The Problem

Now we are starting to move! We have looked at what business analysis is:

  • Thoughtfulness
  • Due diligence
  • Uncommon sense

We have discussed some of the reasons that it matters:

  • Failed/challenged projects and wasted resources
  • Neglected stakeholders (my favorite is taxpayers!)
  • Critical infrastructure systems present and future (what will you do when someone plants your DNA at a crime scene?)

Now we ask the question – what is the problem with implementing BA, given that it works, and given the high cost of ignoring it? Why doesn’t everyone Just Do IT (pun intended)?

This topic is huge, and I restrict myself to the following incomplete, but analytically organized list, and trust in my Gentle Reader’s patience if I only address one of these topics today, at the end of the essay.

Problems with Human Nature and Limitations:

  • Thoughtful people tend not to be bullies; bullies tend to end up bosses
  • Thinking is hard, and when left alone, many will choose not to
  • For some reason, ego often trumps collective goals – managers have to manage egos – everyone wants to be important. This gets out of control when it reaches the point where misguided managers will assuage feelings at the expense of outcomes.
  • Personal agendas also often trump goals – especially in IT, where the priesthood is fond of obfuscating choices. They love selecting technologies that they think are cool, or will enhance their career opportunities, regardless of justification.
  • Fear is prevalent, even though many hide it from themselves.
  • Work avoidance is commonplace, and due diligence IS WORK.

Problems with Cultural Issues (American):

  • From the earliest ages, we are taught to value action over thought (in the battle between jocks vs. geeks, who wins the sexual selection sweepstakes?). No wonder the cry of “Don’t think, code!” is loud in the land.
  • Even though the founders of this country were followers of the Enlightenment (If you don’t know what this is, well, that is part of the problem – Google it!), there is a strong, superstitious, anti-intellectual streak in many Americans, even in many successful ones (the world is 6000 years old, and was made by an Intelligent Designer, presumably because God didn’t have the chops?)
  • As a capitalist, free society, the Gold Makes the Rules, and that is fine for private enterprise, where bad rules put you out of business, and allow your resources to be put in the hands of someone who might make something out of them. This is not so hot for government, where the gold is shared by legislative priority, in a system where states compete with each other for their share of a pie that no one really owns, and rational, national, greater good use of the money is actually quite rare.
  • For some reason, turf behavior is often tolerated, almost without question.
  • Ethics have become undervalued in our society, whereas wealth, power and appearances are highly valued. Due diligence (BA) is ethical, whereas its absence is extremely questionable. Morality is no replacement for ethics – it is too simple, typically offers easy outs (confess, forgive, judgment is mine sayeth the Lord, purify oneself with jihad, etc.) and tends to be absolutist, in a world where the greater good cannot be accomplished by following platitudes – not even “Thou shalt not kill”. I mean, really, thou shalt not kill what, and why? Cows, for food? People, to save nations? Viruses, to prevent apocalypse? Fetuses, to save families?

Problems with Complexity

  • Some problems are inherently complex, even insoluble at this time (maybe forever).
    Examples include:
    • Mathematically unsolved problems
      • Optimal container packing
      • Efficient material (and network) routing
      • Protein folding
    • Problems that we may not know enough to fully solve at this time, but where useful tools are being found
      • Artificial Intelligence
      • Natural language comprehension
      • Direct brain/computer interfacing
  • There are limits to how much complexity each person can absorb and share, with teams of more than six people achieving increasingly diminishing gains in applicable knowledge.
  • As a project (in time and person hours) gets larger, profound issues of communication arise. The number of possible relationships among team members grows extremely rapidly, and forces division of tasks, increases risks of missed coordination, and often leads to “us vs. them” mentalities.

Social and Political Problems

  • Differences in political goals – e.g., electronic voting might be perceived as favoring one party over another, or national identity systems raise concerns (and rightly so) about civil liberties. Question: Are “We the People” (Nos Populus) being sought for requirements, and honored as stakeholders, or are we destined to being merely “We the Known” (Nos Notus)?
  • Unreasonable requests, ah they are many. My favorite is what I call the “FBI problem”. The request goes something like this: “Give me a system that will find hiding evildoers and track their webs of intrigue so that we may gut their activities once and for all”. When I ran into this one, it took me 12 months to get executives to accept that even the FBI struggles with it.
  • Labor vs. Management – a fossil marking the end of the American industrial age, now applied to governing ourselves and educating our children, with predictable results.
  • I could go on, but I am out of room.

I want to keep my promise to address ONE of the problems listed. Here it goes:

Problem with Complexity:
Some problems are inherently complex. How to not get nailed.

Answer:
Know enough computer science to know about solvable and unsolvable problems. This can help you avoid, or at least identify, bad project scope choices that need addressing (Do you really want to re-invent accounting, or just implement it? Will it be YOU who breaks 128 bit encryption, or is the project goal actually different from that?). to be able to spot these kinds of problems. Here are some fun samples of deep stuff that might help you save a project someday, including the mathematics of voting (you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find…):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voting_system
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NP_%28complexity%29
(be sure to scroll down from the definition to the applications)
http://www.aaai.org/AITopics/html/welcome.html
(note the dates and aspirations and name change)
http://www.aaai.org/Organization/sponsors.php
(short list of the folks who SHOULD take on AI – are you one?)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_national_identity_card#Vulnerable_individuals
(interesting – the requirements of “vulnerable individuals” require more work, not resolved, not political, just, gosh, overlooked a little, maybe – what IS the plan? – hmmm….)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bin_packing_problem
(you can do it for your suitcase, but can you do it for a moving truck?)
http://blogs.zdnet.com/Murphy/?p=822
(what IS the best technology, anyway? How did we go wrong? You’re going to love your first Mac!)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protein_folding
(if you are in the biology business you already know this, for the rest of us, it is just interesting, and we are generalists).

If what you are up against hasn’t been dealt with according to your research, and your client insists on proceeding, try to get a PHD for the project, not just a salary.

Alternatively, you can ask your stakeholders if anyone (or try yourself, in a quiet room) can describe how to solve the particular knotty problem by hand. If no one can at least describe how to proceed, there is an excellent chance that the problem is unfeasible.

The above approach worked once when a stakeholder wanted a system that would compute detailed violations based on the total dollar penalty assessed, without anyone having to indicate the violations individually to the system. I call this the “Detail from Summary” problem, and it is not typically soluble for real world data, where MANY detail configurations can result in the same summary.

Next Month:

National Identity Systems – An Opportunity for BAs to Make a Social Contribution the Likes of Which Have Not Been Seen in Over 200 Years, and Which Is Now Feasible, Given the Existence of Our Neutral Standards Body, the IIBA. If that is too much, just call it NISAOBAMSCLWHNBSO200YWINFGEONSBIIBA.

Enough for now – be well, BA, Kind Reader!