Honestly, I felt like that annoying kid we all remember from elementary school.
You know, the one who eagerly bobbed on the edge of her seat, arm upraised almost out of socket, pained expression pleading, “Pick me! Pick me! I know the answer!” As my senior manager described his need to prioritize the growing list of project requests from our customers, ideas of a well-written business case came to my mind. Not only would a business case provide the data needed to answer his questions, but it would also lay the foundation for future project success. I just knew it. If only he would listen to me.
One of the many challenges my senior manager dealt with was trying to determine which customer initiatives should become the next development project. He needed to know how best to allocate resources to the incoming development requests. There was also the pressure to make sure that our department’s workload aligned with the business’ strategic initiatives. And, of course, each of our customers insisted that their project was priority and needed to be scheduled to begin right away.
Though the temptation to use a Magic Eight Ball or a game of rock-paper-scissors is sometimes real, we professionals need to rely on tools that provide us concrete data that will standup to an audit. My manager’s response to my eager suggestion that I work with our customers to document the details of their project proposals was less than enthusiastic. His blank stare and dismissal of the idea told me he had to see it to believe its value.
I needed a strategy for how I could get senior management to see my vision for how I, a business analyst, could provide the data that supported the important decisions about which projects our department would implement. So, I put my business analysis experience to work on my own project to get the practice of developing business cases adopted by my management.
Usually, business analysts do the majority of their work during the project’s planning phase. One area often overlooked, as needing business analysis support is the initiation phase of a project. It is during this proposal phase that the business analyst can be most valuable. Meeting with customers to hear them give voice to their aspirations and frustrations results in the detailed documentation of their business needs. In reality, this document can lay the ground work for a resulting project because it describes at a high level the customer’s vision and scope for the product they are requesting.
What followed were marathon sessions with customers who eagerly described in detail why their current applications needed enhancements or why they needed new applications to support their initiatives. In the end, our customers had the case for their business needs laid out and documented in a way they supported and approved. The development team, project managers, business analysts and developers had the essential information to provide high-level work effort estimates, and could imagine what the product would be. All of this information presented in the document ultimately supplied my senior leader the data to support his decision about which projects we would work on for the year.
My experience proved how important it is to:
1. Enlist an Ally
After my initial failure to get my senior manager onboard with the idea of using a business case, I realized that I could not go at this alone. I needed someone on the inside with enough insight and experience into the process to be able to successfully lobby on behalf of my position with senior management. After approaching the manager’s co-lead with my idea, she became my ally. As another experienced IT professional, she immediately aligned with my vision for the proposed solution. We worked together to develop a strategy to present our case to senior management.
2. Develop the Perfect Pitch
Everyone knows about the Elevator Speech: a short and concise speech that explains a concept during an elevator ride. I realized that I needed to have my pitch for selling the benefits of the business case at the ready. I imagined my senior manager asking me why we needed to adopt business cases in our intake process. During a status meeting with senior management, I had that opportunity. As in previous meetings, I shared the benefits of using the business case as a tool to evaluate requests and input them into the project charter. However, this time my ally also touted the need for the documented business proposals giving her support to the idea.
3. Get on with it
I had to pull all of my best business analysis tools together. My calendar quickly filled up with meetings where I facilitated discussion with business representatives, tech leads, and other stakeholders to gather the information that would become business cases. I listened to their complaints about malfunctioning applications that hindered their work, and their dreams of new applications that would improve efficiencies. I knew my efforts had paid off as I sat in a meeting to estimate and evaluate project proposals. Project managers, business analysts and developers were communicating excitedly about the potential projects. Ideas were forming about shared resources, technology and design. There was laughter, comradery and a common understanding about what the business needed. The added bonus was my manager’s enthusiasm at what he had been invited to experience. “Finally, he gets it!”, I thought to myself.
When I began this process, I thought my objective was solely to get management to adopt the use of the business need proposal to help manage new requests for projects. However, along with that evolved new respect for the business analyst role in my organization as an influencer, strategic thinker and leader.
Many of us dream of driving change in our organization. Selling management on the idea that you as a business analyst can do so much more is a good move. Remember, do not go it alone. Find someone who shares your vision and is willing to champion it on your behalf. Having support also helps during times of discouragement. Be ready to share your vision when the opportunity presents itself. You do not need a long speech, be concise and touch on key points to be effective. It is always easy to speak about something when you are passionate about the subject. Lastly, just get on with it and prove your idea has merit.