As 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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