Tuesday, 21 February 2012 11:10

Want to Improve Your Business Analysis Competency? Start with a Plan

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Process_with_Magnifier_2Four Steps for Building a Business Analysis Improvement Plan

The growth of the business analysis profession over the last ten years is a testament to the fact that business analysis best practices and good requirements reduce risks and lead to project success. Time and time again, industry studies from Gartner, Forrester, and Standish have proven the value of business analysis. The good news is that companies are now beginning to listen.

Business Analysis Centers of Excellence, Communities of Practice, and Competency Centers have become popular ways to grow and improve business analysis competency. However, the reality is that while many organizations agree that building business analysis competency is a good idea, few do anything about it because they simply do not know where to begin. The best advice: start with a plan.


 

Most of us would never think of kicking off a project without describing the goals of the project and how those goals will be achieved through the execution of specific activities and tasks. However, it is surprising how many internal improvement initiatives, like improving business analysis competency, are kicked off without the benefit of formal planning.

All projects, at least successful ones, start with a plan. If you are serious about reducing project failure rates by improving your business analysis competency, then you need to treat this effort just like any other project. Take the time to build out your plan for success by investigating the current state, identifying your goals, building a roadmap, and proving the value of business analysis.

Investigate Current Practices

The hardest part of improving your business analysis competency can be getting started. The best way to get things going is to review the existing or “as-is” state of business analysis. Take a close look at the business analysis practices that currently exist within your organization. Investigate the processes followed, technology used, and people who bring it all together. Next, identify what is working and what is not, focusing on what can be improved. I recommend concentrating on five perspectives: people, process, product, technology and organization and working closely with practitioners, managers, and consumers to understand their successes and challenges. Involving practitioners early builds buy-in among stakeholders who need to support the business analysis competency improvement. It is impossible to figure out where you are going if you are not sure where you are starting. The findings from your investigation of current business analysis practices will set the stage for planning future improvements.

Identify Your Goals

Once you understand current practices, the next step is to determine the goals you want to achieve. You might want to establish a community of practice, increase business analysis awareness within your organization, standardize practices or build a business analysis center of excellence. All of these are worthy goals, but each is going to require a slightly different focus and approach. Remember, goals are the objectives that management is going to hold you accountable for achieving. Do your best to define goals that are specific and quantifiable; this will make it easier to demonstrate success throughout the project. Taking time to define project goals lays the groundwork needed to build a roadmap. In addition, well-understood goals set the tone for your project by establishing scope and communicating expectations to leadership. All are needed for successful project execution.

Build a Roadmap for Improvement

Whereas goals provide a strategic view of what you want to achieve, a roadmap describes the path that you are going to take. Roadmaps are excellent tools for detailing, at a tactical level, the activities that need to be accomplished in order to achieve your goals. The roadmap is often the most powerful and frequently used communication tool for your project, so spend the time necessary to ensure it is clear and accurate. The activities on your roadmap should all be roughly at the same level of abstraction, and it is a best practice to show dependency so that an order of execution is communicated. Examples of activities can include: research business analysis tools, develop training material, or begin pilot projects. Each action is self-contained and easily understood. When you are building your roadmap, remember that this is not a project plan. Activities do not need to be broken down to tasks or assigned a number of days or resources. Instead, your roadmap should describe a path of activities that need to be followed in order to achieve the goals that have been identified. A time scale can be included, but think in months instead of days.

Prove the Value of Business Analysis

Projects only get the resources and support they need when they are backed by management. Unfortunately, selling a project upwards can be difficult. Even though you know that improving business analysis competency will lead to higher project success rates, you still need to prove it to management. I have found that the best way to build your case and win over support from the top offices is to frame your project in terms that management understands: costs and benefits. A common vehicle for delivering this information is the business case. By building a business case that ties improving business analysis competency back to real project costs, software defects, or other tangible metrics that your organization uses to judge success, you can demonstrate how business analysis competency benefits the bottom-line. This is also a great time to look at the goals that you have identified and tie them back to the goals of your organization. Linking business analysis competency improvement back to the greater goals of your organization strengthens your business case and demonstrates how good business analysis practices will enable management to hit their own targets, winning over support and building buy-in.

Recommendations

Every organization should build a plan before beginning to improve their business analysis competency. Consider using a time-boxed discovery and planning effort to flush out the details of a plan and build support for the project. Taking the time at the beginning of your improvement effort to investigate existing practices, establish goals, and document a roadmap for the future will set your project up for success. In addition, building a business case that is based on metrics and aligned with the overall goals of your company will demonstrate reasons for and the importance of improving business analysis practices. Having a plan in place from the beginning not only enables success, but serves as a foundation for achieving the types of improvements that make good organizations great.

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Matthew Leach is a Senior Consultant with Doreen Evans Associates, a professional services firm committed to business analysis excellence. A recognized leader in the business analysis profession, Matthew works with DEA clients to improve business analysis practices and execute critical projects. Follow him on Twitter: @MatthewLeach

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