Friday, 31 August 2007 09:17

BA Rising

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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.

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Marcos Ferrer

Marcos Ferrer, CBAP has over 20 years experience in the practice of business analysis and the application of Information Technology for process improvement. Following graduation in 1983 from the University of Chicago, Mr. Ferrer joined IBM in Chicago, where he worked on requirements and systems implementations in diverse industries. His recent projects include working requirements for the Veteran's Administration, introducing BA practices at the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, and creating bowling industry models for NRG Bowl LLC. In November 2006, Marcos Ferrer is one of the first CBAPs certified by the IIBA. He has served as an elected member of the DC-Metro chapter of the IIBA, most recently as President, and assisted in the writing of the BOK 2.0 test.

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