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The Human Aspect: a Business Analyst Question

There is much to be said about the human element in business success. I’m not referring to the organization and appearance of the user interface or ergonomics designed to make the human being function better with the computer and software systems. I’m referring to the human being as an individual part of the overall business processes and how that human being fits into the business, as opposed to fitting into the “system”. There are many ways of describing the human element, most of which seem to emanate from the Human Resources department: morale, fulfillment, self-actualization in one’s employment, work life balance, and so forth.

Those of us who come from years in the IT trenches are familiar with the concepts of “stupid user”, “user error”, “they don’t know what they want”, and the overall consideration that anyone on the other side of the computer terminal is basically an nothing more than an extension of the software system we are implementing. Their function is to put data in and extract data from our databases. And they are always the source of unreasonable demands to make the interface easier to use. Fortunately there is a shift, somewhat prompted by the agile concept of the development team working directly with the users, in which the user of the computer systems we develop in IT, is considered to be more of a human being rather than a functionary in the business organization who needs our technology to do his or her job. When your new system is a website that may be used by the whole world instead of a client server system used only by accounts payable, your concept of the user changes dramatically.

So here is my question for business analysts: what is our responsibility toward the human being in the job?  Our primary purpose in the organization is to add value to that organization. We business analysts solve problems to improve business processes – increase sales, reduce costs, comply with regulations, increase customer satisfaction with the organization’s products, and so forth.  Should we be concerned with how the employee feels about his or her work or how he or she feels about the process? Are we concerned about the employee’s loyalty to the organization?  Or is that something that is only the purview of HR?

Is it a function of the business analyst to analyze the work conditions of the employees and suggest improvements? If employees are more satisfied with their working conditions and the job they are doing will not the organization benefit?  Can the business analyst define ways of measuring or correlating the increased enjoyment of the work with increased sales or more efficient processing in the organization?

Is part of a process improvement exercise the impact the process improvement changes have on the individual employee? Should the business analyst evaluate the impacts on the individuals and suggest alternate courses of action based on that evaluation?  Should the employee’s health, welfare, happiness, or mental and emotional well being on the job be of any concern to us while we are defining new systems and solutions?

If a business analyst proposes alterations to the workflow that increase the satisfaction of the workers in a business process won’t the organization benefit with higher productivity? If a business analyst through observation and analysis suggests ways to increase the loyalty of the staff to the organization won’t that increase sales or improve the quality of the organization’s products?  Is a happier employee a more productive employee? If the business analyst is increasing job satisfaction and staff morale, is that not increasing the value of the organization, the business analyst’s goal?

Considering that business analysts are expert communicators, able to read body language, apply tact and diplomacy to situations of conflict, negotiate and mediate to successful conclusions, analyze the most difficult situations, think critically about processes and conditions and apply systems thinking to all aspects of the organization, are we not the best candidates to provide assistance in improving the workplace for the individual workers?  We are in the workplace gathering information to define requirements for new and improved systems. We view the staff performing their jobs. We hear the complaints and horror stories.  We understand the business processes and workflows.  Should we also factor in the human elements as we improve the software?  Is it untoward or politically threatening for us to recommend changed in the business environment that will improve the lot of the employee?

Or is the business analyst an extension of IT and consigned to making improvements in the computer systems and leaving the human concerns to HR?

What do you think?  Is it extending the business analyst’s purview too much if we delve into the area of improving the human conditions of the process workers in the organization? Or is observing, analyzing and suggesting human condition improvements a natural progression of the business analyst profession?

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