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Requirements are a Contract

Ensuring that project requirements have been understood and agreed to by all stakeholders is one of the foundations of a Business Analyst’s work.

However, that understanding and agreement from the stakeholders doesn’t always translate to the successful delivery of the project. Even though everyone on the business side has confirmed that the BA understands their wants and needs, those requirements can wind up being misinterpreted (or outright ignored) once they reach the technical team.

No matter how careful the BA has been, things seem to slowly and surely fall apart. It seems to make no difference if the project is using agile, or waterfall, or the requirements are documented in Word, or Excel, or in requirements management software such as IBM DOORS, or SPARX Enterprise Architect, or JIRA, or written on a sticky note. The results are depressingly similar from project to project.

 

Whatever is presented in the demonstration never seems to be what anyone in the business asked for. Which usually becomes the Business Analyst’s problem. Somehow the BA didn’t do enough documentation or missed something.

Over the years, I have realised that no amount of documentation, meetings, or stand-ups will save the BA. That’s because the problem is not with the requirements or the Business Analyst. The problem is with the quality of the technical team.

Before anyone gets upset, no, I am not insulting the technical team. What I’m suggesting is that most projects are a mixed bag of personalities and experience. There might be new junior developers, overworked senior developers juggling multiple projects, people who don’t want to read the documentation, and sometimes, people who outright ignore the requirements because they have determined, “that’s not how the business works.” The project is either over time and out of budget (or both) but even then, can never seem to finish.

No one seems to discuss the impact the technical team has on the requirements themselves and the amount of stress it places on the Business Analyst.

 

Think like a lawyer

What can a BA do to reduce the pressure they’re feeling?

In my opinion, a BA may find it useful to think like a lawyer.

A lawyer researches the parties involved in a contract. What are these parties like? Are they prepared to negotiate, or do they dispute everything? As a BA, you do have one advantage in that you will have communication skills and you can deal with different people and personalities. This allows you to figure out who you may be dealing with. What are they like? How experienced are they? Are there issues within the team? Although you could argue that this is just a RACI matrix – this goes one step beyond. You don’t care if they’re responsible, accountable, consulted or informed. You want to know how likely it is that the project will wind up in a mess. Something the Project Manager is unlikely to acknowledge until it’s too late (depending on the PM’s experience).

 

This changes the focus because not only are you eliciting your requirements from your stakeholders, but in the background, you’re also trying to determine what the technical team is like. The makeup of the technical team is going to help you determine your deliverables.

Alistair Cockburn states in the introduction in Writing Effective Use Cases, “A use case captures a contract between the stakeholders of a system about its behaviour.”

 

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Decide on the type of contract

Keeping with a more legalistic view of requirements, the Business Analyst can then decide if the contract should involve a high degree of ceremony in which requirements are meticulously explained and documented, formally signed off, with meetings scheduled to discuss these requirements in detail. Or whether you can take an approach that is highly collaborative and relies on face-to-face chats between the team and the BA, with light touch documentation (some user stories, and a couple of whiteboard sessions).

In other words, how you construct your contract, will depend on how tightly you need to bind the technical team to that contract. And the type of contract the binds the two parties together will depend on how much you trust that other party. If you trust the other party, and you’ve known them for a while, then a handshake agreement may be all that is needed. A handshake agreement tends more towards an agile approach with some user stories and daily discussions, over and above a standup.

If you have less trust, or the project has a lot riding on it in terms of its budget or the features being delivered, you may decide on the equivalent of a legally binding contract. It may consist of several documents, and the documents are all formally signed off. Like all weighty contracts, you need to write in a manner that removes all ambiguities.

 

Much like a lawyer, your job is to ensure your wording is not open to misinterpretation or provides a way for the technical team to deliver something else entirely.

And if they do, you have your signed off documentation in which you can point to it and politely ask why the clause was ignored – and how they’re going to remedy the problem. Because the requirements are a contract. One that all parties need to adhere to.

The Value of Business Analysis Competencies in the Successful Delivery of IT Projects.

Several schools of thought have proffered reasons why projects fail; notable amongst these are studies by Forbes, the British Computer Society, Gartner, and many others. Generally, the causes of IT project failures have been described as ranging from poor business cases, requirements management, project management, talent, and poor processes.

Conversely, certain factors, which are described below, can be identified as factors responsible for successful projects.

BA competencies are a set of knowledge, behaviour, attitudes, and skills that enable a business analyst to perform business analysis successfully and efficiently. These BA competencies can be mapped to the factors that guide the successful delivery of IT projects.

 

 

Accurate problem definition and analysis

This is central to delivering successful projects as it entails proper identification of problems, the scope, and thoughts around solutions. One major reason for IT project failure is that the business is often focused on the consequences or symptoms of an underlying problem and quickly directs technology to resolve these symptoms. At best, the result is an expensive IT solution that is sparsely used by the users, who often find workarounds or, at worst, IT projects that fail.

 

BA Competency: Analytical Thinking and Problem Solving

This competency employs critical thinking, system thinking, and problem-solving techniques, amongst many others, to help carry out root-cause analysis and produce problem statements that help correctly identify a problem.

 

People

People are an organisation’s greatest asset. Several schools of thought, including Herzberg’s, Maslow’s, etc., have carried out studies on employee productivity. Too often, while embarking on IT projects, the focus is on the technical skills of the project team, while knowledge around behavioural attributes, emotional intelligence, and concepts that affect productivity resides with the human resources team, who are seldom part of the IT project team.

 

BA Competency: Behavioural Characteristics and Personal Quality

BAs understand behavioural characteristics and human resources concepts of motivation, productivity, and emotional intelligence and constantly need to keep these in sight as they seek to understand the problem and define relevant requirements for a successful solution.

 

Knowledge of organizational structure and culture

While structure deals with norms, rules, and policies, culture is concerned with organisational values, behaviours, and attitudes, and both can affect the agility of project delivery. Thus, an optimal combination of the two is vital to successful project delivery.

 

BA Competency: Business Knowledge

This involves the application of business acumen, industry, organisation, appropriate methodology, and solution knowledge. Peter Drucker famously declared that culture eats strategy for breakfast, buttressing the importance of a thorough understanding of business to aid organizational success.

 

Effective Communication

This is the process of exchanging ideas, thoughts, opinions, knowledge, and data so that the message is received and understood with clarity and purpose. The challenge for many businesses is that this is not recognised as a skill that goes beyond writing and speaking. It involves non-verbal communications, listening, and analysis. When this is lacking in an IT project, the risk of failure is increased.

 

BA Competency: Communication Skills

Business analysts act as intermediaries between the business and IT and, as such, are trained in effective communication skills. They understand business and IT concepts and help to facilitate and interpret conversations to help all stakeholders deliver successful solutions.

 

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User needs and top management support.

IT solutions are intended to meet user needs; however, a major reason for IT project failures is half-hearted support from top management. Often, top management is concerned with strategy and has a broad view of concurrent projects without knowledge of user needs. There is therefore a disconnect between project delivery and top management, with the resultant effect that projects don’t get the full backing required for success. Support is usually given in principle but lacking in practice as top management is often far removed from the projects.

 

BA Competency: Interaction Skills

Business analysts not only act as the intermediary between IT and the business but can also act as an intermediary between top management and the business. With their interaction skills, they can drive conversations among stakeholders and ensure that difficult questions are asked and resolved to ensure the successful delivery of projects.

 

Business-Led Modular Technology and Data Platform

Organizations that intend to deliver successful IT projects need to have a modern technology architecture driven by business needs, as evidenced by data. Advances in technology mean that businesses no longer have the choice of being either technology-savvy or operating on the fringes of the technology spectrum. Technology drives agility in today’s business environment, and the influx of AI makes it more expedient that businesses that want to thrive will need to invest in sound technology architectures and platforms.

 

BA Competency: Tools and Technology

This BA competency fosters the knowledge and use of tools and technology to drive productivity. From the use of general communication and office productivity tools like ‘Teams, Slack, etc. to business analysis tools like Jira, Azure, Visio, etc. to AI tools like Chat-GPT, Google Bard, Slides AI, etc., business analysts are equipped to be versatile while continuing to broaden their toolset.

 

Clear Process Flows and Business Requirements Management

This covers the end-to-end process of delivering an IT project; it encompasses identifying the right requirements, managing stakeholders, ensuring an accurate depiction of information flow through the organisation, and managing change.

 

BA Competency: Professional Techniques

This deals with delivering excellence by design. It is an aggregation of several BA competencies with a focus on ensuring that excellence is delivered at every point of the customer journey. This implies understanding an organisation in terms of its people, processes, steps, and the data required to make each step as efficient as possible.

 

 

Concluding Remarks

Historically, the rate of IT project failures has been high; however, opportunities now abound to turn the tide. As knowledge and awareness continue to increase and the business analysis skillset becomes more mainstreamed across organisations, there is an opportunity for business analysts to hone their craft, be more visible, and help stem the tide.

Transformative Impact of AI in Business Analysis

Integration of AI’s transformative potential into our analysis processes can unleash human potential, drive innovation, and foster a culture of continuous improvement. The future belongs to those who embrace AI in business analysis, and the time to seize this unparalleled opportunity is now. So, let’s take the leap together and unlock new horizons of success with AI as our ally.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has ushered in a new era of technological innovation, and at the forefront of this revolution is Artificial Intelligence (AI). In the world of business analysis, AI has transcended its role as a buzzword and has become a game-changer in driving business growth and efficiency. AI has emerged as a powerful ally, empowering organizations to harness data-driven insights, streamline operations, and make more informed decisions.

Embracing AI in business analysis is no longer a choice but a strategic imperative for companies looking to gain a competitive edge and thrive in today’s dynamic marketplace. Let’s delve into the transformative impact of AI in business analysis and understand how organizations can leverage this cutting-edge technology to unlock new horizons of success.

 

The Power of Data-Driven Insights

At the heart of business analysis lies data, and the ability to extract meaningful insights from vast datasets can make or break an organization’s success. AI-driven analytics tools have revolutionized this process by processing large volumes of data at unparalleled speeds and advanced algorithms to provide real-time, data-driven insights. By employing machine learning algorithms, AI can identify patterns, trends, and correlations that may remain hidden from traditional analysis methods.

With AI-powered data analysis, businesses gain a deeper understanding of their customers, markets, and industry dynamics. This data-driven approach empowers decision-makers to make well-informed decisions promptly, minimizing risks and optimizing opportunities. Organizations can harness a more comprehensive understanding of their markets, customers, and competitors, optimizing their marketing strategies, fine-tuning product offerings, identify emerging market trends, driving innovation, growth, competitiveness, and profitability.

 

Automation: Unleashing Human Potential

Business analysts are often burdened with repetitive and time-consuming tasks, leaving little room for strategic thinking. AI automation can alleviate this burden, liberating analysts from mundane activities and allowing them to focus on higher-value initiatives that require creativity, critical thinking, and strategic planning.

AI-powered automation can handle data collection, data cleaning, report generation, and even predictive modeling. As a result, business analysts can dedicate more time to interpreting results, formulating strategic plans, and collaborating cross-functionally. This not only enhances productivity but also fosters a culture of innovation within the organization.

 

Personalizing Customer Experiences

In an era where customer experience reigns supreme, personalization has become a key differentiator for businesses. AI plays a pivotal role in this domain by enabling businesses to personalize interactions with customers. Leveraging AI-driven analysis, organizations can understand individual customer preferences, behaviours, needs, and engagement patterns to segment customers. This enables businesses to hyper-personalized product recommendations and tailored marketing campaigns to individual customers.

By delivering personalized experiences, businesses can foster increased customer loyalty, satisfaction, ultimately leading to increased revenue and brand advocacy.

 

Predictive Analytics: Anticipating the Future

Traditional business analysis often focuses on historical data, providing a retrospective view of performance. However, in today’s fast-paced business environment, organizations must be forward-thinking and anticipate future trends and challenges. AI-driven predictive analytics enables just that. By analysing historical data, market trends, and external factors through sophisticated predictive models, AI can forecast future trends, demand patterns, identify potential risks, and anticipate changing customer preferences empowering organizations to make proactive decisions.

Armed with these insights, businesses can proactively adapt their strategies, pre-emptively address challenges, seize new opportunities as they arise and can stay ahead of the curve and gaining a competitive edge.

 

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Improving Fraud Detection and Risk Management

In an increasingly interconnected world and increasing digitization of business processes, cybersecurity threats and fraudulent activities have become major concerns for organizations. AI excels in detecting anomalies and patterns indicative of fraudulent activities. AI-driven fraud detection models can learn from historical data to identify suspicious patterns and flag potential fraudulent transactions promptly.

Additionally, AI-powered risk management tools can assess and mitigate risks, helping businesses safeguard their assets and maintain trust with customers and stakeholders.

 

Conclusion: Unlocking New Horizons of Success

Embracing AI in business analysis is no longer an option; it’s a necessity for organizations that aspire to thrive in today’s dynamic market. From data-driven decision-making and process automation to personalized customer experiences and predictive analytics, AI’s impact on business analysis is undeniable.

As business analysts and leaders, embracing AI unlocks new horizons of success, driving growth, innovation, and efficiency. It’s time to seize the transformative power of AI and shape the future of our businesses with confidence and enthusiasm. So, let us embark on this exciting journey of AI-driven business analysis and embark on a path of unrivalled success.

 

Deconstructing the Stress Factors in the Business Analyst Role

Over my years as a professional, I have come to realize that the title of Business Analyst (BA) is a heavy one. How each organization defines the role can be completely different. A BA in Company C may be a requirements scribe, whereas a BA in Company D wears many hats: process analyst, project manager proxy, test validator, etc. Whichever way the role is defined, I think stress has plagued many of us who call Business Analysis our profession. If you have found yourself feeling anxious or overwhelmed at any point during your career in business analysis, you are not alone. There are many factors that can play into that feeling. I want to deconstruct a few of the typical stressors here and offer some potential solutions.

 

1. Not understanding the area of study:

BAs are often on the fringes of the business. It is analogous to being a window cleaner.  As each pane gets cleaned, we can see a little more into the room in front of us, but we are still only seeing a portion. Each pane reveals a bit more about the room, but the entire picture may still elude us. We are on the outside looking in. Not having the full picture of the business, its processes, or its business drivers can leave a Business Analyst feeling inadequate and uninformed.

As a BA, questions are your friend (like your squeegee on the dirty window). I have been guilty of feeling like I was asking too many questions. What I realized is that if I don’t ask my second follow-up question, which may lead to a third follow-up question, I risk not gaining the knowledge that I need to understand the business to write better requirements.

Feeling anxious because we don’t know the business is stressful, but not asking enough questions to get the understanding we need will cause more stress later. If you have 100 questions, don’t stop at number 99. Ask all 100. If you find that the participants are getting a little impatient with your questions, gently remind them that you are trying to understand them as an outsider looking in. Once you gain a better understanding, your perspective changes, and you are no longer looking through smudged windowpanes.

 

2. Large complex projects:

If you have been on projects with multiple stakeholders, then you may feel pressure before you even type the ‘r’ in requirements. It can be daunting to start a new project. You may be working in a new department with all new faces. Unfamiliarity coupled with complexity can be intimidating. In instances like this, it is important to build alliances.

Find project team members that you can trust. Relationship building is so important to your success as a BA and will also go a long way in helping alleviate some of your stress. It can be nice to have a friend when you are on the fringes.

 

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3. Requirement Elicitation is not one size fits all:

For those who do not practice Business analysis, gathering requirements may seem like a simple task. You find out the need, and you write it down. It is not at all that simple. Different stakeholders require different elicitation methods. Some stakeholders are very forthcoming with information. Others can be more guarded or may simply not know how to express the need. Interviewing may work for some. Passing e-mails back and forth may be more appropriate for others.

The key here is to really take the pulse of your stakeholder population (a personality assessment of sorts). Understand their optimal mode of communication and how you can best work within the confines of that. Also, do not neglect your best mode of working as well. Finding the proper balance between stakeholder and BA methods of working will be key to helping alleviate stress.

Do not feel pressured to use an elicitation technique that is not a good fit. We do not want to simply check boxes on the list of deliverables; we want to add true value.

 

4. Feeling pressured by deadlines:

Every project comes with a start and end date. BAs often occupy a few task lines on that project schedule, and the pressure to meet those deadlines can feel immense. We don’t want to be the ripple that causes the project timeline to shift.

As BAs, we often take the deadlines given to us and work to fit within them. If we do not understand the business, the project is complex, and we don’t know what elicitation method to use when starting a project, then how can we be tied to a deadline?

Speak up when you feel that timelines are not realistic. Open and honest conversations can be uncomfortable but can also be wholly necessary when the quality of work is on the line. The timeline may not shift because you raised a concern, but I guarantee you will feel a little less pressure when you have been open and honest and raised your hand.

 

This is not an exhaustive list; it is just some of the key things I noticed in my career as a previously stressed and anxious BA. In the end, it is important to remember that your success as a Business Analyst rests in part on your ability to perform the job well. Different stress factors can become obstacles to your performance. Understanding those factors is the first step in tackling them. Apply different techniques to alleviate the stress. You will thank yourself.

Information Science, Knowledge Management and the Business Analyst

In today’s fast changing world, information, and technology are changing the way organizations and nations operate. The quality of information available to an organization, its ease of use and systems of dissemination can make the difference between organizations that thrive and those that get left behind in the archives of history. To understand this better, let’s look at the science of information.

Information science is the discipline that deals with managing information, from creation to final archiving or destruction. It is concerned with the generation of data, the associated technologies, and the transformation of data into information and knowledge. What is information? Let’s begin by defining data.

 

Data

Data can be described as independent entities, , numbers, letters etc. that on their own do not convey any useful meaning. Consider the following data set:  ‘A’, ‘John’, ‘boy’ ‘good’ ‘is’ ‘1’, ‘class’ ‘and’ ‘in’  ‘number’ ‘his’ . Each entity on its own does not really convey any useful meaning. However, when this data is put through a transformation process, with a pattern or structure, it conveys a meaning ‘John is a good boy and number 1 in his class – these entities which has been structured or patterned becomes information within the system.

 

Information

Information can therefore be described as data with a meaningful pattern to the system receiving it, such that it can change the state of the system. In other words when information is received by an individual, an organization or a system, it must be meaningful to that system: they have been transformed by this information. In some cases, the information received enables them to take an action or make a decision. This change in state might be from a current (as-is) state to a future (to-be) state, or just a change in position from point a to b, or from a less informed state to a more informed state.

 

Knowledge

Knowledge: When information has been fully understood, digested, and internalized by a system such that the system can reproduce it in various forms and disseminate it easily to others, it has become knowledge to that system. For example, an employee may build up their knowledge of a domain through multiple channels: training, conferences, water cooler conversations etc.  and become an expert with a full understanding of the subject area. They can simplify it into various forms and train others: the information they have absorbed has become their knowledge.

This relationship between data, information and knowledge can be represented as shown below in a knowledge circle.

 

 

The importance of knowledge to an organization can never be overemphasized. Organizations can thrive or fail depending on the quality of knowledge that exists within them. Knowledge in organizations exists in two forms: explicit and tacit knowledge.

Explicit knowledge is the knowledge that exists in the public domain of an organization. It is in their culture, in their SharePoint systems, books, journals… It is documented and widely available to all.

Tacit knowledge is the knowledge that exists within individuals and SMEs, it is unwritten, can be heuristic, is veritable and often lost when such individuals are no longer with the organization.

Seeing the value of knowledge to the continued existence of organizations, how can businesses best elicit the knowledge within their domain? How can they ensure the quality of their information, and extract valuable tacit knowledge from SMEs? Answers to these questions lies in the domain of business analysis.

 

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Business Analysts

Business Analysts are change agents who often sit between the business and technology arms of an organization. They help the communication between the business and technology, ensuring data from both sides is translated into meaningful information which both parties understand, ultimately causing a change in the state of the organization. Business Analysts help organizations move forward from a current state to a future state.

Business Analysts by nature of their training can elicit tacit knowledge from SMEs, document the knowledge and ensure organizations do not increase their technical debt when valuable employees leave. They are also well placed to investigate and scrutinize the volume of information accessible to an organization by verifying and validating it with SMEs before such information is used in business decisions, thus improving the quality of an organization’s information and knowledge.

 

Some of the Business Analysts’ skills include the following:

 

 

Concluding Remarks

The knowledge circle will continue to be at the heart of an organization’s growth. Organizations which harness their knowledge correctly will continue to outperform their counterparts, and Business Analysts who understand their role in this circle will continue to be great assets and instrumental to the success of their organizations.