“The secret: One day builds always take longer than a day.”
After reading Every Tool’s a Hammer by Adam Savage I was struck by how many lessons he’d learned as a maker that were applicable to the act of creating software.
It also made me reconsider the title of Business Analyst. As explained in the BABOK it can be applied to “any person who performs business analysis tasks”. Analysis is the practice of “enabling change in an enterprise by defining needs and recommending solutions that deliver value to stakeholders. Business analysis enables an enterprise to articulate needs and the rationale for change, and to design and describe solutions that can deliver value.”
The general definition of analysis is “a detailed examination of anything complex in order to understand its nature or to determine its essential features: a thorough study” (Merriam Webster), or as Google succinctly puts it “detailed examination of the elements or structure of something.”
These definitions seem narrow. A Business Analyst doesn’t only examine something to understand it. Enabling change can be an arduous process, depending on the organization and the people involved. The Business Analyst tries to turn a customer’s vision into a concrete and understandable grouping of requirements/user stories/use cases, along with models/presentations/diagrams. A BA needs to negotiate with all stakeholders and help everyone to agree and collaborate.
It’s a multi-faceted job and goes well beyond the boundary of ‘analysis’.
Perhaps a different way to view ourselves isn’t as Business Analysts, but as ‘makers’. A term used by Adam Savage and others to describe a person who creates, makes, and produces something. That something can be anything. For example; a wooden bird house, a suit of armor, a costume for a convention, a model for a film or TV series, a painting, a novel, or a new app (to name a few). Adam Savage doesn’t discriminate in terms of what is being made—just that something is created out of nothing from a desire to make an idea exist in the world.
The something can be created by one person, or multiple people trying to deliver a common vision. For example, a film crew working together to deliver the vision of the director.
Switching from the perspective of Business Analyst to that of a maker also transforms the typical frustrations of BA life into common issues that all makers contend with. The trials and tribulations that the project is going through is, in all likelihood, pretty much standard.
For a start, every maker acknowledges that mistakes will be made. The first version will, most probably, not be the final version. In keeping with this premise, demands of perfection early in the process means that your end product will probably have issues. As a BA / maker, it’s a more relaxing process when you realize that your first draft of your use cases/diagrams/user stories will always have issues, if not be outright awful. You won’t have all the information, and you won’t have a clear view of the vision unless you’ve managed to get everyone to articulate it and agree to it in a comprehensible manner. You’re going to need several attempts at this, and each piece of feedback helps you figure out a more exacting version of the overall idea and helps you solidify how it might be delivered. Like any good maker, you realize it’s an advantage to fail at the beginning because it gives you a chance to recover and iterate. That’s how making/creating works in real life. Not because Gartner published an article about failing fast.
On top of that, maybe that estimate you gave about how long it takes to produce workable requirements isn’t all that precise. As Adam Savage says in his book, “One day builds always take longer than a day.” Makers know that the only way an estimate gets close to being right is by having built a similar thing many times over. As per making, the materials you use to create something is usually standard—but the thing you’re building is not. Just because your friends built their cosplay outfits out of EVA foam and a hot glue gun does not mean that your envisioned cosplay costume is going to work because you’re using the same materials. Likewise, even if you gathered a set of requirements, and the developers are all using C++, and you’re running on an Apache server does not mean your software build is standard. Yes, everyone on the project, especially the BA, will be under pressure to deliver by a date (whether using waterfall or scrum). The trick is to acknowledge the date and work towards it, knowing full well that estimates are not an absolute due to challenge of what you’re trying to achieve. As Adam Savage writes in his book, “As a maker of any kind, with any project, you will never really know what your destination is. You know your starting point, you know roughly what your “problem to solve” is, and you can try having a whiteboard session about final goals to help figure out what you’d like your destination to be, or at least what the rough outline of it should be. (…) But it won’t change the fact that nothing can quite prepare you for what it’s like to set out along the path of creation only to realize you are not going to end up where you planned.(…) Put another way: How many of your projects turned out EXACTLY like you intended? How many went as smoothly as you expected? Mistake free. Distraction free. In my experience, the answer is pretty close to none.”
After reading Adam Savage’s book it struck me that a BA, and in fact, the entire project team, would be far less stressed moving to the mindset of a maker. Methodologies and frameworks and manifestos are not needed to acknowledge a basic fact of making: Creating something from nothing is difficult work.
I’ve only briefly touched upon the premise of the book, but I would encourage you to read it and gain a different perspective on the art of business analysis—or more to the point—the art of making.