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Author: Giorgos Sioutzos

Giorgos Sioutzos is working at business consulting industry as a business analyst. He holds a BSc in Management Science and Technology from Athens University of Economics and Business and Msc in International Business & Management from ALBA Graduate Business School. Numerus articles about business and technology issues have been published in most reputable Greek and foreign media. Certifications: CCBA, PRINCE2, ITIL Bio - Short.

Best of BATimes: 5 Characteristics of Effective Business Analysts

“Business Analyst” is not just a title. Is not a job. It is a mindset, a concept and a structured process executed by people in different positions inside an organization. It’s more like, an approach of making the things happen from the realization of business need towards the final implementation.

It’s easy to call yourself business analyst but difficult to be a good and effective business analyst. The field can be great fun, and very rewarding, but you need to be prepared. People who take on business analysis roles typically believe they need three things: skills and experience, a bit of marketing, and an interest in working in a variety of environments. However successful business analysts know they need much more than a technical expertise and specific skills. They need a mindset and a specific attitude in order to serve with the best possible and feasibly way their clients business needs.

What is expected from business analysts can vary widely. And what they actually need you to do can be completely different from what they expect. Business analysis is an exciting, dynamic form of work. You can have a positive impact on your clients and be well paid for your effort. But you have to be appropriately equipped.

To be an effective and successful business analysis you need to continuously develop some specific characteristics.

 

The first is technical depth. It’s critical that you have the technical background to satisfy your clients’ needs. This means you have experience in a variety of environments. The more breadth of experience you have in your technical area, the easier it will be to apply your skill as a business analyst.

Second, effective business analysts need to understand quickly and accurately what’s happening in their client’s environment. Your power of observation needs to be well tuned. Being able to listen carefully and patiently, observe the behavior of your clients, and make sense of what is happening is very important.

Third, effective business analyst care about the welfare of their client’s business and the clients themselves. You need to be able to put yourself in your client’s shoes and appreciate the difficulties they may be facing or have faced. While what you do may seem routine to you, it probably isn’t routine for your client. You need to appreciate that fact and behave accordingly.

 

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Another important characteristic is emotional intelligence. Often clients will engage you because they’ve had substantial difficulties. They may have a skill shortage, or they may not be sure how to manage what you’ve been asked to deliver. All these conditions create stress. On top of that, you’ll be striving to learn as much as you can as quickly as you can, so you’ll be under stress as well. Dealing with all that requires personal emotional maturity and the ability to assess and deal with the emotional state of your client.

Also, you have to develop the observation and effective listening as a personal characteristic, make recommendations based on sound business judgment, and be patient. As trust builds, the direction your client provides will likely become more reasonable. Work out your contract. Understand your client’s needs and desires, and establish a good relationship with your contract manager, and you could put on your superhero costume to celebrate your success. Observation helps towards a really robust problem definition statement. So as you look at your problem-solving, and you’re getting ready to start pursuing that initial set of ideas, you need to go through that prioritization and pick the highest value one that’s going to have the biggest impact on your overall solution.

 

Business analysis is performed on a variety of initiatives within an enterprise. Initiatives may be strategic, tactical, or operational. Business analysis may be performed within the boundaries of a project or throughout enterprise evolution and continuous improvement. No matter their job title or organizational role business analysts are responsible for discovering, synthesizing, and analyzing information in order the best solutions to be derived and the clients’ needs to be accommodated in the best possible way.

 

 

Published on: Dec 2, 2021

The Importance of Benefits Realization

As a business analyst you are not done your job after the deployment of the solution. Although, having the solution up and running is a critical milestone it’s not time to party yet.  It’s like medical surgery. Even though the surgery itself may be successful it is more than important the patients life to be improved and the expected benefits that are the answer to why this surgery should be done, to be realized after the surgery.

Monitoring the solution benefits and interpreting thoughtfully the feedback of the customers is crucial in order to be sure that the benefits of the solution are fully perceived and also that they are sustained. Benefit recipients should experience the stated benefits and also be ensured that those benefits will be sustained from the implemented change over the long-term. In many projects the effort that is done in the period after implementation activities is not enough to ensure the delivery of the claimed benefits as well as the maintenance of the benefits in the long term.

 

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Below are some points that could help you navigate in the after-deployment period:

 

  1. Feel the pulse of the customer

Be open to feedback and try to listen to the voice of the customers. Do not underestimate the feedback from any source. Even an inexperienced user may reveal critical improvement issues for the benefits realization. Filter the feedback in order to find technical and non-technical groups of issues. For example, a repeated concern of the user may be due to the lack of training and proper user manual, due to a non-functional requirement that is not met or due to a bug existing in the functional area of the solution. 

 

  1. Prioritize the actions

It is crucial to prioritize the improvement actions. Some bugs fixing may be in first priority as they have a detrimental effect in the overall experience. Or an updated user manual and video of navigating the users in using effectively the solution may be number one priority in order to full realization of benefits to take place. A specific prioritization approach may be existing and agreed up at the initiation of the project. However, as nothing is more stable than change you probably need to revisit and update frequently the approach to prioritization.

 

  1. Be ready for Organizational Change

A new solution that is deployed is a change. Appropriate change management is required to ensure the full exploitation of the solution. New processes and polices may need to be established in order to maximize the value. Changing the way of working that existed for years may be challenging. Many times, a new solution is a trigger for a culture shift in an organization. As a business analyst you need to be aware of such required changes and propose solutions that will contribute towards the

 

It is common for the delivery team to complete the implementation activities, deliver the initial benefits to the customer and just close down the project. This is not suggested. Benefits realization most of the time is not one and done process. There are always activities that need to be performed on an ongoing basis to ensure the solution developed stays in shape.

Soft Systems Methodology for Business Analysis

Soft systems methodology is an approach that an analyst can embrace when phasing messy and complex problems. SSM is a way of organizing, thinking and learning in a problematic situation.[1] [2]This methodology allows the observer, faced with a vague and unstructured problem situation, the possibility to approach as holistically as possible, concentrating, combining and co-housing all existing perceptions and to suggest ways to improve the existing situation.

Business Analysts can use Analysis with SSM before the analysis and design of an information system begins (i.e. before using UML or a traditional structured development methodology).

 

The Methodology

A basic pillar of the methodology is the distinction between the real world and the systems thinking about real world. The methodology recognizes the complexity of the modern world and tries to reconcile the mental models we try to construct to simplify the world with the real needs and environment upon which any change will be implemented.

In addition to eliciting the perspectives from different stakeholders, it is also important to investigate different perspectives of the problematical situation.

This involves analyses of:

  1. The intervention, including the actors involved,
  2. The socio-cultural context including roles, norms and values and
  3. Existing power structures

The following diagram depicts seven-stage model of SSM (adapted from Checkland & Scholes, 1990, p. 27)

 

We can group the activities in the real world versus the activities in systems thinking.

Ιn real world:

  • First: we learn/analyze the problematic situation
  • Ultimately: we intervene with the aim of bringing about improvements

Systems thinking include:

  • Identifying relevant systems of human activity with ‘key definitions’
  • Creating mental models from the basic definitions

 

Tools

1st Step:

To understand the complex problem situation we use the rich image.

Emphasis is placed on illustrating the following:

  • roles in the system and views,
  • disputes and controversies,
  • system limit,
  • elements of the environment

An example of rich image is given below:

Source: elabor8.com.au

 

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2nd Step:

In the next stages of the methodology (systems thinking) we create basic definitions and then a mental model of the system.

The basic definition can follow the following structure:

  • Do P by Q in order to contribute to achieving R” (P = what? Q = how? R = why?)
  • CATWOE is a good way to think holistically about actors.[3]

A mental model is an explanation of how something works. The phrase “mental model” is an overarching term for any sort of concept, framework, or worldview that you carry around in your mind.[4]

The following diagram represents the structure of a simple mental model.

 

3rd Step:

Finally we return to the “real world” for the last 3 stages of the methodology, aiming to make effective changes to the problem situation.

Collaborative learning is achieved through the SSM process.  Development of shared meaning and understanding across individuals and groups are enabled and can ensure faster requirements elicitation and more precise requirements that will add value to the different stakeholders.

 

Conclusion

The internal and external conditions are complex, interdependent and unique. Either the change of only an internal or external component creates a different dynamic and a different system and may trigger a chain of events that can affect indirectly other components. The “Ceteris paribus” assumption in some microeconomics models seems to be utopia in the modern business environment. Systems thinking and the holistic approach are basic characteristics for effective conduction of business analysis. SSM encapsulates the systems thinking mindset and can be a useful methodology in the pre-analysis and/or early analysis phases.

 

[1] Checkland P. Systems thinking, systems practice. Chichester: John Wiley and Sons; 1981
[2] Checkland P, Poulter J. Learning for action: a short definitive account of soft systems methodology and its use, for practitioners, teachers and students. John Wiley and Sons Ltd: Chichester; 2006.
[3] CATWOE Analysis: A Holistic Approach to Problem Solving – SlideModel
[4] Mental Models: Learn How to Think Better and Gain a Mental Edge (jamesclear.com)

The Strategic Flexibility Approach in Solution Design

Compared with strategic management, strategic business analysis focuses on designing a sustainable solution in order the long term strategic goals and future demands to be fulfilled with the best way. Constant changes in internal and external environment require business analysts working on a specific solution to constantly assess solution approach and capabilities for success.

Strategic flexibility it terms of a solution may be defined as the ability of the solution to adapt to substantial, uncertain, and fast-occurring environmental changes that have a meaningful impact on the solution performance.

 

Strategic business analysis involves a future outlook. Detection of emerging threats and opportunities, prediction of their future impact, and the development of solution responses is something that should be considered before a solution definition. Ideally, the “future paths” should be incorporated in the solution itself in order “strategic adaptations” to be achieved with less cost and effort.

Because the environment is so uncertain and fast moving with many potential threats and opportunities, business analysts often finds it difficult to react using conventional business analysis approaches. Evaluating the likelihood and nature of the impact of each environmental change that can consequently affect the solution requires is challenging.

 

It is common that during the analysis phases of a solution definition, considerations of alternative ways to increase solution’s flexibility tend to be limited and ad hoc and not comprehensive, systematic, or formal.

Moreover, internal and external constraints on the style and experience of the business analysis team tend to dictate an inflexible approach that is not taking into account the future challenges and adaptations that will be necessary for the solution’s sustainability.

 

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Another challenge in embracing strategic flexibility is the lack of objectivity in flexibility and scalability options. This is inevitable given the lack of information for the future conditions and the difficulties in predictions.  Options concerning sustainable solutions tend to be subjective and informal. Flexibility levels are rarely monitored or even measured. An example of a subjective KPI is the time and the cost required to modify core flows in a system or the time and effort required incorporating a new group of users in an existing solution.

Identifying assumptions that had been made during design phases is crucial in order to clear out the future state and to develop contingency plans that can contribute to lower time, cost and effort in future changes. Well-defined contingency scenarios with specific responses associated with each future specific event may be decrease the response time required, once those events occur.

 

Paying attention at the confirmation of the elicitation results and trying to find areas for sustainability and preparation to change improvement should be cultivated in business analysis approach.

Last but least working towards defining specific evaluation criteria concerning the long term horizon solution flexibility as a response to future events is essential in an era of fast – moving and numerous environment changes.

References:
  1. David A. Aaker, Briance Mascarenhas, (1984) “THE NEED FOR STRATEGIC FLEXIBILITY”, Journal of Business Strategy, Vol. 5 Issue: 2, pp.74-82, https://doi.org/10.1108/eb039060

The Importance of Creativity in Business Analysis

Being creative may seem contradictory to an analyst structured approach to everyday tasks but this is far away from truth. Creativity is something required in every aspect of our life. Although, a deterministic approach is synonymous to analysis and decisions are being made using careful research, still there is much room for creativity.

In the business analysis field, the aim of developing creativity as a skill is to provide value to the whole business analysis lifecycle and to contribute not only to better outputs but also to significant outcomes.

Below are just some occasions when creativity can be required from a business analyst:

 

  1. Creativity is required in finding the best way to elicit the actual business needs. You may modify and tailor an elicitation technique in order to achieve the most accurate and helpful results from elicitation activities. A creative business analyst will pose “clever” questions in order to better understand the customer. Will continuously modify predefined techniques in order to tailor them in accordance with the context and the special needs of the stakeholders.

 

  1. In case there is not a predefined product that will be used, and the solution is built from the scratch, creativity is detrimental in order to find feasibly solutions that will provide value to the end users.

 

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  1. Business analysts advocate for the business while communicating what can be achieved with available technology. The way business analyst will transfer the information from one side to another requires creativity. Providing a bridge between technical and business viewpoints is sometimes challenging. Unorthodox ways of presentation and communication of the information may be the key.

 

  1. Drawing out additional meaning from the elicitation results requires creativity resulting from a creative dispute mindset. Asking what the actual need of the customer is and how might the end user has defined the success imply sometimes filling information gaps using creative thinking.

Creativity skills can be learned and improved throughout professional life.  What you first need is a desire to explore your unique creativity and a spirit of curiosity. Just ask yourself and try to come up with creative ideas in your everyday tasks.  The most important is to be critical against conventional wisdom and try always to take into consideration the context in order to tailor and use wisely the conventional wisdom.