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The New Role of the Business Analyst and The Strategic Implications

The new role of the BA is far more strategic in both the organizational sense as well as at the project level. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the BA, when appropriately leveraged, represents a liaison between business, project and customer teams. This shift in responsibilities identifies two areas that need to be addressed by any organization seeking to expand this role:

  • The organizational structure must support the actions of a “strategic” BA position. 
  • The BA candidate must have wide skill sets, encompassing many general management competencies.

As organizations shift to become “projectized,” the roles and responsibilities that have supported projects within a traditional matrix structure must shift as well. Over the years we have seen organizations struggle with the following challenges related to shifts in both structure and culture: 

  • Broken or disjointed cross-functional communication channels. 
  • Uncertainty around roles and responsibilities within the project structure and beyond. 
  • Quality concerns at the point of project delivery. 
  • Skewed scope statements and, thus, implementation plans due to early-stage breakdown. 
  • Overall loss of productivity on project teams due to lack of continuity and methods.

The items noted above are tell-tale signs that several strategic components of a best practice project management environment are missing. In the past, we addressed the discussion around project office and methodology; the topic of BA is an integral component to bring both of those items to life in the real world.

Forward looking or best in class organizations have aggressively embraced the concept of the BA role. What sets them apart from the old school thinking associated with this job title is the escalation and expansion of the roles, definition and responsibilities. Not too many years ago, a BA may have been confined to a very technical role within an IT environment working on specifications, functionality and even some quality and testing related to one or more project life cycles. Today we are seeing BA positions filled from across the organization and expect that this trend will continue, as it should.

Let’s address these points in the context of how they can be leveraged to meet the challenges:

Broken or disjointed cross-functional communication channels

A BA should be in front of any project communication produced, from the point of team inception to the close-out phase. This interaction does not mean that the BA takes on the role of project manager (although we have seen organizations combine the two roles), as it is not effective on larger and longer term initiatives. Our experience shows that an independent BA position can help to promote better communication, align protocol and help the project manager to extend his/her reach into the project teams.

Uncertainty around roles and responsibilities within the project structure and beyond

The BA functions as a tour guide through the project plan ensuring that all of the moving pieces are touching at the right points. We call these critical communication points and they can be built around time, budget or deliverable expectations. The BA will be assigned a protocol map within the project structure to enable better access to expectations, and provide for a proactive way to reach team members.

Quality concerns at the point of project delivery

In reality, the BA is monitoring quality points through the project life cycle, thus producing a quality product at the close of the project. Very much like the thinking around proactive quality control, the BA is in front of each deliverable and monitors the progress against the project plan. This allows for immediate communication between the project manager, customer and associated teams.

Skewed scope statements and thus implementation plans due to early stage breakdown

The planning stages of a project are obviously critical to the implementation plan and ultimate quality. A BA should be assigned early in the process and work hand in hand with the project manager to ensure the highest level of intimacy with the plan. Just as important, they need to have a direct connection to the internal and external customers in order to ensure collaboration and proactive attention to emerging issues.

Overall loss of productivity on project teams due to lack of continuity and methods

A strategic BA assists the project manager and PMO with the execution of best practice within an organization’s project management structure. The BA has a unique opportunity to guide the process through an existing methodology and essentially help the project to operate in better alignment. This is accomplished by having a dedicated individual who is consistently working against the deliverables and is not distracted by the operations management associated with the project manager’s job.

By taking the above steps you have begun the shift toward the organizational structure needed to take advantage of the BA position. With that said, we still have one more change to make in order to secure success.

It is obvious that the BA role, as defined here, will require wider skill sets than the more traditional BA position, still driven from the IT departments of yester-year. To that point we have begun to see a trend where the BA position can spawn from either business or IT. This is an interesting point as it speaks volumes to an organization’s maturity around project management. Imagine, for just a moment, an organization that has no boundaries within in its functions and everyone on the team collaborates toward a common goal. I like to call this organizational desegregation and cultural morphing. As we begin the next phase of benchmarking the project management industry and clients, we are beginning to see this shift as a representative of the next wave of advancing thought in the project management space. It was not too many years ago that I published an article on the emerging role of the project manager as the CEO of his/her project. I am confident that the BA role will take a firmly positioned spot in the upper hierarchy of any world class project organization within the next few years.

In order to succeed the BA will need to have a competency profile that meets the following criteria: 

  • Excellent understanding of both business and technology within the project environment. 
  • Be a leader, communicator and professional. 
  • Understand the skills associated with internal consulting techniques. 
  • Be proficient in project management skills as well as a complete understanding of the internal process. 
  • Epitomize the essence of a collaborator and team player. 
  • Understand and be able to navigate through the organization’s politics and structure. 
  • Be able to manage without having authority via negotiation. 
  • Understand true stewardship-based service.

So, the BA role probably looks a little different than a traditional structure may have dictated. Yet, this is the trend and, I believe, will become the norm. As organizations look to enhance productivity and quality while reducing cost, they are finding this role to be extremely important. Additionally, project managers we spoke to during the research for this article all stated that having a BA on the team made their job easier, and allowing them to focus on deliverable based activity.

It is important to note that this type of structure is recommended for mid- to large-size projects, but on the smaller initiatives we found that these attributes were part of the project manager’s role.


Phil Ventresca is Founder, CEO and President of Advanced Management Services, Inc. (AMS), a full service management consultancy servicing an international client base. Phil has utilized his extensive background in management and consulting to lead AMS to its current status as a multi-million dollar enterprise with an international customer base. Phil has led the organization to recognize several strategic breakthroughs such as developing partnerships with distance education providers, software developers and publishers. Through these efforts, AMS has emerged as a leader in consulting, training and assessment services. He has also founded three other businesses which remain under his direction, PTV Equity Management, WIT Group and AMS Aviation. For more information regarding this topic Phil can be contacted at [email protected].

The Importance of Requirements Traceability

Discovering a list of requirements and then not linking them to design, construction and testing often results in the delivery of a system that may not fully support the business process which it was intended to automate. Only through traceability can the project team ensure that all requirements are implemented. Traceability assures the business stakeholders that the developed system supports their original requirements.

Client Story: A Large Financial Institution

A large financial institution recognized that their IT projects were consistently not meeting the expectations of the project stakeholders. Delivery of systems with missing or incorrect business requirements resulted in modification of business process or expensive workarounds so that the system could be used. Consequently, many costly change requests were generated, often to implement requirements which were identified during the requirements phase of the project lifecycle.

Lessons Learned

  1. Each element of the design must come from the business requirements.
  2. In order for the system to deliver value it must support the process. The system is based on the design. Therefore, the design must be based on the process the system is to support.
  3. To ensure expectations are met, test cases should be based on business requirements, not technical design.

The client did an analysis of several projects which delivered systems that did not fully meet requirements and determined that the root of the problem was an inconsistent methodology to elicit and document business requirements. After a search process, IAG was selected to assess the organizational maturity in the area of requirements. IAG was also tasked with developing a customized optimal requirements process based on industry and organizational best practices as well as IAG practical experience gained on hundreds of requirements projects.

Recipe for Success

In order to determine the root cause of the requirements deficiencies, IAG conducted a Requirements Management Maturity Assessment (RMMATM). The RMMA is used for the identification and improvement of an organization’s business analysis, requirements definition and requirements management capabilities. The assessment evaluates not only organizational capabilities with respect to process, but also staff competency, practices and techniques, tools employed, organizational infrastructure and support, deliverables, and results which are currently being achieved.

IAG conducted a series of structured interviews with stakeholder groups including Business Analysts, Project Managers and key members from Lines of Business and IT. Additionally, IAG administered an assessment survey and a Business Analyst competency test to measure perceived and actual skill levels of the staff responsible for requirements management. Several common themes arose while conducting interviews with stakeholder groups, one of which was the lack of traceability after the requirements had been discovered. A number of key stakeholders went so far as to voice their skepticism about the success of any new requirements methodology since past projects had been implemented without incorporating all requirements discovered under previously-used practices. It was determined that the root cause of these past failures was that once business requirements were documented and handed over to the design and construction teams, they were not referenced going forward. In fact, test cases usually tested the design rather than the business requirements; if requirements did not make it into the design, testing would not catch the problem.

“For the first time, this approach provides us with a flexible and adaptable approach that takes us from our clients’ true business requirements seamlessly through software design. We also generate our test cases right at the start and ensure traceability through our SDLC.”

J.S., AVP Individual Systems

Upon completion of the RMMA, IAG produced a Requirements Practices Guide which included both an elicitation framework androbust tracking of requirements from discovery through testing and implementation. IAG then demonstrated the value of traceability through the success of several projects, in which the Financial Institution engaged IAG as a partner during the Requirements Phase. The Financial Institution now writes functional requirements which are derived directly from the business requirements discovered when describing the business process. These requirements are managed using a Requirements Traceability Matrix connecting them to design and testing elements and even linking change requests created during the course of the project. This has resulted in a dramatic decrease in missed requirements as demonstrated by a 75%reduction in change requests on similarly-sized projects.

Advice for Project Managers

When managing your project’s requirements consider what was needed in this client’s case: a better process to create functional requirements for each business component to be automated, as well as, the ability to trace those requirements through design, construction and testing to ensure each business requirement is satisfied as intended.

The client’s expectations are that the system performs functions to support their business process, as documented in their business requirements. Therefore, you have to reflect your client’s business process in the functional requirements. Ultimately, you must deliver a system which allows the business to function in its desired state. You can achieve this by creating a functional requirement for each business component to be automated – but – don’t forget to trace each requirement through the development lifecycle. Both are needed to ensure the system meets stakeholder expectations.


Duncan McDonald is a Senior Consultant at IAG Consulting (http://www.iag.biz/) with over 20 years of experience in bringing practical advice to clients across many industries.  Duncan has completed dozens of large-scale requirements projects with IAG’s clients as a lead requirements facilitator and requirements architect.  As a requirements trainer and best practices advisor, Duncan has also supported a variety of large clients in becoming more efficient in requirements discovery and management practices.  Duncan is a sought-after consultant, who brings pragmatic solutions to clients that want dramatic performance gains. 

Back to Basics and a Look to the Future

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9:50 AM
Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

ProjectWorld * BusinessAnalystWorld
Toronto 2008

Thank you for being part of this!

To view a slideshow of photos from the 2008 Toronto event, click here.

It’s been a hectic couple of weeks with ProjectWorld * BusinessAnalystWorld in Toronto in mid-April and Project Summit & BusinessAnalystWorld in Philadelphia this week. But it has been an enjoyable couple of weeks meeting new and old associates, hearing great speakers and being exposed to exciting new ideas.

And we have another exciting Business Analyst Times for you. Glenn Brûlé continues his Back to Basic series with episode two, Second Fundamental: Creating a Common Vocabulary, in which he discusses the old bugbear – communication and the positive or negative impact it can have on the project. Robert Wysocki wonders if it might be worth considering merging the BA and PM functions into one. Always sure to make people sit up, he puts forward his ideas in Is it Time for the BA and the PM to Get Hitched? Sandra Lavoy looks at what it takes to retain good IT people and Natasha Terk revisits the subject of e-mail with Ten Tips for Writing Effective E-mail Messages.

Our bloggers are back in fine form with their distinctive views – and not always agreeing! Check them out and take sides or sit on the fence. Either way, let us know what you think.

Best Regards, 

Adam R. Kahn
Publisher, Business Analyst Times
[email protected]

The Perils of Poorly Written E-Mail

Poorly written e-mail can sabotage careers, threaten productivity, and negatively affect a company’s image, while effective e-mail increases productivity and improves the workplace environment. It is an important skill that helps people advance their careers and keeps businesses competitive.

E-mail has become the primary method of business communication, surpassing the telephone as our preferred communication tool in the workplace (Datamonitor report, September 2007). While most people already sense that this is the case, we often don’t stop to consider the implications for our careers. It’s time for employers and employees to face the reality that e-mail writing skills could make or break a career. While most of us understand that poorly written e-mail can waste time, we forget that poorly written e-mail can also create costly misunderstandings, catapult deadlines, delay deliverables, impact people’s opinion of you, and sabotage your career.

Employers should also take note: A Write It Well survey found that more than half of American workers spend a third of their day reading and responding to e-mail and nearly 75 percent said that they could make better use of that time.  Wasted time affects a company’s overall productivity and financial statements and in today’s increasingly global economy, companies rely on e-mail to allow large teams across various time zones to work together efficiently on projects. When extreme time differences are combined with various languages, poorly written e-mail can be detrimental to a project’s results and deteriorate team dynamics, both of which directly affect a company’s bottom line. Poorly written e-mail can also affect a company’s public image. In a recent Write It Well survey, a whopping eighty-eight percent of respondents said that badly written e-mail leaves a poor impression of not only the writer, but the writer’s organization as well.

In addition to image, productivity and financial problems, poorly written e-mail can have serious legal implications. IT security and control firm, Sophos, recently found that seventy percent of businesses are concerned about data leakage via e-mail, and fifty percent of employees have sent e-mail with sensitive information to the wrong person causing corporate embarrassment, compliance breaches, and the loss of business-critical information. Whether by accident or because they didn’t think carefully, people send inappropriate and damaging e-mail everyday.  “In high stakes business litigation, the first place I look for smoking gun evidence that may win (or lose) the case is the e-mail server,” said Jonathan W. Hughes, a director of the San Francisco law firm Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk & Rabkin. 

Even with so much at stake, more professionals are entering the workforce without the ability to express themselves clearly in writing. According to The National Commission on Writing for America’s Families, Schools, and Colleges, schools and colleges today neglect writing and, as a result, many college graduates enter the workforce with poor writing skills. Yet, writing is a fundamental business skill. In fact, a recent survey by the Commission found that half of all companies assess writing skills during the hiring process and when making promotion decisions.

The solution is for companies to invest in business writing skills – and specifically, e-mail writing. E-mail writing is a specific skill that needs to be learned explains Terk. Our book, E-Mail – A Write It Well Guide, is a training tool designed to improve the reader’s e-mail writing skills in a very practical way. With a six-step writing plan and a focus on job relevance, readers are rewarded with immediate results. Designed for use by individuals, teams, or as part of classroom training, E-Mail – A Write It Well Guide is cost-effective and flexible.  A facilitator guide allows trainers, managers, and team leaders to lead their own e-mail workshop, and customized training programs are also available.  


Natasha Terk is President of Write It Well, a training and consulting company that helps people in the workplace communicate clearly and work together effectively. Write It Well offers step-by-step techniques to improve business writing through onsite and online training courses, as well as business writing books with companion facilitator guides. E-Mail – A Write It Well Guide, ISBN 978-0-9637455-9-0, is now available at amazon.com and bookstores nation-wide for $21.99.  Visit http://www.writeitwell.com/ for more information about Write It Well’s books, on-site training, and facilitator guides. 

Getting Back To Basics

First Fundamental: Understanding Overall Business Goals

I have noticed themes emerge during each of the last few years, which I believe embodied overall trends during the year.  For 2008, I believe “getting back to basics” is a theme that deserves great attention and consideration.  With the tremendous growth in both the acknowledgment and the embrace of the profession of business analysis, it’s hard not to imagine BAs being simply overwhelmed by the vastness of information that exists. Returning to the foundational principles of business analysis will make the vastness more navigable.

In a Google search of business analysis, the results weighed in with an impressive 73,300,000 hits. With all that information out there, where does one begin trying to understand how he or she might be successful in practicing even reasonably good business analysis techniques?  Returning to the fundamentals will enable you to utilize a kind of Occam’s Razor, or law of economy, in your technique.  Occam’s Razor is a principle originated in medieval times, and still used today, which states that entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity.  In other words; the simpler the better. 

There are five key fundamentals that will enable you to wield your own Occam’s Razor and derive great requirements: 

  1. Understand the overall business goals and the desire to build a solution that meets them
  2. Create a common understanding of “vocabulary” to be shared by all
  3. Identify the sources from which you will extract your requirements
  4. Understand which elicitation technique is most appropriate, considering your resources
  5. Understand – with absolute clarity –  what modeling techniques are most appropriate, given the solution(s) to be designed

This article will focus on the first fundamental. Successive articles will expand on the remaining four areas that must be practiced time and again on any BA development and management opportunity.

Be Clear On The Vision

So very often I have had the opportunity to parachute into a project where the requirements development process is well underway or about to get underway. Sadly, in the majority of cases, when I ask team members what the overall vision is for what they are doing, they are unable to answer this fundamental question. Without a common understanding of your destination, how can you and the rest of your team members be clear or confident on what directions you are to take in identifying stakeholders and defining, developing and even managing the requirements process?  No matter how large, how small or how urgently the client “has to have this,” creating a vision statement provides a map, and the BA is the compass that guides the organization in following the map. 

It isn’t my recommendation to write a lengthy vision statement; quality rules, not quantity.  In order to accurately define a vision statement for the project that you are about to begin or are currently adrift in, a simple question may prove to be the guiding light: “Is what we are doing adding value to the organization in that it supports the organization’s overall business goals, values, vision or mission?”

If you or any of your team members cannot answer this question in a short and concise manner, your project is at risk.

Some basic steps can be taken to correct the navigation instrument that will guide you to your destination.  Simply stated, the vision answers the who, what, why, when, where and how of what you are about to embark upon.  Consider this: if you were to get in an elevator at the lobby level and the executive sponsor were with you, could you accurately describe to him or her in one minute or less what it is that you are working on?  That’s right-a vision statement is your “elevator” speech, but from a business point of view.

There is no question that this will often evolve into a project charter or form the basis from which you will continue to refine your business case.  This is the starting point and will continue to provide input into other areas of your project, so above all, be clear on what you will include in your vision statement.  Here are some guidelines that I recommend:

  1. Clearly articulate the reason(s) that stakeholders are seeking to develop a solution
  2. Identify who the consumers of this solution will be
  3. Determine if the solution supports the overall business goals and objectives

Facilitating Consensus Among Stakeholders

If you are clear about the above process, then a facilitated session with key stakeholders and the executive sponsor with the intent of verifying these guiding statements should prove to be a relatively easy task.  Have the group identify the following:

  1. Why is there a need for a particular project?  Are we solving a problem?  Taking advantage of an opportunity?
  2. Who are the consumers of the end result (external customers, internal users, etc.)?
  3. What benefits will the organization realize and the consumer of the solution realize? Can we quantify those benefits?
  4. What is the nature of the solution?  Is it an improvement to an existing system or process? Are we in the hunt for a new product or service? Are we taking on the implementation of a complex system?
  5. If it is a service we are going to offer, will it be competitive or allow our organization to remain competitive in the marketplace?  Will it be a unique offering or service that consumers will actually want or use?

All of these questions can be answered using a variety of facilitation techniques, including

  • Brainstorming, or the nominal group technique
  • Requirements identification
  • Requirements prioritization
  • Consensus building
  • Workshops
  • Gap analysis

Prioritize the results if necessary but, above everything else, be certain that all the stakeholders come to a consensus on the vision statement and that it aligns with the overall business objectives and goals.  Using the steps outlined, one should be able to derive a vision statement. The following example is a vision statement for the development of a travel and expense management solution:

Any individual or business unit  that incurs expenses will immediately realize that automating such things as credit card downloads, approval chains, assigning GL codes, and converting foreign currencies will improve the speed and efficiency with which reports can be written and approved. Unlike the conventional and cumbersome means of filling in a spreadsheet, a Web-based product will not only provide the convenience of accessibility, but will also prove to be a great tool for auditing and evaluating types of expenses incurred, and negotiating travel expenditures with respective vendors.

The Three Ls of Business Analysis

I’m sure you’ve heard the three Ls of real estate:  location, location, location.  It’s the overriding, fundamental principal that every realtor knows.  For BAs, the word (and function) “quantify” is our equivalent mantra.  Here’s the best part about quantifying your findings: it’s empowering. 

Too often BAs abdicate their true role and become order takers.  Quantifying your findings will restore your true role as an objective advisor.  It takes the burden from you of being the bearer of bad news, since the numbers-the expected ROI or Internal Rate of Return (IRR), the amount and value of resources required, the deliverables-speak for themselves.  Quantifying the potential outcome will make the case for either assuredly moving forward or knowing that a project or program is not feasible. 

Take, for example, a retailer whose mission is to be number one in sales in their market.  Does it mean they are going to source the merchandise they sell or manufacture their own as well?  The BA’s role is to provide quantification to demonstrate outcomes for both sourcing and manufacturing options. Eliciting proper requirements is critical at this stage to determine, among other needs, what the target market should be, who the customers are, who is responsible for implementation and product development in its entirety.  

The Fundamental Edge

In a favorite quote of mine by John F. Kennedy, he said, “There are risks and costs to a program of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.”  Heady stuff, but it certainly applies when the success or failure of a business or organization is at stake. 

Time and time again I have witnessed client/customer pressures to produce quality services, and the effects that these pressures have had on a project team and BAs due to “cutting corners” in order to meet these demands.  Failure to get back to basics will result in increased risk, decreased quality and budgets that amount to, or exceed, the number of hits that Google produces when you perform a search for business analysis!

These are just a few of the risks BAs face as they perform their jobs.  However, deploying the fundamentals will ensure that you provide your best counsel for the organization’s success.

This is the first in a five part series of articles by Glenn Brûlé.


Glenn R. Brûlé has more than 18 years experience in many facets of business, including project management, business analysis, software design and facilitation. At ESI (www.esi-intl.com), he is responsible for supporting a global team of business consultants working with Fortune 1000 organizations. As the Director at Large for the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA), Brûlé’s primary responsibility is to form local chapters of the IIBA around the world by working with volunteers from organizations across various industries, including financial services, manufacturing, pharmaceutical, insurance and automotive, as well as government agencies.