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“Oh No, You Gave Me What I Asked For!”

Part 2: Using Consulting Skills to Uncover Expectations

As presented in Part 1 of this article, project professionals realize that projects fail when customer requirements are not clearly defined and customer expectations are not met. Project managers and business analysts face a number of challenges in developing the kind of usable products that customers expect.

In Part 1, we mentioned five pitfalls to uncovering expectations: 1) the Time Trap, 2) Stated Requirements Don’t Meet Expectations, 3) Ineffective Questioning, 4) Using the Wrong Techniques and 5) Accepting Solutions Presented by the Business. This article continues the discussion by addressing how these common pitfalls can be addressed by using a consulting approach and focuses on consultative questioning.

Using Consulting Skills to Overcome Requirements Pitfalls

Overcoming the many pitfalls described in Part 1 requires a consultative approach. Why is that? Being a consultant to the business helps ensure that expectations are met. The background of a situation is assessed by understanding the business problem, analyzing the current state, understanding the limitations, and gathering supporting statistics that detail the exact impact of the current situation. The project professional is then in an excellent position to recommend a solution that will solve the business problem at hand. Effective consultants have learned that the key to success includes:

  1. Asking questions to uncover problems and synthesizing the responses
  2. Analyzing those problems
  3. Advising clients by recommending solutions.

This article explores Step 1 and focuses on consultative questioning.

Asking the Right Questions

Asking the right requirements questions can be challenging, because we need the right context for asking good questions. Being a consultant requires asking questions to obtain the right perspective, before trying to understand the details of the end product. Once we have the context, we can then move on to questions related to our product.

A few good consultative questions to ask, regardless of the product or service of the project, always include the business context with such questions as:

  1. What business problems are being solved with the project?
  2. What opportunities is the organization taking advantage of?
  3. What are the external threats that this project addresses?
  4. How does the project take advantage of the organization’s strengths or compensate for its weaknesses?
  5. What is the product description and project vision?
  6. How does this project link to the organization’s strategic direction?
  7. How will this product be perceived in this organization?

A few good questions for understanding the project context can include such things as:

  1. How much are you willing to spend on this project?
  2. What is the priority of this project in relation to the other projects in this portfolio/program/organization/division?
  3. What are your time constraints and what causes them?
  4. What risks do you see with this project?
  5. Who/who else should we talk to?
  6. Who are the subject matter experts and what experience do they have?
  7. If you had to choose among time and cost, scope, and quality which is the most important to you? Least?

Some good questions for learning high-level product requirements includes such things as:

  1. To what extent will this new product cause business processes to change? Which ones will change and in what way?

    Tip: avoid questions related to detailed features and functions until the business, project, and product context are clearly understood and documented.

  2. What do people need to know in order to use this product?
  3. How will internal and external customers use the product
  4. How will the product be sold? Maintained? Supported?
  5. What impacts to other areas are you aware of?
  6. How stable are the product requirements?
  7. Tell me about the best/worst product feature you’ve encountered? Easiest/hardest product to use that you’ve had to use?

Synthesizing Responses

Synthesizing responses uses active listening skills to take a great deal of disparate information and organize it in a way that is useful to the appropriate stakeholders. It starts with active listening, which involves ensuring that what is said by the speaker is actually heard correctly and completely by the listener. The listener needs to ask clarifying questions and paraphrase what is thought to be heard. Asking good and relevant questions builds confidence in the speaker that there are no assumptions or misconceptions on the part of the listener.

To effectively synthesize information, critical thinking skills are needed along with the ability to:

  • Process large amounts of information. Similar past experience can be useful, but care should be taken to avoid making assumptions based on past project experiences.
  • Organize, discriminate, and discern disparate pieces of information, putting them together in concise and useful ways.
  • Distinguish between what’s important from what is not, and discard the unimportant. Experience is invaluable in making this determination. Analysis tools can also be extremely helpful. For example, Pareto analysis is a helpful technique for determining the major factors causing a business problem. It uncovers the critical 20% of causes that lead to 80% of the results.

Traceability and Creating Structure from Chaos

A useful tool in synthesizing a large amount of information is the traceability matrix, which is a table for recording requirements. The structure of this table is hierarchical, so that high-level requirements can be documented in the beginning of the project and details can be added as more is learned. In addition, requirements attributes, such as a unique identifier, textual description, requirements source, rationale, priority and many more can help categorize requirements as they surface. , a globally recognized business analysis and project management training company. Each has presented numerous workshops, seminars, and training classes to thousands of participants on 3 different continents. They regularly speak on business analysis and project management topics at Business Analyst World conferences and Project Management Institute (PMI) Global Congresses. Elizabeth and Richard are frequent contributors of articles to international trade publications such as CIO; ComputerWorld; BA Times; PMI PM-Network Magazine; the University of Houston book, IT Project Management Readings; Certification Magazine, ICFAI Professional Reference Book – Project Management-Emerging Perspectives; and many others. Elizabeth and Richard are also contributing to the Fourth Edition of the PMBOK in a section on collecting requirements.

Tip: Use traceability to help ensure that each requirement is linked with project deliverables, project objectives, business problems, and business objectives, preventing rogue requirements from sneaking into the project.

Although there are many techniques for creating structure from chaos, traceability provides the most effective way to organize large amounts of disparate pieces of information, ultimately helping to ensure that every requirement adds value, that what was approved is actually implemented, and that changes are controlled. It does so by providing a structure that allows requirements to be linked to business and project objectives, business problems, and deliverables. Traceability also helps ensure that the product can be built, tested and verified after implementation. Finally, logical groupings of the table help manage changes more easily.

Summary

Uncovering expectations takes time and requires the art of consultative questioning. In this article, we focused on tips for effective questioning. We presented several ideas and examples of asking the right questions, regardless of the product or service of the project. We stressed the importance of synthesizing the information obtained to make it relevant. We also showed how a traceability matrix can be a useful tool for synthesizing sizable amounts of information like requirements. Part 3 will conclude the series with the remaining steps of the consulting process, and will focus on analysis and recommendations.

 


Elizabeth Larson, CBAP, PMP and Richard Larson, CBAP, PMP are Co-Principals of Watermark Learning (www.watermarklearning.com), a globally recognized business analysis and project management training company. Each has presented numerous workshops, seminars, and training classes to thousands of participants on 3 different continents. They regularly speak on business analysis and project management topics at Business Analyst World conferences and Project Management Institute (PMI) Global Congresses. Elizabeth and Richard are frequent contributors of articles to international trade publications such as CIO; ComputerWorld; BA Times; PMI PM-Network Magazine; the University of Houston book, IT Project Management Readings; Certification Magazine, ICFAI Professional Reference Book – Project Management-Emerging Perspectives; and many others. Elizabeth and Richard are also contributing to the Fourth Edition of the PMBOK in a section on collecting requirements.

Business Process Modelling or “Life without Use Cases”

I recently became involved in a project that has been ongoing for the last 18 months. In that time, a lot of documentation had been developed and over 80 use cases have been written. The problem is, that despite this activity, the system development has not progressed and the project is facing a fast approaching deadline. The team is now trying to develop requirements specifications, prototype and build-of-the system all at the same time. Big Challenge!

I am working in an agile environment where there is rapid change and the business needs are evolving, and this needs to be managed. As we know Requirements are never really complete until the project is finished, as the needs of the business will inevitably change over the life of the project’s development.

In this instance, the project manager does not like use cases and has decided that a process orientation modelling approach is required to meet the deadline. The approach is to develop business process maps from the user pathways, document the information flows, develop prototypes and then build the system. Use cases are “banned” and process mapping is the key focus for business analysis and the BA team.

As a BA, use cases have been the main way to capture functional requirements for a system, so at first I was a little perplexed. I thought to myself, “if we don’t have documented requirements specifications (via use cases or an alternate method), then how will the developers know what to build, how will the clients know we have the requirements right and what requirements will we test the system against?” Will process maps be enough?

Anyway, I started to map my processes and sub processes for the system. The rest of the BA team and I are working side-by-side with the information architects and developers and, as each process map is delivered, a prototype is built and shown to the client area. Sign off and development begins (all within a week!). It’s a hectic schedule but it seems to be working.

The business maps are slowly uncovering the business requirements and are a key communication tool for the project team and business area to discuss the “current” and “future state” requirements for the system. The process documentation is highlighting the inputs, outputs and document flows for the system and, importantly, the client understands this type of documentation and is therefore able to quickly sign-off on the processes. The project is now gaining some traction and we are progressing well along our time-lines, and meeting the deliverable for each stage of development.

When I discussed this Case Study with a colleague of mine, he commented that this points to an oft overlooked element for requirements- that of communication. The requirements specifications task is not just about documenting the requirements it is also about communicating them and, as business analysts, we need to be flexible around the vehicles we use to communicate. We should not push the communication vehicle we are comfortable with, rather we should ensure that the requirements are accurately communicated via a vehicle that our clients are comfortable with. This requires flexibility.

The real key to our success in navigating this agile environment has been teamwork and collaboration between the development, analyst and business teams. Without this interaction, between members, our project would not be progressing well. Communication is so important and as an agile analyst, I believe this capability is a core skill in an agile environment.

I must admit that when I look at the node map for the business processes and sub processes, it does look strangely like a use case “context diagram” and the documentation does indeed specify the functional requirements but as long as we don’t format these documents as “use cases”, the project manager is happy. For me, I guess these documents are not exactly use cases, however “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Adrian Marchis from Modern Analyst commented on my recent blog about Business Process Modelling and agreed that a “use case shows the steps (or process) that an actor employs in order to accomplish a goal” and, therefore, “process vs. use case is just a name”. He suggested that in reality the details of a use case can be documented as either a use case or as an activity diagram or process flow. He noted that although clients may like the process flow format for its visual properties, it does have one drawback and that is that process flows may not offer the same level of detail found when using use case specifications.

Business process modelling may be a different take on documentation of system requirements for the team, but the client area is happy and, so far, the developers are comfortable with the level of requirements specifications contained in the process maps and associated documentation.


Maria Murphy is a business manager and information and communications specialist. She has over 10 years senior management experience within the medical/pharmaceutical industry, not-for-profit organisations and government. She has a reputation for innovation, managing change, driving strategy implementation and successfully delivering programs. She has extensive experience in the management of large federal government contracts, project management of large scale ICT business system reviews, development of requirements, systems planning and change management. Maria is currently a consultant with SMS Management and Technology. She is the Regional Lead for a Business Analysis at SMS and provides advice to her colleagues on developing requirements specifications for appropriate IT systems to support clients’ programs and initiatives.

 

Maria is on the Board of WIC (Women in Information and Communication), is a member of the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA), Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD), The Australian Computer Society (ACS) and The Australian Business Analysis Association (ABAA). She can be reached at [email protected]

“Oh No, You Gave Me What I Asked For!”

Part 1: Common Pitfalls to Uncovering Expectations

Project professionals – specifically project managers and business analysts – realize that no matter how well projects are executed, projects still fail when customer requirements are not clearly defined and customer expectations are not met.

“Uncovering expectations takes a commitment to defining requirements in sufficient detail to understand what those expectations truly are.”

Uncovering expectations takes time and requires the art of consultative questioning. It demands patience with clients who have difficulty articulating their requirements. It requires a process for not only eliciting the requirements, but also for analyzing, documenting, and validating them. Finally, uncovering expectations takes a commitment to defining requirements in sufficient detail to understand what those expectations truly are.

This two-part article discusses five common pitfalls and the associated risks of not uncovering expectations in part one and, in part two, how a consulting approach will help mitigate them.

Requirements and Expectations

According to various standards bodies such as PMI, IIBA, and IEEE, a requirement defines a condition or capability needed to solve a problem or achieve an objective that must be met by a system or system component to satisfy a contract, standard, or specification.

Requirements, then, state a business need and describe how the solution, or final product, will meet that need. Detailed requirements describe such things as what the end-user of the product needs to know or do or have, and how they need to use the product.

It is helpful to think of requirements as being stated, whether spoken and/or documented. Expectations on the other hand, while also requirements, are not usually articulated by the sponsor and client stakeholders. We need to meet both expectations and stated requirements in order to satisfy business needs and produce enduring results. When we ignore expectations, even if we have been meticulous in documenting stated requirements, we are apt to develop unusable products.

Common Pitfalls

1) The Time Trap

One of the challenges cited frequently in our informal research is what we call the Time Trap. There are two parts to the time trap. The first is that project professionals usually feel they are not given enough time to define requirements, let alone uncover expectations.

The second is that clients are not always available to define their requirements. We frequently hear from key clients that they don’t have time to attend requirements workshops, for instance. We’re then left with undesirable alternatives. We can postpone the meetings and delay the project, we can hold the workshops without the clients, or we can proceed with incomplete requirements. Each one of these alternatives has the associated risk of incomplete requirements, surprises, rework, and expense. Research shows the total percentage of project budget due to requirements defects is typically from 25 to 40 percent and costs the economy $59.5 billion annually (SEI study, 7/15/2005).

2) Stated Requirements Don’t Meet Expectations

Another pitfall is assuming that the requirements stated by the sponsor and clients will produce a product that actually works, and will be used. In other words, we mistakenly assume that if we get the sponsor and clients to articulate their requirements, the product will meet their expectations. Having sponsors state their requirements is only the beginning of the process. If we collect the requirements as given without a consultative approach, it is highly unlikely that the end product will meet expectations.

3) Ineffective Questioning

“Project professionals need to master the art of asking questions to ensure expectations are discovered.”

One reason that stated requirements may not meet customer expectations is because ineffective techniques are used to ask questions about the requirements. Project professionals need to master the art of asking questions to ensure expectations are discovered. Asking questions like “what are your requirements for this project?” is not apt to yield successful results. Yes, surprisingly, this is a frequent type of question asked!

Asking the wrong questions, even when asked with good intentions, can lead to unwanted results. The categories discussed here include:

  • Open- vs. closed-ended questions 
  • Solution presentation 
  • Feature fallacy. 
  • Questioning Style

Open- vs. closed-ended questions. Some project managers and business analysts erroneously think it best to always ask questions that allow the interviewee to expand their thoughts, avoiding what are called closed-ended questions. Asking these expansion questions exclusively can be time-consuming and can make the elicitation process longer than needed.

Solution presentation occurs when we fall into the trap of presenting solutions that sound like questions. Also known as leading questions, these closed-ended questions often force the interviewee into a position of disagreeing with the interviewer or worse yet, feeling foolish. Therefore, by avoiding leading questions, such as “wouldn’t it be better to…” or “have you ever thought about…” we reduce the risk of creating barriers to communication. Listen to yourself during the course of a day and count how many times you ask leading questions.

Feature fallacy occurs when either the interviewer or the interviewee focuses on the features and functions of the product before determining how the product fits into the context of both the business and the project. It is a pitfall that occurs across disciplines. As an example, software engineers and vendors sometimes concentrate on desirable features, rather than determining whether the software will solve real business problems or the impact of the software on the organization.

In a recent article, James Surowiecki discusses the issues related to what he calls “feature creep” (Surowiecki, May 28, 2007,

“People are attracted to features, but will not be happy without usability.”

p28). Citing statistics for consumer returns on defective but difficult-to-use products, Surowiecki shows how many non-defective items are returned annually. Sixty percent of those participating in a focus group picked products with more features. However, when asked to use the product, they became frustrated as “feature fatigue” took over. People are attracted to features, but will not be happy without usability.

Questioning Style. Another pitfall is asking the right questions the wrong way, which can destroy trust and create barriers between interviewer and interviewee. If we are to elicit good requirements, we need to put the interviewee at ease. We need to build trust with our stakeholders and asking questions in a way that does not facilitate communication, even if they are very good questions, can produce unintentional negative results. Here are three sins that can destroy trust.

  • Asking ‘why’ accusingly. Sometimes the interviewer can give the impression of being a prosecuting attorney. Asking ‘why’ directly can put some people on the defensive and should be avoided. 
  • Showing lack of interest. There are many ways to show that the interviewer is not engaged. Checking cell phones is an obvious one. Less so are neutral non-verbals, such as lack of eye contact, slouching, etc, which while not actively presenting communications barriers, can inhibit the conversation. 
  • Using inappropriate non-verbals, given the culture of the interviewer. How we show that we are engaged in the conversation differs from culture to culture. Making the assumption that everyone responds similarly to engagement signals and affirmation can lead to barriers and distrust.

4) Using The Wrong Techniques

Even experienced project professionals are guilty of using the same techniques repeatedly, even when the techniques are not appropriate for the project at hand. For example, using business process modeling for a reporting function may not uncover the true requirements. Using inappropriate techniques can result in clients answering the wrong questions, thereby providing incomplete or incorrect requirements. This can result in being surprised at the end of a project with sponsors saying, “yes, I know that’s what I said I want. But it’s not what I really need!”

5) Accepting Solutions Presented by the Business and Technical Experts

A final pitfall is accepting a business solution provided by the sponsor and other key stakeholders. Although not a good practice, it’s common for business stakeholders to try to save time by giving specific product details (e.g. fields on a database table) without providing business reasons. Accepting solutions presented by business stakeholders forces project managers into the role of order takers, which usually leads to unusable and unused products.

A related pitfall is feeling constrained by an imposed technical solution, often forcing business needs to be subjugated to technical architectures, rather than having technical architecture support the business need. Forcing business solutions without taking existing business processes or needs into account, invariably leads to customer disappointment.

Overcoming Requirements Pitfalls

Look for the conclusion to this two-part article in the next Business Analyst Times, as we explore overcoming the above pitfalls. The consultative approach described shows how being a consultant to the business helps ensure that expectations are met. Part two explores practical approaches to meeting and exceeding expectations through understanding the business problem, and recommending solutions that meet real business needs, not just stated requirements.

 

Elizabeth Larson, PMP, CBAP, and Richard Larson, PMP, CBAP are Co-Principals of Watermark Learning (www.watermarklearning.com), a globally recognized business analysis and project management skill development company.

Over 15 years, they have used their extensive experience to develop Watermark Learning’s training into a unique approach that combines industry best practices, a practical approach, and an engaging format. Attendees immediately learn the retainable real-world skills necessary to produce enduring results.

Each has presented numerous workshops, seminars, and training classes to thousands of participants on tree different continents. Their speaking history includes regular appearances at Project Management Institute (PMI) North American, European, and Asia-Pacific Congresses and PMI chapter meetings.

Both were recognized in 2006-2007 as two of the world’s first registered CBAPs (Certified Business Analysis Professionals) by the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA). They also serve on the BABOK development and review team. Both are certified project management professionals (PMP) through PMI, and are contributors to the upcoming 4th edition of the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK).

References

Project Management Institute (2004). A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge(PMBOK®) (2004 ed.). Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
International Institute of Business Analysis (2006). A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge, version 1.6. http://www.theiiba.org. 
SEI updated May 12, 2005 viewed 7/15/05. System Quality Requirements Engineering (SQUARE) Project, http://www.cert.org/sse/square.html
 
Surowiecki, J. (2007, May 28) Financial Page Feature Presentation, New Yorker Magazine, page 28.

 


BA Rising

So, last month I covered Business Analysis, and How I Came to Realize What It Was And What It Meant. This month, I want to go more into what it means, and why the increased influence of BA (and the CBAP certification) is so important.

The short version is this: Systems are increasingly important in our quality of life (are you on the no-fly list yet?), and good BA leads to good systems, bad BA leads to Gartner and Standish Group negative statistics (if you don’t know what these groups do, Google them). BAs don’t always have the influence it takes to prevent these bad outcomes, but they should, and they will, now that the IIBA has established some neutral standards.

So, why BA – why can’t we build good systems without it? PMs are trained to deliver on time and under budget, so what’s the problem? (Hint – How hard is it to deliver on time and under budget? How much have you got to spend by when?) If you read the literature, you will see that MOST causes of project failure are related to stakeholders and requirements. These are failures of BA, by definition of the profession, and by default since they are not key to PMI.

I want to make the statement that the techniques of BA work because they are exactly those of due diligence. Sometimes we say that BA is just common sense, then laugh when we realize how uncommon it is. Due diligence IS common sense. Surely no one objects to due diligence? Indeed, why should anyone be concerned about the rise of due diligence? Isn’t that for dullards?

Before anyone spends millions of dollars (or even thousands), or takes any risk of consequence, it pays to do some amount of homework. If the homework seems overwhelming, expensive, or incomprehensible, that just means that the first 10 hours of homework are VERY important. They may be even MORE important than the next 100, or even 1000 hours. There is a LOT of earned value in doing ANY thinking versus none. Once thinking gets to thousands of hours, there is increasing risk of ossification, and the benefits diminish. In spite of this, a common complaint is “We don’t have time for analysis,” as if none were better than too little.

A common project mistake is to assign too much earned value to development, and not enough to analysis. Million dollar mistakes rarely happen at the field definition level, and are typically easy to explain and correct. This is true in spite of the fact that a significant percentage of labor and time may be spent on field level issues, or other technical concerns. Most of the value and risk control in the project may go to the first hours of analysis, with the development being quite low risk, as the “big” problems are actually resolved. It pays to control costs with analysis, and does NOT pay to control it with code change control.

This seems obvious enough, but analysis is overlooked and under-respected on more than a few projects – witness the 35% success rate of projects!t is, in fact, overlooked by the society in general. My father was once a Quality Analyst for a bank. “What do you do?”, I asked? “I make people think.”, he said. “Thinking is painful, and left to themselves, many won’t do it.”

Hmmm. The problem is, that the lax attitude about thinking is due to the illusion that we understand something is so strong. “I’ve been doing this for years, I know what to do!” In effect, EVERYONE thinks they understand, therefore, there is no need for an analyst – no one is (admits to being) confused – that would be awkward, scary even. In my experience, EVERYONE thinks they are THE analyst. It is, apparently, a strong hero role, even if we are only legends in our own minds.

Think about George Washington, fighting a desperate and losing war with England. In the midst of his desperation, he invented enterprise analysis, from a sheer common sense need – “What does the continental army consist of, what is it not, and what can we do about it?” That is bravery, true action, in the face of seemingly insoluble problems.

Imagine making these decisions without a sense of the whole enterprise. Imagine making these decisions under illusions of how coherent the enterprise was, instead of basing them on the best intelligence available.

Imagine pushing resources around “just because you can”.

And if you want to imagine those things, just imagine working on any project for the last 100,000 years, because human nature is such that it prefers illusion to facts, egos to inventories and simplistic principles to problem solving. Our progress comes in spite of ourselves, because nature supports common sense, and punishes lack of care.

The saying that ” common sense is none too common,” applies especially to BA. BA is the refined, professional level, experience based, highly predictive form of common sense. BAs don’t cite common sense; they practice it. They practice it because they are willing to learn, and think, in spite of the petty discomforts.

An example of how rare common sense actually is: Everyone knows you have to think of your customers to have a successful product (at least everyone would select it correctly on a multiple choice test). In spite of this fact, IBM was able to release the PCjr, with no applications that anyone cared about. IBM followed this up by dissing any employees who pointed out the problem. IBM’s slow decline in the late 80s and early 90s was inevitable, and that IBM no longer exists.

Professional BAs really believe in practicing due diligence, because they have seen what happens when you don’t. They are not in denial, and not afraid of the truth. They believe it, and live it, where others don’t, for whatever reasons. YES, they can see the future, because they remember the past.

In a world where “doing it because you can” is the message from the top, it’s easy to abandon due diligence – the paychecks can flow for years sometimes. It is much harder to adopt the Quixotic position – things are worth saving, improving; the world deserves to be a better place.

Given the importance of systems to the state of the future world (identity systems, micro-cash, medical imaging, health management, internet security, etc.), does anyone doubt that they want BA to rise?

This is an important question, for the following critical, political reason: If BA represents stakeholder value, doesn’t that mean that the Project Manager actually reports to the BA, instead of the other way around? Why or why not? Don’t most PMs wish they had a better handle on the requirements before the deadlines and budgets are set? Stay tuned.

Our society has hardly started building systems. We have traffic managements systems to build that will save lives, medical management systems that will empower patients, and identity systems that benefit the users (us) as well as the implementors (them?).

If anyone is against BA, they are against common sense, stakeholder interests, due diligence, and successful outcomes for a democratic society. If you are out there, and don’t want to play, please stand up, so the rest of us can work around you.

BA Rising

This is the first entry in Marcos Ferrer’s blog, BA Rising, an an ongoing series where Marcos shares his views, observations and thoughts on business analysis – and would like you to share yours.

When I was young, I asked my dad what he did at work. “I’m an analyst”, he responded.

In the course of my career I have run into (and sometimes been grouped with) systems analysts, financial analysts, organizational analysts, sales analysts, marketing analysts, computer analysts, network analysts, security analysts, user interface analysts, software analysts, investment analysts, business analysts, enterprise analysts, quality assurance, analysts who analyze analysis, psycho-analysts, and probably others.

Needless to say, my father’s answer, back then, didn’t provide much insight as to what he did to keep the family going. In fact, at the time, I didn’t give it any thought at all. Most of the analysts seemed like people who knew some stuff about some specialty, that’s all. Most were pretty smart, but not all.

Nor did it make sense that in my time there, IBM called me a Systems Engineer. Yet, It didn’t bother me; I figured they knew what to call it. Still, it didn’t feel like engineering. To me if just seemed like a bunch of things to know about computers – and the world – that let you help your customers. Some of it was just knowing that large inventories at year-end were financially punishing to businesses that had them. Some of it (e.g., correct balanced systems and network configuration) was stuff that customers could have figured out for themselves, if IBM had provided the means on-line. Instead, IBM’s engineering support systems gave me information power with my customers, and I used it to leverage information out of them concerning their business interests, becoming an analyst without knowing it.

When Mendes Worldwide (high tech bowling company) called me an Industry Rep, again, it didn’t bother me. They must know! When a client of mine installed the world’s first fully automated duckpin bowling center, after a year of negotiations and Excel “what ifs” with Duckpin industry officials, Duckpin Bowling Center proprietors and potential investors, someone said to me that I must really know the business. Again, I was operating as an analyst, without even knowing to call it that.

What I figured out later (when I found IIBA) was that I was practicing business analysis the whole time. I just didn’t know it was business analysis. I know I didn’t know, because every boss I ever had (except one) challenged me by spluttering “What are you doing, why are you doing that?” And with comments like, “don’t let me catch you doing that ever again!” And I never knew what to say except “But, it’s working!” and “I promise you‘ll never catch me doing that again!”

Over time, I met other people who made things work. They made them work well. They were different from the ones who made things look good. The “look-gooders” made things look good just long enough to get promoted, so someone else would actually have to fix the mess. A small number of people seemed to be able to make things look good AND make them work. All these people seemed to be CEOs; high-level executives, but certainly not business analysts.

What the “make things work” people did, always made sense, got results, and allowed energy time and resources to complete tasks and quickly focus on new opportunities,

In a word, these people left things better than they found them.

That was not easy at IBM, nor is it easy in organizations of any size larger than, say, one person. None of this was identified with business analysis, or analysis of any kind – at least not by my bosses at IBM in 1983 – this changed later.

The Eureka moment for me came while I was consulting with DOL as a client/server analyst. Peter Gordon introduced me to the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA, www.theiiba.org). I read their material, and then their Book of Knowledge (if that sounds pretentious, remember that it is really the Business Analysis Book of Knowledge – BABOK – the name adds a little humility, in my opinion, and all to the good).

The IIBA BABOK had summarized (it is still a work in progress) all my knowledge and more techniques than I had ever heard of, but it all made sense – anyone trying to “git ‘er to work” instead of just “git ‘er done”, might do exactly the things listed in the BABOK.

Business analysis meant thinking/being thoughtful! That’s what first attracted me to IBM – the motto – “Think” – and what chased me away later – the lack of actual thinking. Business analysis is what one does, if one really cares about achieving the outcome! Risk analysis doesn’t pay if you will get promoted regardless of project outcome. It only pays if you care, AND if you use it wisely, for issues that the project can truly affect. Anyone with major meteor (>50km diameter) strikes in their risk plan is obsessive, not thorough, and not to be admired, as they have no concept of risk vs. cost. Anyone considering small (<.0.1m diameter) micrometeor strikes, is working on space travel, or is also (frankly) screwy.

Now that I realize my “common sense” skills, that I took for granted and have used during my career, really consisted of BA practices and CBAP standards, I’m hooked. Stay tuned. It will hook you too. Imagine a world where stuff worked better – stuff like medical care, flight safety, telecommuting, war plans, credit protection, law enforcement, more.

Remember, there is strength in numbers – the more CBAPs there are, the better our chances of being heard, and making the difference that is so needed. Join us, or give up and be a spectator. I know you will join, because if you could help it, you would have quit this complex and difficult career long ago.

Again, welcome, and please share your thoughts with us.

, is an experienced teacher, public speaker, and instructor with ESI International. He has over 20 years of experience in the practice of business analysis and the application of Information Technology for process improvement. Mr. Ferrer began his BA career in 1982, while still a student at the University of Chicago, when he developed a consulting practice (he didn’t know it was BA then) with local property management and accounting firms. After graduating in 1983, Mr. Ferrer joined IBM in Chicago, where he worked on requirements and systems implementations in a number of different fields. In 1990 Mr. Ferrer became an independent consultant, again working with a variety of customers, most notably in the Family Entertainment industry. He has also worked on multiple government systems projects and “business” projects, including A-76 work.

In November of 2006 Mr. Ferrer became one of the first 16 CBAPs certified by the IIBA. He has served as VP for Certification at theDC-Metro chapter of the IIBA, and is speaking publicly and promoting certification (CBAP) on behalf of that chapter (www.iibadc.org).

Copyright 2007, Marcos Ferrer. All rights reserved.
07/27/07 


Marcos Ferrer, CBAP