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The Kaizen Business Analyst

As Business Analysts, we are often focused on helping our stakeholders improve their processes and operations. We have worked to understand their current state, identify requirements, and engage others to help deliver innovative solutions that set up our customers for success. Most Business Analysts I’ve met get a great deal of satisfaction in finding ways to help people or companies do their jobs more effectively. Sometimes we become so outwardly focused that it can be easy to forget that it is important to take the time to work on improving our own processes. By finding ways to make our own practices better, we can increase the value we deliver to our organizations and stakeholders.

When looking to improve ourselves professionally, we can identify and try to implement changes big and small. Big, sweeping changes are often the most difficult to achieve, regardless of whether you are a 10,000-person organization or a single individual. Big changes are met with fear, doubt, inertia, laziness, and many other barriers. Our initial enthusiasm can dwindle if we don’t start to see immediate results, and in the end we consciously or unconsciously decide to abandon the change. This is why so many of us fail our New Year’s resolutions; often they are big visionary statements that involve a large amount of change.

Instead of trying to make big changes, we can focus on implementing a personal development process that allows us to improve our services continually with small but meaningful changes. The Japanese term Kaizen means ‘continuous improvement,’ and methodologies have been developed to implement Kaizen in small, incremental, and purposeful steps to yield dramatic changes over time. Kaizen has been used in lean manufacturing methods at companies such as Toyota, Intel, and Lockheed Martin. While this methodology has been used mainly in manufacturing, it is focused on helping individuals and small teams become as efficient and effective as possible at the job they do.

Some of the main principles of a Kaizen approach to continuous improvement are:

  • Think of ways to make something happen, as opposed to reasons why something can’t be done.
  • Do not seek perfection; start change right away and build on that change over time.
  • When something doesn’t work as expected, take the time to understand the root causes of why things went wrong.
  • When faced with hardship, take the wisdom gained and look to apply it to your next task.
  • Measure your successes and failures so you can actually tell if you are improving.

This approach not only works for teams, but also for individuals. We can use the principles of Kaizen to ensure that we are always finding ways to make our work better, which in turn improves the lives of our customers. Here are some steps to becoming a Kaizen Business Analyst:

  1. Develop your mindset: when you first arrive at work, take 30 seconds to remind yourself that today is an opportunity to find ways to do your work better. Review what you will be doing today and your plan to get things done.
  2. Document your performance: while you are working, take the time to quickly jot down how long things take you to get done. For tasks that are part of a bigger multi-day goal (for example, having requirements reviewed), build a very simple spreadsheet or leverage your organization’s timesheet to track your total time on an activity. Aside from time spent on a task, find other relevant measures given the type of work you do; for example, how many rounds of review are required prior to requirements being signed off? Think of the relevant performance measures for your analysis activities and track them over time.
  3. Reflect on your activities: at the end of the day, take a quick review of the work you did and reflect on what went well and what didn’t go as ideal. Make some quick notes and associate them with the relevant tasks they belong to. For areas that didn’t go as well, write down one to two things that could have been done differently that would have improved the outcome. Take a look at your tasks for the next day, and with your history of ideas for improvement in hand, identify what you will try differently tomorrow. If you have identified ways that you could improve but need outside assistance to make them happen, plan who you will connect with to help get the ball rolling on implementing those changes.
  4. Experiment with new ideas: find interesting things that you think will help improve the quality or efficiency of your work and try them out. Whether it’s a new elicitation technique, a new conflict resolution approach for those two stakeholders who don’t get along, or a simplified model for your complicated business processes that you can share with executives, find an opportunity to test out your ideas. Make sure you record the results and compare them, both in terms of time spent and whether the desired outcome occurred.
  5. Share with others: this gives you a chance to contribute to the development of other Business Analysts while learning new ways to improve yourself. If you have a Community of Practice or a Centre of Excellence at your organization, there are usually opportunities for such collaboration. If your organization does not have such groups, start meeting with your peers informally; I’ve found BAs often like to talk shop and swap ideas over lunch every week or two. If you are the lone Business Analyst at your organization, find a local IIBA chapter or other Business Analyst community in your area to meet with colleagues. Various online Business Analyst communities have active forums that give you a chance to learn and share as well.

Having big goals can be an incredible motivator to help us achieve our potential and become successful. Sometimes it can be so easy to visualize what we want to accomplish that we attempt to make huge changes in order to reach our goal as fast as possible. However, as an old Chinese proverb reminds us, “It is better to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward.” Having a Kaizen approach to becoming a better Business Analyst gives us an opportunity to make small but purposeful changes each day that will make us key to our organization’s success and future.

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Jarett Hailes is President of Larimar Consulting Inc. and a Certified Business Analysis Professional. Over the past ten years, Jarett has worked in a wide variety of industries as a Management Consultant, Business Analyst and Project Manager. Jarett’s passion is to help organizations realize the potential of their staff through efficient processes and an open culture that encourages and rewards innovation at all levels.

Why Good Isn’t Good Enough: The Global State of Business Analysis, Part 2

Part 1 of “Why Good Isn’t Good Enough: The Global State of Business Analysis” provided the key highlights and conclusions of a survey of more than 1,600 business analysts and others involved in business analysis activities in both public and private organizations around the world.  This second installment takes an in-depth look at study survey recipients’ responses to questions about business analysis practices in their organizations.   

SURVEY RESULTS

Project participants missing the big picture

The ultimate impact that projects have on decreasing costs and increasing revenues is directly related to profitability; profitability is the reason that organizations do projects at all.  In our questioning of respondents about the state of BA, we believe the most significant finding is that project participants are failing to make the connection between their tasks and activities and their impact on business profitability. 

Organizational profit impact ranked 5th among the top criteria for successful projects when survey respondents were asked which were most important to both them and the organization.

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While the larger business issue of profitability could be understandably overlooked at the task-oriented level, organizations should be aware that such inattention could be a root cause of related and unrecognized project deficiencies.  Given these results, organizations have the responsibility to establish the training and communication needed to point out these links at the project level.

BAs lack enterprise perspective

The project activities for which most survey respondents said they are responsible are project management (69 percent), requirements analysis (69 percent) and requirements management (68 percent).  Among the activities for which the least number of respondents were responsible are portfolio management and enterprise analysis (both cited by 20 percent).

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Looking at the time spent on project activities, 44 percent of survey respondents said that project management takes up the greatest amount of their time, followed by requirements analysis (39 percent) and requirements management (37 percent). 

 

Glenn_Chart5Given the focus on project management, it is likely that not enough BA muscle is being flexed, and organizations are relying on project management to steer the right course.  Since PM focuses on what is urgent while BA focuses on what is important, the results indicate that a more balanced portfolio of project activities between the two disciplines will prevent the ‘urgent’ taking precedence over the ‘important.’   

Reported BA proficiency, project success in question

Survey respondents reported high rates of proficiency of overall BA and individual BA activities, although later in this report, we will see that a lack of experience and professional certification call these ratings into question.

35 percent rated the overall proficiency of their BA function as very good or excellent, while 39 percent rated it “good.”

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Respondents also rated their organizations’ proficiency as “good” to “excellent” in

    • Business analysis, planning and monitoring (70 percent)
    • Elicitation (62 percent)
    • Requirements management and communication (68 percent)
    • Enterprise analysis (52 percent)
    • Requirements analysis (73 percent)
    • Solution assessment and validation (69 percent)

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As noted in the executive summary, organizations should be aware of contradictions between reported project success and BA proficiency rates, compared with the known realities of projects and failure rates. 

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If current BA proficiencies are so highly rated and a large majority of projects considered successful, then the challenge remains for organizations to establish and achieve higher standards of excellence.

Business analyst certifications lagging

Part of the challenge in achieving higher standards of excellence may be due to the relatively small numbers of certified business analysts.  Survey results show that business analyst certifications are currently lagging behind PMP® certification among those practicing BA.  32 percent of respondents have their PMP®, although this is not surprising given it has been available far longer than other project professional certifications. 

Only 7 percent of respondents said they have a business analyst certification.  However, 9 percent said they are planning to earn a business analyst certification within the next six months and 18 percent are planning to in the next two years. 

25 percent of overall respondents and 24 percent of business analyst respondents said they are not planning on obtaining any certification. 

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 Professional experience shows BA still maturing

Responses regarding the amount of time spent actively performing BA activities provide indications of experience levels as well as insight into why a relatively low number of CBAP® certifications has been earned.  Nearly half of respondents (49 percent) have only five years or less of experience, while the CBAP® requires seven years or more years of experience.  21 percent have six to nine years while 30 percent have 10 or more years of experience.

The years of BA experience reported by respondents is also an indication of the immaturity of the profession.

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 Organizational challenges facing business analysts

Survey results showing the challenges business analysts face in the organization offer few surprises.  Communication and cross-functional collaboration lead among top challenges with 47 percent and 46 percent of respondents, respectively, citing them.  These difficulties underscore the importance of training and professional development to reduce impediments to better performance and improved project and organizational results.

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 Fewer projects of longer length  

The majority of respondents said that they work on a fewer number of projects of longer length; 33 percent said they have worked on one project lasting 18 months or more in the last three years.  When considering years of experience respondents reported, it can be inferred that there is a relatively inexperienced population of people working on mission-critical, long-term projects. 

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Tools of the trade

As mentioned previously, business analysts have a surprising lack of dedicated tools at their disposal.  15 percent said they do not use any tools, 14 percent are using basic Microsoft Office software and 5 percent are using homegrown, in-house developed solutions.  While this is a likely a reflection of the lack of maturity of BA in the marketplace, it is foreseeable that five years on, these results will be significantly different. 

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 A growing population of business analysts

Despite the challenges and immaturity of the profession, the BA community has grown and organizations are continuing to invest in their BA competency.  37 percent of respondents said their organizations had increased the number of business analysts in the last two years, and 27 percent of respondents said their organizations plan to increase their number of business analysts in the next two years.  While the survey results did not indicate whether these positions would be filled in house or outsourced, these robust employment findings are a testament to the importance of the BA function amidst economic uncertainty and lingering unemployment. 

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Social media taking a key role in information exchange for BA 

In a sign of the times, social media has taken on an integral role in training and career development in business analysis, as it is has in most other professions.  People are using some social media channels, including LinkedIn (35 percent) and YouTube (13 percent), more than traditional BA communities of practice.

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Survey Methodology

In September 2011, ESI International sent an email survey of 24 close-ended questions to organizational professionals from the executive to project level who are responsible for project activities in public and private organizations in the Americas, EMEA and Asia/Pacific regions. 

1,632 respondents participated in the survey, but not all respondents answered every survey question. The survey was anonymous unless respondents wanted to receive the results, in which case they had to complete their details.

 Survey Demographics

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Don’t forget to leave your comments below.


Glenn R. Brûlé, CBAP, CSM, Executive Director of Global Client Solutions, ESI International, brings more than two decades of focused business analysis experience to every ESI client engagement. As one of ESI’s subject matter experts, Glenn works directly with clients to build and mature their business analysis capabilities by drawing from the broad range of learning resources ESI offers. A recognized expert in the creation and maturity of BA Centers of Excellence, Glenn has helped clients in the energy, financial services, manufacturing, pharmaceutical, insurance and automotive industries, as well as government agencies across the world. For more information visit www.esi-intl.com.

Why Good Isn’t Good Enough: The Global State of Business Analysis, Part 1

Organizations around the globe are using business analysis (BA) to define requirements and determine courses of action and solutions to help them achieve their goals.  BA activities are critical to projects and organizational success, but success requires standards of practice and adherence to the BA discipline.  How good are organizations at practicing BA? Are they realizing its full potential?

In September 2011, ESI International conducted a survey of more than 1,600 respondents with varying titles within organizations worldwide to ask about their experiences and perceptions of business analysis.

This global study seeks to determine the actual business impact that business analysis has on organizations, and examines its current state by inquiring into BA practices, trends, challenges and applications of the business analysis discipline. 

Respondents represent a broad spectrum of industries, including the public sector, when answering questions about their organizations, including the following:

  • How do they rate the proficiency of their overall business analysis function?
  • How do they rate the proficiency of their individual business analysis activities?
  • What are the key success factors for their projects?

We found that proficiency in business analysis can vary among activities and among organizations, but respondents are essentially satisfied with their business analysis practices and outcomes.  While people believe their organizations’ business analysis practices are “good,” analysis shows there is room for improvement, indicating that “good” isn’t necessarily “good enough.” 

Gaps exist in certain business analysis areas, such as:
o   Proficiency in BA activities
o   The practice of BA at the enterprise level
o   Levels of experience
o   Achieving certification in BA

Key Findings

The survey revealed some key findings:

  • Respondents view business analysis as crucial to successful projects and in fact, the overall rating of business analysis functions is highly related to project success rates.

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  • Contradicting external evidence of findings of project results, more than 90 percent of respondents consider more than half their projects to have been successful over the last three years. 68 percent of respondents consider 75 percent or more of their projects to have been successful.
  • Middle management is more critical of the business analysis function than senior management, yet business analysts themselves also see room for improvement.

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  • Respondents at all levels of the organization rated the most important success factors of their projects as
  • customer satisfaction:  81 percent
  • on time completion:  62 percent
  • on budget delivery:  52 percent
  • product quality:  46 percent
  • Survey results indicated that business analysis is not viewed as being impactful to business results. Only 22 percent of respondents said profit impact is an important success factor for business analysis. Just 15 percent said acquisition and retention of customers, and 4 percent said market share are important success criteria for business analysis.
  • Just under 20 percent of total respondents said that they are responsible for enterprise analysis, and only 7 percent said that they spent most of their time on enterprise analysis.  Among BAs, only 26.3 percent are responsible for enterprise analysis and 6.5 percent said that they spent most of their time on enterprise analysis.
  • Nearly half of BA practitioners have five years or less of business analysis experience; of them, 15 percent have less than two years of experience. 21 percent have six to nine years’ experience and 30 percent have 10 years or more.
  • 37 percent of organizations have increased their number of BA positions in the last two years, and 27 percent expect to increase them over the next two years.
  • The key challenges faced in business analysis are communication (47 percent) and cross-functional collaboration (46 percent).
  • BA certification is not widespread in organizations, with only 2.5 percent of total respondents who said they have their CBAP® certification, and 6.4 percent of BA respondents who have their CBAP® certification.  1.8 percent of total respondents and 1.0 percent of BA respondents said they have a SCRUM Master certification.

 

Conclusions

Organizations are using business analysis to win the battle, but they may not win the war

The survey shows respondents make the connection between business analysis proficiency and project success, but that a disconnect still exists in recognizing the impact of business analysis and successful projects on business value and results. This could likely be the result of individuals’ granular focus on projects without seeing the Big Picture.  In addition, BAs do not always understand their impact on the organization from a financial or business perspective since they often conduct task-oriented work with stakeholders who may also lack an overall perspective.

Both business analysts and project managers need to become more involved at the enterprise level.  Not surprisingly, enterprise analysis ranks lowest in proficiency among business analysis activities.  Without an enterprise analysis perspective, BAs lack the connection between what they are doing and why they are doing it.  So while they may be winning the project battle, they don’t have the enterprise-wide perspective to win the war.

Most believe “good” is good enough

The majority of respondents believe that their business analysis competencies are good to excellent, and that 75 percent or more of their projects over the last three years were successful.  However, since real-world evidence indicates otherwise, organizations may be in need of a reality check. 

Business Analysis in demand despite inexperience and immaturity of the profession

The survey shows a relatively large population of less experienced practitioners of business analysis, with nearly half reporting five years or less of experience.  The still maturing nature of business analysis has numerous implications for organizations since it impacts performance, including the potential for business analysts to work from an enterprise perspective, handle challenges within their discipline and their organizations, and achieve a level of proficiency and success equated with more seasoned professionals. 

Despite this, organizations recognize the critical importance of requirements management and business analysis, with survey results showing an increase in the number of business analyst positions in the last two years, and an increased number of business analyst positions projected over the next two years.

Certification, tools lacking to support the business analysis discipline in organizations

Establishing business analysis as an organizational discipline may be undermined by a lack of the supporting elements of the profession.  The survey results show that business analysis certifications are held by a very small percentage of those practicing the discipline, unlike its project management counterpart, the Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification.  Just as surprising may be the small percentage of SCRUM Master certifications, given the importance of Agile as an explosive development methodology.  In addition, business analysis tools are not as prevalent as might be expected given their potential enhancement to the business analyst’s output, with more than one-third of respondents reporting using no dedicated tools at all.

Summary

In a competitive and economically challenging environment, there is always room for improvement—in business analysis, as well as in other areas. Organizations that allow themselves to stand still will be left behind.  Raising expectations for and the proficiency of business analysis in organizations is key to helping organizations realize the full potential of the discipline and maximize BA’s business impact. 

Don’t forget to add your comments below. 


Part 2 of “Why Good Isn’t Good Enough:  The Global State of Business Analysis” will examine the survey recipients’ responses to the survey questionnaire.

Glenn R. Brûlé, CBAP, CSM, Executive Director of Global Client Solutions, ESI International, brings more than two decades of focused business analysis experience to every ESI client engagement. As one of ESI’s subject matter experts, Glenn works directly with clients to build and mature their business analysis capabilities by drawing from the broad range of learning resources ESI offers. A recognized expert in the creation and maturity of BA Centers of Excellence, Glenn has helped clients in the energy, financial services, manufacturing, pharmaceutical, insurance and automotive industries, as well as government agencies across the world.

 

The Business Analyst Commandments

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  1. Eliminate ambiguity. If you can arrive at more than one understanding or conclusion, chances are so can a developer or tester.
  2. When using terminology, don’t assume everyone has the same understanding. Get immediate confirmation to avoid misunderstandings. A glossary of terms and related aliases are very helpful.
  3. Promote “plainspeak”, the use of common (English) language when describing business facts, rules, regulations, processes, data, etc. If it is necessary to document something in business or IT jargon then paraphrase its true meaning in plain English.
  4. When business or IT terms are used to describe something, always confirm the definition (e.g., when we say “transfer” we mean …).
  5. Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness.
  6. Understand cultural differences within or between business organization entities and IT. It will help in following other commandments.
  7. Requirements should describe what something isn’t as well as what it is.
  8. When eliciting requirements, ask clarifying questions to confirm the requirements are being clearly captured.
  9. When eliciting requirements, it is important to identify the audience affected (e.g., line of business, products, plan types, etc.).
  10. When documenting requirements, decisions or issue resolutions, it is equally important to document the “why” as much as the “who”, “what”, “when”, “where” and “how”. If you don’t, it is more likely that no one will remember later why we went down a certain path.
  11. When defining requirements, remember that it has to be testable. If you can’t adequately test it then the requirement is not adequately defined.
  12. There are no assumptions, only a current understanding of the facts. Use of assumptions only promotes growth of undesirable anatomical features.
  13. When writing (or speaking), put yourself in the reader’s (or listener’s) shoes. Would they really understand what I’m trying to convey based solely on the words I’ve written or spoken? Is there an unrealized expectation that they audience has some level of implicit knowledge in order to understand the subject matter?
  14. Treat your developers and technical support staff as you would like to be treated: as a trusted ally and good friend.
  15. Understand that people requiring your services as a BA don’t always know what they want and/or are unable to effectively articulate their needs. That’s why God invented BAs.
  16. As a trusted subject matter expert, people will usually believe what you say as fact, especially if you are good at clear communication. Being in this position of trust, there is an inherent risk that sometimes you may be wrong in your understanding (and are unaware[RC1] ). However, you are persuasive enough to convince everyone of this truth. You need to rely on others to be able to detect the conveyance of false truths before it’s too late.

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Tim Ward is a Business Analyst with over 30 years of experience in the financial services market dealing with group retirement plans. He is also a member of the IIBA and received his CBAP certification in 2009.

A Cornered CIO’s Strategy: Protracted Border Wars With The Business

It is an established fact that between Business and IT, relations are hardly ever harmonious. Moreover, each one endeavors to blame the other when things go wrong and both scramble to take credit when things go right.  When questioned about why Business and IT find it so difficult to get on, claims of being misunderstood is the rallying cry for both departments and often used as the first line of defense to conceal ulterior motives, incompetence and failure.

Interaction between the two departments can vary depending upon the political dynamics of the organization, and the individual personalities of the CIO and CBOs (Chief Business Officers). However, where the relationship is heavily tilted in the favor of the business, IT can find itself in a tough predicament. Continuously flooded with a tsunami of business requests and expected to deliver results in the face of never-ending cost rationalization drives; CIO’s often struggle to meet day-to-day deadlines. Increasingly, CIOs find themselves isolated at the executive level and are coerced to do ‘more with less’. Capitulated and brow-beaten by the business executives, the CIOs dare say no!—for the consequences maybe too grave to contemplate. Gone is the spare time to think about strategy, optimize processes, improve the delivery methodology and lift the morale of over-worked IT workforce. The only recourse left for CIOs is to dream better times and make do with what they have.

CIOs need not to accept this fate. In fact, if they exercise their options correctly, they can turn the tables on the business and move from being viewed as an obstacle to an enabler of business value. But first, the astute CIO must get his/her own house in order. This often implies, finding the time and space to think and act strategically, and to restructure the IT department. This is no mean feat, especially when the business enjoys the upper hand amongst the executive team, and expects IT to deliver to its beckoning call.

An effective course of action is to adroitly manipulate the volume of requests from the business.  This does not imply that the CIO has to look at implementing industry best practice demand management techniques, even though it is essential and part of a long term solution. The immediate requirement is for the CIO to create enough time and space to think strategically and implement important decisions that produce a sea change in the IT landscape and bolster its capability to deliver real value to the business. 

One way to do this is to make the entry point into IT a legitimate choke point for the business i.e. to use business language to increase the time it takes to sign off requirements. Typically, IT requirement teams do not have the mindset or the skills to engage in endless border wars, which are intended to sap the energy in this case of the business units. Yes, the IT requirements management team is staffed with competent business analysts who specialize in low-level business requirements, but more often than not, the business analysts are not considered domain experts by the business and are usually treated with contempt. Moreover, the business analysts are in no position to question business’s ‘holy grail’ i.e. the high-level business requirements.

To reverse this equation, it is important to augment the IT requirements management team with domain experts, who understand the business needs better than the business and have a proven track record of  delivering ‘best in class’ business solutions. In other words, these domain experts must be able to challenge, poke holes and make fun of the business requests (while keeping a straight face of course!). So if Sales, HR and Finance are the biggest requestors (IT’s biggest adversaries) of demand then the IT requirements management team should be staffed with domain experts from these three areas. These experts are charged with the responsibility of delaying the processing of the demand by demonstrating flaws in the business requests and quantifying the cost of these flaws. Subsequently, the business will be forced to listen and take note. In this way, the CIO should be able reduce the business demand to his liking, and at the board level is armed with enough information to shoot down any re-requests or threats.

Oddly enough, by inserting domain experts in the requirements management team, the CIO is able to enrich, and fast-track requests from other business units thereby effectively dividing the business into allies and enemies.  Hence, at executive meetings the CIO is no longer isolated but supported by other business units who value IT’s contribution.

Therefore by making the entry point into IT a legitimate choking point affords the CIO extra time to make radical changes to the IT landscape. The amount of time devoted to strategizing and re-organizing IT depends to a large degree on the quality of the domain experts and their ability to fight ‘border wars’ with different business units. Given the current recession, it is not too difficult to find C-Level executives on short-term contracts playing such intimidating roles.  This short-term strategy is only effective if the CIO can keep the business divided and demonstrate value in rejecting business requests from the most powerful business units.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.


Abid Mustafa is a seasoned professional with 18 years’ experience in the IT and Telecommunications industry, specializing in enhancing corporate performance through the establishment and operation of executive PMOs and delivering tangible benefits through the management of complex transformation programs and projects. Currently, he is working as a director of corporate programs for a leading telecoms operator in the MENA region.