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The Pendulum Swing of Organizations

I wonder if organizations give out awards for surviving the most reorganizations in a single decade to particular business functions.  I’m thinking that most analysts get to experience this frequently as the pendulum of organizational design swings from housing analysts in the technology organization, in the business organization, centralizing or decentralizing.  As business reorganizes, technology changes alignment, and the moon aligns with various constellations, reorganization is triggered.  I’ve been asked to weigh in on this a bunch of times.  Here are some thoughts for whoever is gunning to get the new design in place for September.

There are Lots of Designs that Work, but Very Few Organizational Designs Promote the Goal of Improvement

If you have a team of BAs, you can organize by application, by business, by seniority, by type of BA, by geography, then you can organize management centrally, or by business line, or by matrix of business and IT, or … and the list goes on.  All designs are for a reason, so they will all accommodate some aspect of the culture or gap or improvement, or machismo that needs to be addressed.  Only some designs will promote the goal of improvement in the capabilities of BAs and consistency of service brought by BAs to the organization.  The designs that best enable improvement bring together and optimize three basic areas:

  • The Framework: What are the processes, practices, tools, metrics, deliverables and standards etc, of doing requirements?
  • The Resources: How are the competencies defined and managed, how is performance managed, and how are resources allocated to work?
  • The Infrastructure: This is the governance, business alignment, organizational integration k, etc.

The more fractured these things are, the more difficult to manage and promote standards and change. By the way, improvement may not be the primary organizational design constraint and sometimes you need to work with a suboptimal organization structure to enact change.

A Few Pointers 

Even when you have a poorly designed analyst organization, there are a bunch of things that can be done to make it function better. 

Centralize Analyst Work Intake. Even if the organization is a complete mess, centralizing the small function of estimation and work package creation pays massive dividends, especially when the analyst organization is larger.  And, it’s not expensive.

Think Services.  Sometimes it is not possible to get centralization on the entire analyst organization, but it is possible to get an institutional focus for a small set of high-end services, especially when these services are directed at success for larger projects.

Revise the Hiring Practices. I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of companies don’t really know how to hire BAs.  I think people don’t realize it’s a tactile job, yet a lot of companies hire without seeing how a BA does these hands-on things.  It’d be like hiring a nanny without ever checking out how they interact with the kids.  I’m not talking about charisma or being personable here, I’m taking about aptitude and the ability to ‘do through interacting’.

Right-size the Organization.  One of the biggest oddities is the vast differences in size of the analyst function at different organizations.  Sometimes one or two BAs are driving $100M in projects, sometimes it’s over 100.  When you get way too few, the organization get really ineffective because all the people can do is be traffic cops and oversee the outsourcing of work.  When you get too bloated, the work progress slooooowwwwssssss waaaaayyyyy dooooowwwwwwwnnnnnnnnn; it’s painful to watch.  We get people that are used to taking a week to deal with what we deal with in a day – it’s really hard to reset expectations.  It’s not difficult to do know the right number of people, but hiring headcount is often difficult to deal with.

Be Positive and Patient. There is a time and situation when changing the structure of an organization  becomes dramatically desirable.  There are also times when no amount of executive discussion will create openness to change.  As anyone paying attention to the recent financial fiasco knows, external influences can create a 180 degree change in focus extremely quickly.  Timing and planning are everything, as are planting seeds for change … sometimes for years.  Remember, eventually, most companies try to do the right thing.

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