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The Innovative Business Analyst

Many people talk about the importance of business processes without identifying the true value to an organisation. We hear often about Business Process Management (BPM) however I see that many of these initiatives forget about the business need and get carried away with the mapping of business processes or focus on the notation correctness. Instead I often talk about “service/product and business process driven requirements.” What do I mean? Well this is when a Business Analyst (BA) starts with understanding the business process for a service or product in order to elicit the business requirements. Why is this important you ask? Well correctly structured business process driven requirements focus on the business need, as all organisations, for profit, government or even a “not for profit,” exist to deliver services or products or both to customers. These services and products are inevitably delivered through business processes, people and technology. Therefore it is critical that the BA always considers business process within their analysis to discover the business need, related to the delivery of services/products.

Often it is said that a BA should concentrate on the “why” not the “how,” which is true initially however, at a more detailed stage it is necessary to solve the how to deliver the outcome. Instead of saying a BA should focus on the “why” I prefer to say a BA should focus on what is the “service or product” we are delivering within the scope. Inevitably the discussion will soon include the processes and business functions required to deliver the service or product, which is the why.

I have experienced that stakeholders often have the “how” already in mind, “I went to a conference last week and received a demo of xyz software and I’m sure it will solve all our problems” this probably sounds familiar! I call this the “butterfly syndrome” where stakeholders focus on the pretty butterflies flying around the room rather than the service or product delivery. In this situation I quickly acknowledge that xyz software could be the answer but suggest we perform our due diligence to confirm so we don’t waste time and money. How about we start with the services and products where the problems exist? That way we can solve the problems and identify opportunities for improvements while we look at xyz software. This can be done irrespective of our choice of SDLC methodology (e.g. Waterfall, Agile, Iterative).

The first question I ask is “what is the service or product we are delivering within the scope?” Normally I already know the answer to this question through the usage of the BABOK technique Document Analysis that allows me to determine the answer before I engage the stakeholders. Great sources of this information are company websites and glossy brochures as these hopefully clearly outline the services or products offered by the organisation. Next I like to understand the services and products within the scope of the initiative or project, and determine whether these are supportive activities (necessary but non-value adding) or direct value chain activities (value adding).

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Typically I use a value chain similar to the Porter’s generic value chain to focus my understanding of how the scope fits into value adding and non-value adding activities. If the activities are value adding it is easy to link them to the services and product delivery. Non-value adding but necessary supportive activities are more challenging to identify the linkages to the services and products however connecting the dots can be exhilarating.

I learnt the usefulness of this technique when working in a healthcare environment when I was asked to work on a project that had identified the need for a new Human Resource IT system. When I started to analyse further I discovered the organisation had a problem with recruiting enough nurses, as frontline and regional patient services (value-adding service) were under resourced to produce a suitable customer service. Around the world Human Resource business units (non-value adding but necessary supportive business function) perform five business process patterns; Strategic Human Resource Planning, Recruitment, Retention (includes learning and development), Redeployment/Retirement and Employee Management (includes payroll etc) so typically a new Human Resource IT system would cover all of these five processes. However in this instance the problem was only in one area “Recruitment” and so I suggested that we focus our attention (scope) to fixing the problem affecting the value adding service hence reducing delivery time and costs. My initial suggestion of analysing the cost/benefits of employing temporary staff to handle the recruitment peaks using existing processes and technology did not resonate well with the stakeholders. So the project team concentrated on delivering a technology solution to improve the recruitment process. In the end, the recruitment workflow technology solution provided better business value than a “butterfly syndrome” new Human Resource IT system.

Innovation – The process of translating an idea or invention into a good or service that creates value or for which customers will pay. I think the BA role provides the greatest opportunity to lead and influence stakeholders to make more informed business decisions, assisting organisations to become more strategic, flexible, customer focused and innovative in delivering services and products.

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