Tuesday, 15 November 2011 11:15

The Business Internist

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FEATURENov15thAs the business analyst profession comes of age there is still vagueness and an associated insecurity if not inferiority among the practitioners of the craft. Since many business analysts gravitated to business analysis involuntarily there is a general feeling that business analysts are a make-shift position, a fill-in, or perhaps just a blame-attractor.  The current enthusiasm for agile software development approaches where the developers talk directly to the business without the intervention of a business analyst increases the feeling among business analysts that their profession, accidentally or purposefully adopted, is in peril.

So, what do you say when someone asks you what a business analyst does? You might say that you are a business internist.  With that statement you have defined a position that is specific, prestigious, and will not disappear in the face of an agile software development onslaught.  Besides, your mother or Aunt Mabel can boast, “My kid is a doctor.”  What is an internist?  Read on.

An internist is defined by Wikipedia as “the medical specialty concerned with the diagnosis, management and non-surgical treatment of unusual or serious diseases”.  The internist is not the doctor who operates.  The internist diagnoses the problem and recommends the treatment which is carried out by the specialists.  Prior to prescribing a course of treatment, the internist or physician gains knowledge of the problem domain (your body) and the symptoms of the problem (your pain and physical complaints).  Then the internist makes sure that you, as the patient, know exactly what is wrong and what treatments (solutions) are available to you.  The internist makes sure that the patient understands that there is a problem, what that problem is, and the severity of that problem.  Unless the patient understands everything about the problem, and the options for solution, there will be no action taken.  Once a treatment or solution is selected, the physician turns the case over to the appropriate specialist(s).  The internist is also concerned with the management of the cure.  From this perspective, the internist checks on the progress of the treatment to make sure that the assigned doctors and support staff are applying the correct treatment and that the patient is healing appropriately.  In general, the specialists are out of the picture once the operation is complete and successful, however the internist still consults with the patient after the cure has taken place to ensure that the patient has a full recovery from the problem, the solution is permanent, and there are no side effects or reversals.

The internist also conducts a number of tests to determine the cause of the illness or problem.  The metrics that result from these tests serve to identify the real problem and potential solutions, and as physical evidence to the patient of the severity of the situation.  A patient may not want to change his diet to lower his cholesterol until he has seen the results of the blood test, even if the patient has absolute confidence in the internist.

Internists are also consultants.  From the American College of Physicians: “Internists are sometimes referred to as the "doctor's doctor," because they are often called upon to act as consultants to other physicians to help solve puzzling diagnostic problems.”  In the ideal organizational setting, business analysts are considered internal consultants, assisting the business to solve problems with the application of their analytical skills and expertise.

The description of the internist sounds like a description of the typical business analyst. The “patient” is the problem owner in the business who has a problem that needs to be solved.  The business analyst does not develop the software or design the architecture. The business analyst defines the problem and the business solution and passes that diagnosis on to the specialists on the solution team who create the operational solution that makes the “patient” better by solving the business problem.

The business analyst acts the same as an internist solving business problems rather than medical illnesses. The business analyst takes measurements of the current operations, examines the situation, asks questions, advises the problem owner on what the real problem is, sends instructions to the specialists in IT in the form of requirements, answers questions during the curative procedure, and checks with the business after the problem is solved. Of course, the business analyst may have a number of people who are the patient suffering from the problem, where the internist deals with one at a time.

Internists are trained to treat patients as whole people, not on a disease-by-disease or symptom-by-symptom basis. The same holds true for the business analyst.  The business analyst does not look at any one department or issue in the organization independently as a single problem.  The business analyst views reported issues from the perspective of the entire organization, examining impacts to other parts of the business, the value of solving the problem and whether there really is a problem or the issue is a form of business hypochondria.  This holistic and totally objective and independent approach to solving business problems is the hallmark of the business analyst.

Internists are trained to recognize situations where several different illnesses may strike at the same time.  Similarly, the business analyst does not restrict herself to just the issue presented by the business, but examines all the symptoms and diagnoses all the problems, those interrelated with the issue and those unrelated.  In this way the business analyst can present to upper-level management the total picture for their decision making and also uncover additional problems that need solving.

Gathering information about the problem, analyzing that information, diagnosing and stating the solution, and identifying the correct specialist (s) to supply the cure:  that is the essence of the business analyst.

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Steve Blais

Steve Blais, PMP, has over 43 years’ experience in business analysis, project management, and software development.  He provides consulting services to companies developing business analysis processes. He is on the committee for the IIBA’s BABOK Guide 3.0. He is the author of Business Analysis: Best Practices for Success.


0 # Lakshana 2011-11-15 08:39
Splendid definition of a BA, Thanks for the great post, Best, Lak shana
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0 # Dean S 2011-11-15 09:48
Excellent way to draw parallels to a role that people understand. We all know that we need doctors, and that we need the Drs to analyse and diagnose us holistically, and correctly. Few business owners understand the a quality BA will give them the exact same outcome for their business health. Maybe we need to encourage more BA magazines in Dr surgery waiting rooms so that business folks can be 'instructed' on the value of the BA while they are thinking about what the Dr will be doing for them. Great article. Liked the parallel
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0 # Ken Livingston 2011-11-15 10:31
I like it, Steve. I like the way it describes that we are professionals, with a holistic view and a truckload of value to add. However, since I didn't know what an internist was, and I suspect an awful lot of my colleagues and friends in New Zealand and Australia don't either, drawing the parallel probably isn't so much use here. We're probably best to go direct and describe what a BA does (and wave our arms a lot to aid comprehension).
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0 # Marcos Ferrer 2011-11-15 10:40
If the profession as defined is not good enough to weather Agile misinterpretati ons, we should have an inferiority complex. Stand tall folks - BA works in Agile, BELIEVE IT OR NOT!
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0 # Santosh Mishra 2011-11-15 13:20
I liked reading it. Thanks Steve! My two cents: - Internists must receive the 'entry-level' education required of any medical practitioner in the relevant jurisdiction. (What about Business Internists?) - Internists require specialist training in internal medicine or one of its subspecialties. In North America, this postgraduate training is often referred to as residency training; in Commonwealth countries, such trainees are often called registrars. (What about Business Internists?) - For Internists, it is probably easier to understand patients' pain because they have their own body which is similar to patients (business internists may not have the luxury of running a business similar to one run by key stakeholders)
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0 # steve blais 2011-11-15 19:39
@Ken Apparently the internist is the modern evolution of the family doctor from years ago. Family doctors did some surgery, such as tonsillectomy, but usually referred patients to specialists for treatment if such specialists were available. They dispensed prescriptions for routine cures, and treated the entire family, as opposed to different doctors nowadays for children, women and men. Perhaps the concept of the family doctor is still alive in your part of the world or at least of such recent vintage that the concept can be remembered. Here in the States, the concept of the family doctor faded away by the mid-1970s. If so, that might be an appropriate medical analogy to use in place of an internist, that is, where an analogy is necessary.
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0 # steve blais 2011-11-15 19:45
@Marcos My comment about inferiority was meant at least half in jest. Your response is right on the money. I have been promulgating the philosophy that the business analyst is at the center of the organization, providing solutions to problems at all levels, with or without technology. It's a tough position to support when most business analysts today come from IT and therefore assume their primary, if not only, job is to define requirements for software. Business analysts do in fact work in agile and even more so nowadays as agile matures. While the development team may be able to talk directly to the product owner, none of the developers can do what an experienced, talented business analyst can do. In fact no one in the organization can. So standing tall is a good prescription.
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0 # steve blais 2011-11-15 19:56
@Santosh Extending the metaphor The profession has several certifications which do happen to be jurisdictional: the IIBA's BABOK in North America, the ISEB in England and Europe, the AABA certification in Australia and probably others. The profession is too new to require board certification by the state. But remember that doctors did not need government certification for centuries. In the 19th century doctors could become a doctor by simply hanging a shingle. Doc Holliday, esteemed gunfighter, was also a dentist. Busine ss Internists nowadays, due to the recency of the profession, get their "residency" on the job. The difference is that the internist and other doctors take their residency once and learn to be a doctor of their specialty through hands-on practice. The business analyst goes thru "residency" over and over again each time the BA takes on a new challenge and solves a new problem. Other professionals who are board certified also do not go thru residencies, such as architects, lawyers, etc. An internist may have a body, but may never have experienced the pain that a patient might be going thru, and unless an MRI is used, may not be able to see the pain either. The internist uses his or her empathy to understand and "feel' the pain of the patient to help diagnose the problem. Similarly, the business analyst uses empathy and understanding to understand the business problem and the pain that the process workers are feeling so that the BA can diagnose it and have the technical specialists fix it. You make good points in the comparison of the two. Thanks.
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0 # Paul Mulvey 2011-11-15 23:15
@Steve - BAs can come from either IT or the business, and you're probably well aware of that. From my experience, what I see is that the BA practice falls under the IT umbrella (not always, but mostly). What happens is that since the business analysis is performed from the IT budget, it almost becomes a foregone conclusion that the solution has to be an IT solution. If BAs are able to act independently, without the (unspoken?) IT constraint, then different solutions can come out of the analysis. "After all, since we are in IT, the solution must be in IT, right?" is not spoken out loud, but it's the undertow of the BAs sitting in IT.
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0 # Scott Firestone 2011-11-21 21:06
Great article. I really like the description of a BA as someone who diagnoses problems, asks questions. One thing I would question though is whether BAs are under threat from the adoption of agile methodologies. As long as we have technical specialists and business specialists, there will be a need for someone to provide the necessary context in between the two groups. Developers should go direct to the BA, who represents the business, whichever methodology. Where this does not happen is a recipe for delivery problems, agile or not. Neverthele ss, another way to illustrate to friends and family what I actually do is always welcome!
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0 # Business Plan 2011-11-23 14:07
The social Business depends upon connections and collaborations of people. The growth of a small enterprise highly depends upon the social networking of the owners along with the concern parties which are involve in this kind of business. Busin ess Plan
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0 # santosh 2011-12-04 03:28
Thanks a ton Steve for extending the metaphor!!!
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