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What Gardening can Teach us About Process Analysis

In August this year I was informed by my better half (sponsor/programme manager/project manager) that we were going to re-do part of our garden.

It wasn’t a big job, compared to the overall garden, however a border of around 15 feet long and 4 feet wide was to have the bushes and plants removed, stone and membrane lifted, sieve out the rubble from the existing soil and replace with fresh compost.

To finish this off we would fill the space with colourful flowers, which we would maintain on a regular basis (TOM)

Having worked in change for over 12 years, the planning kicked in straight away, which jobs would be done in which order, when were the best days to tackle the jobs etc etc. This was met with initial resistance from the Sponsor, however through careful stakeholder management an approach was agreed, which met our shared vision.

As we progressed, I couldn’t help make the comparisons with uncovering and analysing processes which form such a large part of the Business Analysis role.

It wasn’t until we started lifting the existing membrane that we started to understand the size of task that we had set ourselves. Our initial analysis had underestimated the resource (time) required, and as I was dealing with a very difficult stakeholder, I knew a re-plan was not on the cards. The only option was to proceed at risk.

Let’s consider the existing bush/plant roots as historic processes which underpin the product, the bush or plant. The newer plants/bushes had shorter roots, not as tangled with other roots (inter-dependencies), they had been planted in a logical fashion with more soil preparation. As such these roots were easier to find and remove.


These are comparable to well designed, fully documented processes that align to a Target Operating Model and have a clear owner. The analysis of these is often through the existing artefacts, seeking support from SMEs only when required.

The older bushes however had deep roots, entwined with multiple other roots and the more you dug the more you found. They had been planted over many years, with different aesthetic objectives. Being younger at the time we didn’t spend much time preparing the soil, nor considering how big the plant may grow. They were planted for immediate impact as opposed to forming part of a wider vision.

This category is comparable with historic process, the kind where only one colleague exists across the whole business who has a partial view of the process. There is no existing documentation, no owner and utilisation of the full BA toolkit is required to piece together the process.

Faced with this gardening challenge there were two possible approaches, brute force trying to rip out the roots as quickly as possible, or carefully digging up the roots, using every gardening tool in the shed, to ensure you have it all.

Although the first option would allow me to meet the expectations in terms of time, the quality, and therefore the benefit, would be greatly lacking. The problem with the first option is that you end up with soil filled with broken old roots. The new roots (processes) will struggle to develop as they keep crashing into the remnants left behind. Although the old roots are broken up, they can still use shared resource (water, nutrients) if left in place. The same can be said for processes. Not fully identifying a process that is to be replaced will result in colleagues, on occasion reverting to that process.

At heart business analysts are driven by quality and benefit. We want the end goal or product to make our customers lives better. Sometimes either the complexity of the work, the effort required or the wishes of stakeholders can try and push us of course. However, if your aim is for a garden of roses there are no quick solutions, it’s a case of using all your knowledge and available tools to ensure you reach the required result.

Feeling overwhelmed with the task at hand, I used one of the most important BA tools, seeking guidance from someone with more experience who would understand the challenges and help define a strategy that would both satisfy the stakeholders whilst ensuring the quality of the deliverable. In this case it was my Mum.

I have avoided the other Business Analyst comparison with gardening, which is, to get to the end deliverable we often spend many days knee deep in manure!!