The Value of Business Analysis: Creating Shared Vision
One of the greatest skills a business analyst can learn and utilize to add value to business stakeholders and the organization is the ability to Create a Shared Vision. This, in fact, should be the goal of the business analyst in every task or project that they undertake. This can be done at any level of the organization; with executive management, business management, business stakeholders, staff or end users, technical stakeholders and, yes even with, the newest hire in the organization.
Creating Shared Vision
Creating a shared vision is much like painting a picture. You are painting a picture in everybody’s mind and heart so clear that everybody can see and understand the picture. No, painting is not one of the tasks or skills of business analysis. You paint a picture with your words and documentation. Text documents, flow diagrams, use cases, storyboards, user stories, activity diagrams, business process models, wireframes and other mockups can all be used in paint a picture. These can be used in combination to paint an even more vivid picture for your audience. How you communicate using these pictorial tools can bring clarity to the vision. I will talk about targeting your vision to the audience in a minute. Sometimes, as in requirements elicitation, it may mean that you gain the vision of the stakeholder. If in a requirements workshop, focus group discussion or one-on-one interview, drawings on paper or a whiteboard can facilitate shared vision and understanding. Often, it may be that you have the business stakeholders paint the “as-is” picture for you, and then you help them paint the “to-be” picture. By painting a picture so vivid that all stakeholders share the same vision of it, this is how we build the bridge to understanding and ensure that all involve understand the same vision.
Start from the Problem Statement
As most business analysts will tell you many projects, business or technical, are initiated with a solution in mind instead a problem. Adrian Reed, CBAP of the United Kingdom articulated this issue in a Podcast interview with Yaaqub (Yamo) Mohamed, CBAP. As James Szuch suggests every project should start with the problem statement. If the business stakeholders already have the solution in mind, then ask them why this is the solution and what problem is it going to solve for us. Get all the stakeholders back to the problem, and make sure everybody understands the problem that you are trying to solve.
Gaining Shared Vision
As I mentioned earlier sometimes it is best to have the business stakeholders share their vision of the current state of the system or process you are considering changing with you and the other stakeholders. This is particularly effective if you are investigating a system or process that you personally are unfamiliar with; however, I use this technique with every new project, task or when I work with a new group of stakeholders. It starts to build the relationship, gain trust, and shows them that I value their expertise in their domain. This also helps reduce errors and omissions. I was once engaged to help a client gain video capability on their website. When I began the first few groups of stakeholders I spoke with said they had no videos currently on their websites. When I got to the marketing department, they said that there were a couple of videos already on their website. So I investigated the platform that was used to embed the videos on the website. If I had not continued my investigation of the current state with each department I spoke with we would have started the project thinking that there was no current state from which to start.
Extending the Vision
Once you have that vision of the current state now you make sure all concerned have the same vision. This is what Kupe Kupersmith, CBAP refers to when he discusses creating Vivid Descriptions. With my client that wanted video capability, I was able to inform the other business units that we indeed did have some videos already on our website. Each business unit had a platform in mind that they wanted to see implemented. The fact, the organization already had a platform in use played into the decision making of the business stakeholders. We did not go with that platform, but this allowed them to open their minds to other possibilities other than the one they had walked into the project already in mind.
Extending the vision works with both the current state and the future state of the system or process under investigation. You build the future state vision together with the stakeholders, business and technical, using the pictorial tools I mentioned above.
Target the Vision to the Audience
In order for your audience to gain a vision, they must not only see the picture, but understand it. The picture must be painted in a way that facilitates understanding; it must be presented in a way that the audience can comprehend. You may use flow diagrams, use cases, story boards and/or activity diagrams when painting the vision to a business audience. You may use text documents, flow diagrams, use cases and/or activity diagrams to paint the picture for a technical team. You may use very short summary text documents and/or flow diagrams to present to management. You would use more detailed documents and diagrams when presenting to business users; and even more detailed documentation when presenting to a technical audience. To create a shared vision the picture must be presented in a way that facilitates quick comprehension from the audience to whom it is being presented.
So as you work on your tasks, whether it is a small task, business process improvement project, software development project, architecture project or enterprise initiative remember to always Create a Shared Vision with and among the stakeholders with which you are working. In this way you can be assured to implement the best solution for the organization. As Kupe put it:
“You need to help them get clarity around the problem or opportunity they are trying to solve and more importantly the outcomes or results they want.”
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