Monday, 27 February 2012 20:28

The Human Aspect: A Business Analyst Question

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There is much to be said about the human element in business success. I’m not referring to the organization and appearance of the user interface or ergonomics designed to make the human being function better with the computer and software systems. I’m referring to the human being as an individual part of the overall business process and how that human being fits into the business, as opposed to fitting into the “system.” There are many ways of describing the human element, most of which seem to emanate from the Human Resources department: morale, fulfillment, self-actualization in one’s employment, work/life balance, and so forth.

Those of us who have spent years in the IT trenches are familiar with the concepts of the “stupid user,” “user error,” “they don’t know what they want,” and the overall consideration that anyone on the other side of the computer terminal is basically nothing more than an extension of the software system we are implementing. Their function is to put data into and extract data from our databases. They are also always a source of unreasonable demands to make the interface easier to use. Fortunately, there is a shift, somewhat prompted by the agile concept of the development team working directly with users, in which the user of the computer systems developed in IT is considered to be more of a human being rather than a functionary in the business organization who needs our technology to do his or her job. When your new system is a website that may be used by the whole world instead of a client server system that is used only by accounts payable, your concept of the user changes dramatically.

So here is my question for business analysts: what is our responsibility toward the human being? Our primary purpose in an organization is to add value to that organization. Business analysts solve problems to improve business processes – increase sales, reduce costs, comply with regulations, increase customer satisfaction with the organization’s products, and so forth. Should we be concerned with how the employee feels about his or her work or how he or she feels about the process? Are we concerned about the employee’s loyalty to the organization? Or is that something that is only the purview of HR?

Is it a function of the business analyst to analyze the work conditions of employees and suggest improvements? If employees are more satisfied with their working conditions and the job they are doing, won’t the organization benefit? Can the business analyst define ways of measuring the increased enjoyment of work or correlating it with increased sales or more efficient processing in the organization? Is part of a process improvement exercise examining the impact process improvement changes have on the individual employee? Should the business analyst evaluate the impact on individuals and suggest alternate courses of action based on that evaluation? Should employees’ health, welfare, happiness, or mental and emotional well-being on the job be of any concern to us while we are defining new systems and solutions?

If a business analyst proposes alterations to the workflow that increase the satisfaction of workers in a business process, won’t the organization benefit from higher productivity? If a business analyst through observation and analysis suggests ways to increase staff’s loyalty to the organization, won’t that increase sales or improve the quality of the organization’s products? Is a happier employee a more productive employee? If the business analyst increases job satisfaction and staff morale, does that not increase the value of the organization, which is the business analyst’s goal?

Considering that business analysts are expert communicators who are able to read body language, apply tact and diplomacy to situations of conflict, negotiate and mediate to successful conclusions, analyze the most difficult situations, think critically about processes and conditions, and apply systems thinking to all aspects of the organization, are we not the best candidates to provide assistance in improving the workplace for individual workers? We are in the workplace gathering information to define requirements for new and improved systems. We view the staff performing their jobs. We hear the complaints and horror stories. We understand the business processes and workflows. Should we also factor in the human elements as we improve the software? Is it untoward or politically threatening for us to recommend changes in the business environment that will improve the employees’ situation?

Or is the business analyst an extension of IT and thus consigned to making improvements in the computer systems and leaving the human concerns to HR?

What do you think? Is it extending the business analyst’s purview too much if we delve into the area of improving the human conditions of the process workers in the organization? Or is observing, analyzing and suggesting human condition improvements a natural progression of the business analyst profession?

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.

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