Skip to main content

Tag: Business Analysis

Question Everything About your Business – 7 candid questions that need to be asked

lannon sept8Good questions are the key to successful planning and decision making. Throughout the business planning process we must consider strategic questions to help us understand the current situation, focus areas and our vision for the future. Strategic planning is an intensive process and should be a team effort – it should not be done in isolation.

A good place to start in the planning process is to focus on ‘what’ questions. What questions are extremely powerful tools for thinking about your business / personal strategy, goals and objectives. The key is to know which questions to ask and to be willing to take a candid look at your business.

Here are seven candid “what” questions that every business leader should ask:

What are the overall strengths and weaknesses of your business?

Strengths and weaknesses exist in all organizations and should include considerations for people, resources, culture, work processes, tools, supply chain, financial situation, etc. The list goes on and on. The important thing here is to start the process by first looking at your organization and its resources.

What are the overall opportunities and threats to your business?

Focus here on your external world, the things you cannot control but must be aware of. Some items could include a market shift, retirement and succession, competitive movement and changes, the global business climate (local, national or international), obstacles or climate and weather effects. We often miss the opportunity to do environmental scanning. Look outside your office to truly understand the opportunities and threats to your organization.

What political, economic, social and technological conditions impact your business?

What’s happening in your local business scene (economics)? Is there a product or service that people want or need to buy? Is technology impacting your team and their need for training? What important social change will impact the business? Are you developing leaders for tomorrow? Every answer should lead to another question. Dig deep, exhaust yourself and find people to help you through the process.

What do you want to achieve, protect, avoid and eliminate?

This question contains all the elements of risk planning. There are always things we want to achieve, protect, avoid and eliminate on a personal, team or organizational basis. What are they? Identify as many as possible and make a list. Examples vary but could include increased sales, keeping an established portfolio, avoiding trouble or accidents, establishing an employee health program or helping people drop a few pounds. The point here is that whatever is identified must be relevant to your business and its challenges.

What are the key challenges you face today, tomorrow and in the distant future?

We’re in an era where we must be predictive and adaptive business leaders and professionals. Strategic planning is about timeframes with past, present and future considerations. Establish what your work world should look like with timeframes. Planning used to focus on 3 to 5 year cycles. That has changed. Now we must keep our eye on short-term road trips with long term implications.

Where are we and how did we get here?

This question is a pure honesty question. Success and failures in every business should be reviewed periodically. It is used to establish your present situation and to help you accept complete responsibility and accountability for it. No blame-storming allowed. Outside forces might have contributed, but at some point decisions were made to set your direction. As a business leader, you were either active or reactive and there were consequences. Capture it, leverage it and be prepared to let it go.

What key initiatives are going to be placed on the strategic agenda of your business? Why are they important?

At some point you need to focus and make key decisions that will make a difference in your business. Building your strategic agenda is a different type of challenge and may require another approach. This may take ‘why’ questions, questions that focus on benefits and value. Before adding anything to your strategic agenda you must first clearly establish the benefits and values of those items.

Being honest about your business, the organization and its people is a challenge. When strategic planning it’s important to remove yourself from the natural tendency of coming up with solutions. Establishing solutions is the action part of planning. Consider engaging an expert strategic facilitator to help. Remember that you don’t plan to fail, you fail to plan and planning requires asking the right questions.

Don’t forget to leave your commments below.

The Value of Business Analysis: Identifying Business Need

One of the critical roles of the Business Analyst (BA), or Enterprise Analyst (EA), in the area of Enterprise Analysis is to identify business need. Many business professionals make the mistake of thinking that since it is named Enterprise Analysis, that identifying business need can happen only at the enterprise level. Nothing could be further from the truth; Enterprise Analysis and identifying business need, can happen at the enterprise level, involve multiple lines of business within the organization but not the entire enterprise, and at the business unit level.

There are many factors, or many ways that the business analyst can identify business needs. It can be a result of market research or an identified new opportunity brought about by actions of a vendor or competitor. It could be derived from a strategic goal or initiative of the organization. It could have come from a business user complaint about a current system issue and/or the subsequent Root Cause Analysis. It could also be derived from an Enterprise Analysis activity that the BA performed, such as Capability Gap Analysis, SWOT Analysis or Product Feasibility Analysis.

If this vital role is not performed than the organization would not realize the benefits of identifying some business needs that need to be addressed, possibly gaining greater competitive advantage, possibly achieving strategic goals or taking advantage of an opportunity presented in the market. As you can see this can have a direct effect on the strategic success, and bottom line, of the organization.

Define Business Need

Once identified, the business need should be documented in the Business Case to initiate a project to develop a solution for this business need. This solution may, or may not, involve information technology software development; some solutions are completely a business solution. The business need defines the problem for which the business analyst is attempting to find a solution. The way the business need is defined determines which alternative solutions will be considered, which stakeholders will be consulted and which solution approaches will be evaluated.

Define Problem

Defining business need and defining the problem are two different things. The business need leads to the problem, but both the business need and problem statement needs to be defined and documented. Take for example that you have identified that sales have been decreasing for the past three years. So your business need statement could be “Need increased sales”. What is your problem statement? A root cause analysis uncovered an aging sales force using archaic sales techniques, no new products introduced to the marketplace in three years, competitors introducing products with innovative features, no new marketing campaigns in the last two years, rising costs, and production equipment in need of repair and upgrade.

Leads to the Solution

Now that the true problems have been identified, the enterprise can now initiate separate projects to find solutions for the sales problem, product problem, marketing problem, and production problems; rising costs and production equipment. The team assigned the sales problem can determine if they need to hire younger salespeople, provide sales training on newer techniques, provide better sales support, or implement a new Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. Likewise, the other project teams will determine proper solutions to their defined problem statement.

One pitfall that many business analysts and project teams fall into is trying to define the business need by the solution. In practice, quite often the business stakeholders define the solution at the start of the project instead of defining the problem statement first. They start with the solution first instead of the problem first. This reduces the solution alternatives that receive consideration and may bring a lesser valuable solution to deployment than what could have been achieved. So starting with the business need, problem statement, and solution scope; then developing alternative solutions will bring the most valuable solution to the organization, and the business analyst’s recommendation, to light.
In our sales problem example above, the organization may have identified slumping sales for three years. Without proper problem statement identification the business team may decide to simply hire more salespeople to increase sales. Without proper root cause analysis, they may hire older salespeople, just like the rest of the sales force they have. None of the true root cause problems get resolved because the team jumped to the solution with identifying the true problems needing addressed.

We all learn from our mistakes, what pitfalls to developing the Business Case have you encountered in your career?

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

Business Analysts: Born or Made?

The short answer is both – shortest blog ever or ??? IF you know BOB F., please let him know he can claim his prize from me for his excellent answers presented in my last blog.

Back to our topic.  I for one have often blamed :)* my mother, Kathleen Ferrer (nee Morgan, September 26, 1923 – June 26 2014), the only person who both bore me and made me. I often thanked her for my life and her influence, and will miss her very, very much.

I thought I would try to investigate the common experiences or characteristics that lead one to an ongoing BA career.

So, here are some data from my life, left blank for the moment. Fill it in on paper or in your head if you wish, AND EVEN BETTER – Click here to link to the survey:

Then contribute YOUR experiences and characteristics (anonymously) to help all of us BAs and BA wannabes know – Born or Made?

All participants will receive a summary of the survey results if wished 🙂

Date of Birth: ______________

Gender: ______________

Age learned to read: ______________

Who first taught you to read? ______________

Age first fell behind in math: ______________

Who taught you most of your math? ______________

Number of houses growing up: ______________

Maximum distance between any two of these houses in kilometers: ______________

Minimum distance between any two of these houses in kilometers: ______________

Most advanced Business Analysis certification or degree achieved:

Other Business Analysis certification [give the acronym]: ______________

If your own experience suggests a new question relevant to your path to BA, please add it in the blog comments below. Nice to hear from you, readers are so rare in today’s world, and writers more precious yet 🙂


:)* Blame, in my blogs, is always a joke. My true belief is that blame is a stone-age behavior in an information age culture, and is just as useful in that evolving culture as the sheet music to the song “In the year 2525” would have been during the Cambrian explosion. I could, of course, be completely wrong.

Don`t forget to leave your comments below.

The Project Manager vs. the Business Analyst

vickyJune6I have a hard time deciding whether “versus” is a good word to compare the two roles. On one hand, the project manager and business analyst should be working collaboratively. On the other hand, the two roles do offer a healthy contest in project related decisions. The issue at hand is that there is a lot of uncertainty about the difference in these roles. The result of this uncertainty is cases where one person plays both roles without enough skills for each, and other cases where the team members do not know who is responsible for what. Hopefully, we can clear this up.

The core of the difference is in the title.

  • The Project Manager manages the project – “The application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to provide activities to meet the project requirements.”
  • The Business Analyst conducts business analysis – “The set of tasks and techniques used to work as a liaison among stakeholders to understand the structure, policies, and operations of an organization, and to recommend solutions that enable the organization to meet its goals.

One source of confusion is the activities in both sets of tasks according to the relevant Body of Knowledge[i]. The intent is that planning and monitoring tasks within the BABOK® are limited to business analysis activities as indicated by the task title.

4.2 Develop Project Management Plan 2.3 Plan Business Analysis Activities
2.5 Plan Requirements Management
2.6 Manage Business Analysis Performance
4.4 Monitor and Control Project Work 2.6 Manage Business Analysis Performance

5.1 Plan Scope Management
5.2 Collect Requirements

2.5 Plan Requirements Management Process
3.1-4 Elicitation: Prepare, Conduct, Document, Confirm
4.2 Manage Requirements Traceability Requirements Documentation
5.3 Define Scope 5.4 Define Solution Scope
5.4 Create WBS
5.6 Control Scope
4.1 Manage Solution Scope
5.4 Define Solution Scope
5.5 Validate Scope 7.5 Validate Solution
8.3 Quality Control (Testing-monitoring and recording results) 7.6 Evaluate Solution Performance(Results analysis and recommendation)
13.1 Identify Stakeholders 2.2 Conduct Stakeholder Analysis
10.1 Plan Communications Management 2.4 Plan Business Analysis Communication
10.2 Manage Communications
10.3 Control Communications
4.5 Communicate Requirements
2.6 Manage Business Analysis Performance

Stakeholder analysis is one good example of collaboration between project manager and business analyst. The business analyst focuses on stakeholders specific to the requirements and scope of the project. The project manager is looking beyond this to stakeholders whose interest is outside of the project scope. Perhaps the project manager is recording a competitor as a stakeholder to aid in the identification and tracking of potential project risk. The stakeholder analysis is a joint effort. Assign items resulting from the stakeholder analysis to either the project manager or business analyst based on stakeholder interest and influence.

Another point of confusion is in the PMBOK® task of Collecting Requirements. It looks as though the project manager is responsible for collecting requirements. When you look further at the PMBOK® tasks you also find Quality Control, yet we know the project team has members responsible for product quality. The intent of the PMBOK© is that project managers take responsibility to ensure activities for collecting requirements are covered in the project management plan and monitored along with the project. Not the project manager collects the requirements.

Section 5.1 of the CBAP® Handbook does a great job of differentiating “analysis” activities from other activities. Download the CBAP ® handbook from the Certified Business Analysis Professional™ (CBAP®) website for detailed examples of these activities.

Volunteers from both the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA®) and Project Management Institute (PMI©) joined in a collaborative project to “facilitate a shared understanding of the roles.”  The conclusion –

Both the PM and BA play leadership roles—the PM for leading the team and delivering the solution and the BA for ensuring that the solution meets the business need and aligns with business and project objectives. And both roles, equally, are required for project success.

You will get decisions based on full information of the impacts to the project and the benefit of the solution when you have both a strong PM and BA playing leadership roles on your projects. The result is a project that brings greatest business value to the organization.

I had the distinct pleasure of joining Elizabeth Larson, PMP, CBAP, CSM, as guest experts on PMChat (a weekly Internet radio show/Twitter web chat) to discuss the BA and PM roles on June 1, 2012.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

[i] Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) 5th Edition
A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® (BABOK® Guide) Version 2.0


Get Fit: Lose the Business Analysis Weight

Many of us started 2014 with a stack of goals and resolutions. Did you resolve to take a few pounds off by eating healthier, hitting the gym, or running a 5K?

What about your professional health and fitness? Do you have a few extra professional pounds dragging you down?

Some BAs are lugging a spare tire around their middle—outdated techniques or broken relationships hold them back from becoming their best professional selves.

So, let’s lose some BA weight and build strength, increase flexibility and improve efficiency. Here are a few ways to work smarter not harder in 2014.

1. Strengthen or Rebuild your PM relationship

BAs have many important relationships to manage, but the relationship with the PM might be the most important. The best BA/PM combos are true partnerships.

Sit down with your PM and discuss requirement process goals and improvements for 2014. Tell the PM what s/he can expect from you that is different, new, and improved. Explain what you need from the PM to support these goals.

Foster this partnership throughout the year:

  • Establish consistent communication channels: set up a weekly status meeting, touch base over coffee or lunch, create brief summaries of key meetings and share them, and/or create a visual, one-page BA dashboard that gives up-to-date status of your deliverables.
  • Find common goals and work together to achieve them. Figure out how to make each project successful and how to add value to your organization.
  • Solve problems together. When complex project issues arise consult the PM. Share information, strategize and collaborate.
  • Understand ALL potential project risks—not just BA tasks—so you can look out for your PM’s interests. Be the eyes and ears of the project team.

2. Trim the details

Scale back on details that are of minimal value. For every document, every presentation, every e-mail—ask yourself why each detail is important. In many cases, excess details blur the big picture. Stakeholders with a blurry big picture are a major risk to a project. This lack of context will cause way more pain than missing details.

  • When peers ask for feedback, clarify the type of feedback they want. Don’t focus on grammar details and typos when they ask for content and contextual feedback.
  • Review emails before sending. Is the length appropriate? Do you use bullet points and white space effectively? Are you asking for too many things from a really busy person in an email? Is e-mail the appropriate tool for the information you have to share? Would a call or meeting be more effective?
  • Review your documents before distributing. Are you creating documents full of details and sending all the details to everyone to review? Consider your audience. Does everyone need all that detail? Are there ways to effectively summarize the information? Can you add visual elements that provide context for your stakeholders? Can you decompose the information so it is easy to follow for everyone?

3. Kick your meetings up a notch!

Evaluate your facilitation toolbox. Toss those old tools and find a few new ones. You’ll see huge benefits in efficiency when you learn how to make meetings fun, collaborative, and valuable for everyone. Here are a few tips:

  • Determine what each stakeholder will learn or get from your meeting.
  • Keep the invite list as small as possible. Meaningful collaboration happens in small groups.
  • For workshops—plan activities elicit information strategically rather than just asking, “What are your issues?” or “What are the requirements for this feature?” or “What is the best way to fix this?” It’s highly unlikely these canned questions will produce creative or complete responses.
  • Make meetings engaging. Don’t sit around a conference room table for an hour. Get moving. Use whiteboards and Post Its. Find creative ways to elicit ideas or prioritize requirements.
  • Virtual Meetings-Multitasking is bad enough in person, but it’s usually worse on conference calls. (You’ve heard dogs barking and kids crying and toilets flushing right?) You have to encourage active participation, beyond just listening. Engage the eyes and the hands. There are so many tools out there, many of them free, that help BAs create interactive virtual meetings. Try virtual whiteboarding, virtual Post Its, virtual breakout sessions or virtual facilitation games.
  • Make them fun, collaborative, and with value for everyone. What will they learn or get from your meeting?

So, take a risk in 2014. Drop the dead weight and try a new technique, build stronger relationships and question the details. Assess your best practices and find efficiencies. Flex your BA muscles!

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.