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The Eye of the Storm: The Business Case

You may have noticed that one theme in this blog is change management, which I think must be central to a BA’s approach to managing requirements. Actually, I take that back…. To some degree, it seems that there is an overemphasis on the requirements themselves, at the expense of managing the business case for satisfying those requirements.

I will try to state my concern philosophically first, by asking the question “Where does the BA stand? What ought to be the BA’s primary point of view?” Here are the stands I see taken by BAs, to varying degrees: 

  • The requirements themselves – extremely challenging to set one’s bearings on the requirements themselves, because they will change! 
  • The requirements process – obviously a more stable view, giving one the prism through which to view and manage the constantly changing requirements 
  • The business case itself – this is the most advantageous point of view from which the BA should start his or her day

Saying it another way, if my mission is to manage the requirements, I could lose sight of the business case itself, which will change as requirements and solution elements (scope, schedule, cost) change. But if my mission is to keep the business case alive and fresh, by continually reflecting within the business case, in business case terms (benefits, costs, risks), the changes to requirements and solution elements, I have not only (a) taken a stand that puts me closest to my stakeholders from a business benefit point of view but also (b) made change management my core activity, because the business case cannot be kept fresh without it.

Do you agree? How central is continuous business case management to the way you work? If it is not central, what are the obstacles/challenges you face in making it so?

The Perils of Poorly Written E-Mail

Poorly written e-mail can sabotage careers, threaten productivity, and negatively affect a company’s image, while effective e-mail increases productivity and improves the workplace environment. It is an important skill that helps people advance their careers and keeps businesses competitive.

E-mail has become the primary method of business communication, surpassing the telephone as our preferred communication tool in the workplace (Datamonitor report, September 2007). While most people already sense that this is the case, we often don’t stop to consider the implications for our careers. It’s time for employers and employees to face the reality that e-mail writing skills could make or break a career. While most of us understand that poorly written e-mail can waste time, we forget that poorly written e-mail can also create costly misunderstandings, catapult deadlines, delay deliverables, impact people’s opinion of you, and sabotage your career.

Employers should also take note: A Write It Well survey found that more than half of American workers spend a third of their day reading and responding to e-mail and nearly 75 percent said that they could make better use of that time.  Wasted time affects a company’s overall productivity and financial statements and in today’s increasingly global economy, companies rely on e-mail to allow large teams across various time zones to work together efficiently on projects. When extreme time differences are combined with various languages, poorly written e-mail can be detrimental to a project’s results and deteriorate team dynamics, both of which directly affect a company’s bottom line. Poorly written e-mail can also affect a company’s public image. In a recent Write It Well survey, a whopping eighty-eight percent of respondents said that badly written e-mail leaves a poor impression of not only the writer, but the writer’s organization as well.

In addition to image, productivity and financial problems, poorly written e-mail can have serious legal implications. IT security and control firm, Sophos, recently found that seventy percent of businesses are concerned about data leakage via e-mail, and fifty percent of employees have sent e-mail with sensitive information to the wrong person causing corporate embarrassment, compliance breaches, and the loss of business-critical information. Whether by accident or because they didn’t think carefully, people send inappropriate and damaging e-mail everyday.  “In high stakes business litigation, the first place I look for smoking gun evidence that may win (or lose) the case is the e-mail server,” said Jonathan W. Hughes, a director of the San Francisco law firm Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk & Rabkin. 

Even with so much at stake, more professionals are entering the workforce without the ability to express themselves clearly in writing. According to The National Commission on Writing for America’s Families, Schools, and Colleges, schools and colleges today neglect writing and, as a result, many college graduates enter the workforce with poor writing skills. Yet, writing is a fundamental business skill. In fact, a recent survey by the Commission found that half of all companies assess writing skills during the hiring process and when making promotion decisions.

The solution is for companies to invest in business writing skills – and specifically, e-mail writing. E-mail writing is a specific skill that needs to be learned explains Terk. Our book, E-Mail – A Write It Well Guide, is a training tool designed to improve the reader’s e-mail writing skills in a very practical way. With a six-step writing plan and a focus on job relevance, readers are rewarded with immediate results. Designed for use by individuals, teams, or as part of classroom training, E-Mail – A Write It Well Guide is cost-effective and flexible.  A facilitator guide allows trainers, managers, and team leaders to lead their own e-mail workshop, and customized training programs are also available.  


Natasha Terk is President of Write It Well, a training and consulting company that helps people in the workplace communicate clearly and work together effectively. Write It Well offers step-by-step techniques to improve business writing through onsite and online training courses, as well as business writing books with companion facilitator guides. E-Mail – A Write It Well Guide, ISBN 978-0-9637455-9-0, is now available at amazon.com and bookstores nation-wide for $21.99.  Visit http://www.writeitwell.com/ for more information about Write It Well’s books, on-site training, and facilitator guides. 

Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail

There is a popular adage often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, the father of time management, “Failing to plan is planning to fail,” The quote may sound like music to your ears but planning for business analysis work is a key area which tries to zero in on the importance of planning in a software development project. Sadly, it is a step that is often overlooked.

The absence of proper planning can detrimentally affect timely meeting of the on-going project deliverables. To avoid such a failure it is vital that a project manager ensure that the requirement planning activity is given due importance, so that everything is under complete control.

So, how can a project manager ensure that a business analyst (BA) is given the power of execution to get the things delivered with the required level of quality and within the defined time frames. Let’s examine some of the key pointers essential to effective business analysis planning.

The Planning Stage

The planning stage gives a high level understanding of the intended software product. It gives the project team a pulse of the current systems and processes, while evaluating the existing deficiencies and identifying the key objectives that need to be addressed in the proposed software development activity.

The planning stage also helps the stakeholders identify the risks that may be associated with the project. Over time, the business requirements keep growing in an attempt to enhance the existing functionality. The objective of the planning stage is to make it absolutely clear – working in partnership with the client and the development teams – what full range of functions and content will be addressed.

The Kick-off Meeting

The kick-off meeting is the opening play of the project. It is an ideal occasion for the project team and the client to introduce them selves and set the project expectations and milestones. The meeting should identify the team roles across the entire spectrum of project related activities, in order to ensure that these activities get completed smoothly.

Requirements Tools and Templates

The business analyst analyses, documents, manages and presents the project requirements for review and approval to the client in a comprehensible manner. As part of the planning process, and early in the project, the BA should communicate to the customer the standard templates and requirement management tools they will adhere to, in order to document the requirements specifications.

For projects large in size and complexity, it is important to make use of requirements management tools to manage version change, track requirement status, communicate with stakeholders and reuse the requirements wherever possible.

Define Points of Contact and Escalation Hierarchy

Should there be any queries or concerns regarding any aspect of the planned project activity, it is important to define a clear process to identify the key points of contact in the project engagement with proper escalation mechanism.

The steering committee is responsible for advice on strategic direction, overseeing planning and implementation, resolving open issues, achieving the project deliverables and milestones, and for preparing a weekly project status report giving updated and accurate information as the project progresses.

The Requirements Sign-off: A Project Milestone

It is imperative that every project participant understand what the Requirements Sign-off means, and its associated impact on the project. Clients should not dismiss sign-off as meaningless, but rather consider it as an important project milestone.

Requirements sign-off means a formal agreement with the project stakeholders, stating that the contents of the requirements document, as drafted, are complete to the final projections and that there are no open issues left to be addressed.

Obtaining a requirements sign-off is typically the final task within the framework of Requirements Communication, which is an expression of the output of requirements gathering to all those concerned with the project.

Conclusion

A holistic approach is absolutely essential and indispensable for the success of the project. It takes effort to leverage and climb the ladder of success. The journey is indeed rewarding and also a voyage of discovery.


Nilesh A. Raje is a Sr.Consultant (Functional) with SYSTIME Computer Systems Ltd. SYSTIME (www.SYSTIME.net) is a leading global business provider delivering reliable, high-quality, cost-effective IT solutions and services. Nilesh has extensive experience in Business Analysis. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering and is also pursuing his Master’s in Business Administration. He has also been published earlier with International Institute of Business Analysis, a leading association in the world of business analysis, as well as in a previous issue of Project Times. In 2007, Nilesh represented his country as “The Youth Icon of India” in Brussels at the First CCS World Youth Forum in the European Parliament. Nilesh can be reached at [email protected].

Getting Back To Basics

First Fundamental: Understanding Overall Business Goals

I have noticed themes emerge during each of the last few years, which I believe embodied overall trends during the year.  For 2008, I believe “getting back to basics” is a theme that deserves great attention and consideration.  With the tremendous growth in both the acknowledgment and the embrace of the profession of business analysis, it’s hard not to imagine BAs being simply overwhelmed by the vastness of information that exists. Returning to the foundational principles of business analysis will make the vastness more navigable.

In a Google search of business analysis, the results weighed in with an impressive 73,300,000 hits. With all that information out there, where does one begin trying to understand how he or she might be successful in practicing even reasonably good business analysis techniques?  Returning to the fundamentals will enable you to utilize a kind of Occam’s Razor, or law of economy, in your technique.  Occam’s Razor is a principle originated in medieval times, and still used today, which states that entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity.  In other words; the simpler the better. 

There are five key fundamentals that will enable you to wield your own Occam’s Razor and derive great requirements: 

  1. Understand the overall business goals and the desire to build a solution that meets them
  2. Create a common understanding of “vocabulary” to be shared by all
  3. Identify the sources from which you will extract your requirements
  4. Understand which elicitation technique is most appropriate, considering your resources
  5. Understand – with absolute clarity –  what modeling techniques are most appropriate, given the solution(s) to be designed

This article will focus on the first fundamental. Successive articles will expand on the remaining four areas that must be practiced time and again on any BA development and management opportunity.

Be Clear On The Vision

So very often I have had the opportunity to parachute into a project where the requirements development process is well underway or about to get underway. Sadly, in the majority of cases, when I ask team members what the overall vision is for what they are doing, they are unable to answer this fundamental question. Without a common understanding of your destination, how can you and the rest of your team members be clear or confident on what directions you are to take in identifying stakeholders and defining, developing and even managing the requirements process?  No matter how large, how small or how urgently the client “has to have this,” creating a vision statement provides a map, and the BA is the compass that guides the organization in following the map. 

It isn’t my recommendation to write a lengthy vision statement; quality rules, not quantity.  In order to accurately define a vision statement for the project that you are about to begin or are currently adrift in, a simple question may prove to be the guiding light: “Is what we are doing adding value to the organization in that it supports the organization’s overall business goals, values, vision or mission?”

If you or any of your team members cannot answer this question in a short and concise manner, your project is at risk.

Some basic steps can be taken to correct the navigation instrument that will guide you to your destination.  Simply stated, the vision answers the who, what, why, when, where and how of what you are about to embark upon.  Consider this: if you were to get in an elevator at the lobby level and the executive sponsor were with you, could you accurately describe to him or her in one minute or less what it is that you are working on?  That’s right-a vision statement is your “elevator” speech, but from a business point of view.

There is no question that this will often evolve into a project charter or form the basis from which you will continue to refine your business case.  This is the starting point and will continue to provide input into other areas of your project, so above all, be clear on what you will include in your vision statement.  Here are some guidelines that I recommend:

  1. Clearly articulate the reason(s) that stakeholders are seeking to develop a solution
  2. Identify who the consumers of this solution will be
  3. Determine if the solution supports the overall business goals and objectives

Facilitating Consensus Among Stakeholders

If you are clear about the above process, then a facilitated session with key stakeholders and the executive sponsor with the intent of verifying these guiding statements should prove to be a relatively easy task.  Have the group identify the following:

  1. Why is there a need for a particular project?  Are we solving a problem?  Taking advantage of an opportunity?
  2. Who are the consumers of the end result (external customers, internal users, etc.)?
  3. What benefits will the organization realize and the consumer of the solution realize? Can we quantify those benefits?
  4. What is the nature of the solution?  Is it an improvement to an existing system or process? Are we in the hunt for a new product or service? Are we taking on the implementation of a complex system?
  5. If it is a service we are going to offer, will it be competitive or allow our organization to remain competitive in the marketplace?  Will it be a unique offering or service that consumers will actually want or use?

All of these questions can be answered using a variety of facilitation techniques, including

  • Brainstorming, or the nominal group technique
  • Requirements identification
  • Requirements prioritization
  • Consensus building
  • Workshops
  • Gap analysis

Prioritize the results if necessary but, above everything else, be certain that all the stakeholders come to a consensus on the vision statement and that it aligns with the overall business objectives and goals.  Using the steps outlined, one should be able to derive a vision statement. The following example is a vision statement for the development of a travel and expense management solution:

Any individual or business unit  that incurs expenses will immediately realize that automating such things as credit card downloads, approval chains, assigning GL codes, and converting foreign currencies will improve the speed and efficiency with which reports can be written and approved. Unlike the conventional and cumbersome means of filling in a spreadsheet, a Web-based product will not only provide the convenience of accessibility, but will also prove to be a great tool for auditing and evaluating types of expenses incurred, and negotiating travel expenditures with respective vendors.

The Three Ls of Business Analysis

I’m sure you’ve heard the three Ls of real estate:  location, location, location.  It’s the overriding, fundamental principal that every realtor knows.  For BAs, the word (and function) “quantify” is our equivalent mantra.  Here’s the best part about quantifying your findings: it’s empowering. 

Too often BAs abdicate their true role and become order takers.  Quantifying your findings will restore your true role as an objective advisor.  It takes the burden from you of being the bearer of bad news, since the numbers-the expected ROI or Internal Rate of Return (IRR), the amount and value of resources required, the deliverables-speak for themselves.  Quantifying the potential outcome will make the case for either assuredly moving forward or knowing that a project or program is not feasible. 

Take, for example, a retailer whose mission is to be number one in sales in their market.  Does it mean they are going to source the merchandise they sell or manufacture their own as well?  The BA’s role is to provide quantification to demonstrate outcomes for both sourcing and manufacturing options. Eliciting proper requirements is critical at this stage to determine, among other needs, what the target market should be, who the customers are, who is responsible for implementation and product development in its entirety.  

The Fundamental Edge

In a favorite quote of mine by John F. Kennedy, he said, “There are risks and costs to a program of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.”  Heady stuff, but it certainly applies when the success or failure of a business or organization is at stake. 

Time and time again I have witnessed client/customer pressures to produce quality services, and the effects that these pressures have had on a project team and BAs due to “cutting corners” in order to meet these demands.  Failure to get back to basics will result in increased risk, decreased quality and budgets that amount to, or exceed, the number of hits that Google produces when you perform a search for business analysis!

These are just a few of the risks BAs face as they perform their jobs.  However, deploying the fundamentals will ensure that you provide your best counsel for the organization’s success.

This is the first in a five part series of articles by Glenn Brûlé.


Glenn R. Brûlé has more than 18 years experience in many facets of business, including project management, business analysis, software design and facilitation. At ESI (www.esi-intl.com), he is responsible for supporting a global team of business consultants working with Fortune 1000 organizations. As the Director at Large for the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA), Brûlé’s primary responsibility is to form local chapters of the IIBA around the world by working with volunteers from organizations across various industries, including financial services, manufacturing, pharmaceutical, insurance and automotive, as well as government agencies.

Managing Requirements: Can ITIL help?

Over the last six months I have presented to numerous audiences on the topic of how Business Analysis and IT Service Management (based on ITIL) can work together, indeed must work together, to drive the level of quality and cost-effectiveness we are all seeking within the IT solutions space.

Interestingly, there has been a notable difference in the nature of the feedback

  • PM/BA audiences (such as those at the Project Summit / BA World events) have provided fairly positive feedback (and in fact the trend is upward over time)
  • ITIL knowledgeable/experienced audience feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, to the point where they are asking to have the presentation brought to their own organizations!

I am predicting that over time, as BAs look for additional ways to strengthen the rigor of their business cases, they will increasingly rely on the IT organization’s use of ITIL as a basis for defining and driving fundamental BA/IT interactions, including change management and financial characterization of solution development, deployment, and operation.

If you are a BA, do you work within or with an ITIL-based IT organization?  If so, can you identify specific benefits that have emerged from the IT organization taking the ITIL path?


Terry Longo has more than 25 years of IT experience, including software development, system and network administration, and instructing, as well as being responsible for the requirements, project management, and delivery aspects of complex training solutions. He currently holds the IT Service Manager ITIL and is responsible for HP Education’s ITIL, Project Management and Business Analysis curriculums in the US. Terry can be reached through http://www.hp.com/education/sections/pm_bus_analy.html or at [email protected]