Delivering Analysis: Working With the System
Business analysis is an evolving profession characterized by change. However, not all businesses embrace evolution and change in the same way. This can result in business and delivery practices constraining the use of newer, more agile approaches to business analysis. This article presents some ideas and techniques to help business analysts identify, understand, and work with constraining business practices.
You may have heard the serenity prayer. It goes something like this:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
The origins of the serenity prayer date back to the 1930s and 1940’s. It is one of the most well-known and quoted prayers in the Christian world, with versions adorning posters, fridge magnets and trinkets across the globe. And while the prayer predates the business analysis profession by decades, the sentiment of the prayer is relevant for many analysts – even those of us who aren’t religious.
Business analysis is a profession of change. Indeed, the IIBA defines business analysis as the “practice of enabling change” in an enterprise. Whether it be learning a new technique or method, or applying skills to a new business domain, business analysts are encouraged to constantly experiment, learn and adapt. We are often looking for opportunities to apply new skills or techniques, or engage with enterprises that are using newer, more agile delivery methods. This constant exposure to change can make business analysts very comfortable with change.
It can therefore be frustrating when we find ourselves in environments where prevailing business practices prevent us from delivering analysis in the way we would like. Outdated systems, over-zealous governance, rigid templates and document heavy processes can constrain our ability to used more modern, agile delivery methods and techniques. And inflicting change on stakeholders using outdated delivery practices can seem like a double standard! Yet, working against such practices and processes can cause even more problems, resulting in business resistance, conflicts with stakeholders, delays, and even failure to deliver.
Identifying Constraining Business Practices
Business analysts need to fully understand the business context in which they are delivering change. This includes understanding the business and delivery practices being used to define, design and implement change, and how they impact business analysis. Early identification of constraining business and delivery practices gives business analysts an opportunity to find ways of working with them – rather than against them.
There are several common business analysis techniques that can be used to help identify and understand restrictive business and delivery practices. For example:
- SWOT Analysis – A SWOT analysis can be used to help identify business practices that may impede or constrain business analysis activities (in other words, are a threat to the delivery of good analysis), identify opportunities to improve business practices, and identifying any strengths/weaknesses that may help/hinder delivery given the constraints.
- Process Analysis and Modelling – Understanding when and how analysis activities will engage with constraining business practices can support the creation of efficient business analysis plans that meets all delivery requirements.
- Stakeholder Analysis – Remember the saying It’s who you know – not what you know? This is too often true – particularly when it comes to governance and approvals processes. Understanding who the influential stakeholders are and engaging them early can often alleviate and even remove constraints.
- Root Cause Analysis – There is usually a reason why things are done the way they are, although it may not always be obvious. Uncovering that underlying reason for a given business practice can help analysts a) identify areas for improvement, or b) accept it for what it is.
Understanding business and delivery practices that constrain business analysis can help analysts:
- Identify and champion opportunities for business improvement
- Identify ways of working with or within existing business practices that may better support analysis, or
- Accept and work with prevailing business practices as efficiently as possible.
To paraphrase the serenity prayer – accept the things you cannot change, change the things you can, and understand the difference!
Anna Rajander, Dec 2022
Serenity Prayer – Wikipedia, accessed Dec 2022.
A Guide to the Business Analysis Book of Knowledge (BaBOK) v3, IIBA, 2015.