated around the organizational governance to get stuff done–and there may well be very good reasons for this. But we can conclude one very important thing: If people don’t want business analysis to be conducted, they’ll find ways around it.
This shifts the proposition entirely, as BAs we are offering a service to a range of internal and external customers. We need to think like we are running a business, an ‘internal consultancy’ that has to continually enable value and prove its worth. A business that builds credibility through delivery and that builds deep relationships with key stakeholders.
We can borrow ideas from the world of external business and external consultancies to help us. Here are just a few ideas:
Know the value proposition: What is your ‘elevator pitch’? What is it that you do that other teams and departments don’t? What services does your team offer and what are the benefits of those services to those who they are aimed at? (If you’re interested in this topic, be sure to check out the fantastic book ‘Delivering Business Analysis: The BA Service Catalogue’ by Debra Paul & Christina Lovelock).
- Features and benefits: Marketers talk about ‘features vs benefits’. We might alter this slightly to differentiate between ‘deliverables and outcomes’. Does anyone really care about our analysis artefacts? Probably not, or not much. We need to link them clearly to the business outcomes that the stakeholders seek. (“We need to spend time creating a prototype so we can ensure we cover all the flows and scenarios. This’ll save time in development, so you’ll get something quicker and more fully functional. It’ll probably save money too”).
- Proposal: We shouldn’t expect work, we should pitch for it. Hear about a big initiative coming up? Great, put together a proposal on how the team can help. Think like a consultancy, then there’s less chance that a consultancy is going to get the work instead of you.
- Networking: How much time do you (or somebody in your team) spend networking with people in your industry and in your organization? If the answer is ‘very little’ then there’s a real danger that initiatives will only emerge onto the team’s radar when they are fully formed. If you get in early, if you can shape and scope then there will be less fire-fighting. It’ll save you time in the long run.
By turning a mirror on our practice, and analyzing our discipline as a business we start to focus on the value that our stakeholders are seeking. We can use our own BA tools internally to ensure that we’re fit, nimble and ready to help. In doing so we build strong ongoing relationships with stakeholders who wouldn’t dream of progressing change without business analysis. It’s a win/win situation.