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Tag: Skills

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.

Lost in Translation: The Perils of Ambiguity in Business Communication

In recent years, I’ve traveled a lot less than I did before the pandemic. One thing this has led to is me seeing processes and practices with fresh eyes. When you travel regularly, the novelty wears off and a sort of ‘autopilot’ kicks in, and a period of not traveling means that everything is less familiar and more open to scrutiny.

I was recently thinking about the questions that are commonly asked when checking in bags before a flight. I can’t even remember if these questions are asked verbally any more, or if there’s some sort of sign or declaration, but there certainly used to be questions such as:

 

  • “Have you left the bag unattended at any time?”
  • “Did you pack the bag yourself?”

 

I suspect, like many people, if you were asked these questions a semi-autopilot would kick in and you’d say ‘no’ without thinking. After all, presumably these questions are aimed at catching smugglers or criminals of some other type. The questions almost seem redundant for ‘normal’ people.

Let’s examine one of the questions, as I think some of the patterns here are important for business and business analysis more generally….

 

What does “unattended” mean?

Let’s take the first question (“have you left the bag unattended?”).  This question is, upon examination, really quite vague.  In fact, I’m pretty sure the actual question airport staff is more specific, but humor me and let’s imagine they ask it in this way.

A first challenge is what the word ‘unattended’ means to one person might be quite different to another.  Take the following situations, do you consider them to mean that the baggage has been left ‘unattended’?

 

  • You’ve just taken a connecting flight and have had to re-check your bags. Your bags have been handled by baggage handlers, and have been left unattended in the hold of the plane
  • You traveled to the airport by bus. The bags were in the baggage compartment of the bus and you didn’t have access to them during the three hour bus ride. There were several stops along the way where passenger bags were loaded/unloaded. Anyone could have accessed your bag at those times.
  • You drove to the airport. It was a long drive so you stopped for gas and a meal. Your car was parked in a car park for over an hour
  • You traveled as a group in two taxis. Your bag was in the other taxi, accompanied by your friends but not you

 

It’s tricky, isn’t it? Technically, if you’ve checked your bags into a previous flight, they have been unattended for a period of time. Yet, you’d likely say ‘no’ to this question… because you know that this isn’t a circumstance that actually counts as ‘unattended’.  I suppose as travelers we intuitively know what’s being asked and what matters. Or at least we think we do…

After all, if we were to literally interpret the question “have you left your bag unattended at any time?” then there is no way that ‘no’ would be a valid answer. Of course it’s been left unattended at some times… when it’s in the closet not being used!

 

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Beyond Airports: Why Definitions Matter

You probably don’t work in an airport, so might be wondering why I’m obsessing over the wording of a check-in question. This pattern of ambiguity potentially leading to misunderstandings, confusion or (more usually) people making assumptions is rife in organizations and projects too.

Much like the term ‘unattended’ has ambiguity attached, other seemingly ‘obvious’ terms can be problematic. Take the word ‘customer’, it sounds clear, doesn’t it? Perhaps you’ve even written a requirement or user story which articulates what a customer can do.  Yet even such a simple-sounding word leaves room for ambiguity. For example:

 

  • Does someone have to have already bought something to be considered a ‘customer’? Or does the term ‘customer’ include prospects/people in the buying pipeline too? Or do there need to be two terms, ‘prospect’ and ‘customer’?
  • If the person paying for a product/service is different from the person using/benefiting from it, which one is the customer? Are they both customers?
  • Is the term used to mean internal as well as external customers?
  • Are there different customer types? Does a requirement or story apply to all types or only some types of customer?

 

Things can get even more complicated than this. Who is the ‘customer’ of the judicial system, the prison service, and so on. It very much depends on who you ask, which is why it is important to actually ask the question!

 

Definitions Make For Concise Requirements And Stories

This comes back to a key point that is (sadly) often overlooked: definitions matter. A glossary might not be considered a new or exciting artifact, but it can really help ensure people are on the same page. With a clear and shared understanding of key terms, requirements and stories can be more concise.

A small investment in a shared glossary can save lots of time in the long run. Starting early is the most effective way of doing this. And believe me, if you don’t create one, there will come a point in time where you wish you had!

 

 

 

 

Best of BATimes: 3 Reasons Why the BA/PM Hybrid Role is So Difficult

There are many variations of the BA Hybrid role, but the Business Analyst/Project Manager hybrid is the most widely discussed.

 

While there may be disagreement on whether there should be a blended BA/PM role and where the two roles differ and overlap, I think we can all agree on one thing: this hybrid role can be very challenging. It is also a hybrid that is gaining popularity as organizations look for ways to become leaner and more flexible. In this article, I will highlight the top three reasons why this hybrid role can be difficult for many and some suggestions to overcome the challenges.

 

1. The BA/PM role requires expertise in both disciplines.

The BA/PM role requires highly developed competencies across both disciplines which require education and experience across both to execute well. The problem is, many organizations, whether intentionally or circumstantially, assume that a good BA can quite naturally take on project management responsibilities and the same goes for PMs being able to take on business analysis tasks. The reality is that while one person could do both, there will most likely be a marked difference in the level at which they execute if they are experienced in one and not the other.

For example, an excellent PM with limited BA experience will likely get the project done but the value delivered may be less than initially expected by the stakeholders. Why? Because project management focuses on delivering the project according to the project requirements, but business analysis looks deeper at the meaning of the requirements and how the solution will be best implemented. A PM who is inexperienced in business analysis may take the requirements as stated by the stakeholders at face value, something that a more experienced BA would look deeper at and inquire more about. A BA with little or no PM experience may produce well-defined requirements but would likely struggle when it comes to managing multiple project constraints because they do not have the experience needed to make professional judgments that will keep the project on track.

 

2. This role only works well with small changes.

The IIBA Competency Model states this concerning hybrid roles, “The dual hybrid role is typically associated with small or less complex work efforts, where it is possible for a single person to perform both roles effectively.” This is true when it comes to the BA/PM hybrid and those performing these roles are certainly aware of this reality. This becomes an issue when an organization is immature in either discipline or is undergoing organizational restructuring. While it may be well understood that smaller is better with this kind of role, when an organization is not mature in performing project management and business analysis, the cost of failure and the loss of value is not easily identified.

When an organization is undergoing organizational realignment, they often take an “all hands on” approach to getting things done, which may leave one person managing large or risky efforts while holding multiple responsibilities. From the outside, it can appear as a great way to maximize resources because no one truly understands the real costs of having one person doing both.

 

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3. The role may not be well-defined or adequately supported.

Any role that is undefined or poorly defined is likely to cause problems. With the BA/PM role it can be even more evident. Many BA roles already have a lot of presumed tasks that impact the nature of their work. Many PMs have roles loaded with other responsibilities outside of project management. When the two roles are combined into a BA/PM role that is ambiguous and undefined, it can produce a lot of issues, not only for the individual in the role, but also for the organization.

Many times, the BA/PM hybrid role is not even officially acknowledged as a hybrid role and appears out of necessity where the person keeps the same job title but assumes more responsibility in the other domain. These situations can also make it hard to find the right person for the role. It is not enough to simply take two full-time job descriptions and merge them together into a double job description. There must be much thought given to what they will be asked to do and what they will not be asked to do. If this boundary is not created, it will set up the BA/PM to manage their work by urgency only, because there won’t be enough time to do everything they are assigned.

 

Increasing the Odds of Success

To ensure that the BA/PM role is successful, organizations must pay attention to the role and what is needed to increase the odds of success. It is not enough to merely assign additional responsibilities to an existing role. Organizations must take the time to define the role considering the value they expect to receive and the inherent limitations of the role. Once the job is defined, there must be a concerted effort to keep assignments within the size and complexity that will best enable success and have mechanisms in place to measure that.

Additionally, there must be some consideration given to what will be needed to support the BA/PM. Are there other team members who can assist with tasks that would normally be associated with one or the other function? I have been successful in BA/PM hybrid roles where I had an oversight role on the business analysis side and was expected to review and guide the work of other BAs, rather than do everything myself. A successful support structure will also include access to the education, training and mentoring needed to allow those performing the role to sharpen their skills. All of these will increase the odds for success in the BA/PM hybrid role.

Published on: 2017/02/16

Best of BATimes: 5 Characteristics of Effective Business Analysts

“Business Analyst” is not just a title. Is not a job. It is a mindset, a concept and a structured process executed by people in different positions inside an organization. It’s more like, an approach of making the things happen from the realization of business need towards the final implementation.

It’s easy to call yourself business analyst but difficult to be a good and effective business analyst. The field can be great fun, and very rewarding, but you need to be prepared. People who take on business analysis roles typically believe they need three things: skills and experience, a bit of marketing, and an interest in working in a variety of environments. However successful business analysts know they need much more than a technical expertise and specific skills. They need a mindset and a specific attitude in order to serve with the best possible and feasibly way their clients business needs.

What is expected from business analysts can vary widely. And what they actually need you to do can be completely different from what they expect. Business analysis is an exciting, dynamic form of work. You can have a positive impact on your clients and be well paid for your effort. But you have to be appropriately equipped.

To be an effective and successful business analysis you need to continuously develop some specific characteristics.

 

The first is technical depth. It’s critical that you have the technical background to satisfy your clients’ needs. This means you have experience in a variety of environments. The more breadth of experience you have in your technical area, the easier it will be to apply your skill as a business analyst.

Second, effective business analysts need to understand quickly and accurately what’s happening in their client’s environment. Your power of observation needs to be well tuned. Being able to listen carefully and patiently, observe the behavior of your clients, and make sense of what is happening is very important.

Third, effective business analyst care about the welfare of their client’s business and the clients themselves. You need to be able to put yourself in your client’s shoes and appreciate the difficulties they may be facing or have faced. While what you do may seem routine to you, it probably isn’t routine for your client. You need to appreciate that fact and behave accordingly.

 

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Another important characteristic is emotional intelligence. Often clients will engage you because they’ve had substantial difficulties. They may have a skill shortage, or they may not be sure how to manage what you’ve been asked to deliver. All these conditions create stress. On top of that, you’ll be striving to learn as much as you can as quickly as you can, so you’ll be under stress as well. Dealing with all that requires personal emotional maturity and the ability to assess and deal with the emotional state of your client.

Also, you have to develop the observation and effective listening as a personal characteristic, make recommendations based on sound business judgment, and be patient. As trust builds, the direction your client provides will likely become more reasonable. Work out your contract. Understand your client’s needs and desires, and establish a good relationship with your contract manager, and you could put on your superhero costume to celebrate your success. Observation helps towards a really robust problem definition statement. So as you look at your problem-solving, and you’re getting ready to start pursuing that initial set of ideas, you need to go through that prioritization and pick the highest value one that’s going to have the biggest impact on your overall solution.

 

Business analysis is performed on a variety of initiatives within an enterprise. Initiatives may be strategic, tactical, or operational. Business analysis may be performed within the boundaries of a project or throughout enterprise evolution and continuous improvement. No matter their job title or organizational role business analysts are responsible for discovering, synthesizing, and analyzing information in order the best solutions to be derived and the clients’ needs to be accommodated in the best possible way.

 

 

Published on: Dec 2, 2021

Don’t Deliver a Donkey instead of a Horse

All of us at some point in our life have heard of the children’s game called Telephone Game or Broken Telephone. In this game, Players form a line or circle, and the first player comes up with a message and whispers it to the ear of the second person in the line. The second player repeats the message to the third player, and so on. When the last player is reached, they announce the message they just heard, to the entire group. Very often, the message that comes out at the end is quite different from what the first player had whispered, and this creates a lot of amusement.

Now imagine that same game being played when a project is initiated. In this case, the project sponsor or sponsors may request for a given deliverables at the onset of the project based on business needs. However, after the message gets filtered through many teams, the outcome may not match what was asked for in this first place resulting in a number of unhappy customers or stakeholders. This can be considered as delivering a Donkey when asked for a Horse. The moral of this story is that if there was proper end to end communication, the result would have been much closer to what the sponsor asked for in the first place. Effective Communication is considered as one of the most important aspects of both personal and work life.

 

Business analysts need to effectively gather and convey information between stakeholders, team members, and other parties involved in a project. Clear and concise communication ensures that requirements are accurately understood, objectives are aligned, and expectations are managed. Effective communication fosters collaboration helps in resolving conflicts and ensures that the project stays on track. Some of the key techniques or aspects of communication within the business analysis domain are discussed below. All of them are equally important and need to be considered during any engagement and can be improved through training and constant practise.

 

  1. Active Listening.

Active listening plays a crucial role in business analysis. It involves fully engaging with stakeholders, understanding their needs, concerns, and requirements. This helps the BA to gather accurate and detailed requirement related information, which is essential for making informed decisions and developing effective solutions. Active listening improves collaboration, builds rapport, and ensures that project goals align with stakeholders’ expectations.

 

  1. Interpersonal Communication

Interpersonal communication skills are vital in business analysis because they involve interactions with various stakeholders, each with their own perspectives and needs. Along with the Active Listening mentioned above, building rapport, and empathising with the viewpoint of the stakeholders are crucial for establishing trust and understanding. These skills help business analysts navigate conversations, gather requirements, and address concerns effectively. Related techniques such as Collaborative problem-solving, negotiation, and conflict resolution also rely heavily on strong interpersonal communication. By fostering positive relationships and adapting their communication style, business analysts can facilitate smoother interactions and achieve better outcomes throughout the project lifecycle.

 

  1. Stakeholder Management

Stakeholder management is a critical aspect of business analysis that involves identifying, engaging, and effectively communicating with all parties impacted by a project. Business analysts need to understand stakeholders’ interests, expectations, and concerns. By building relationships and maintaining a clearly defined two-way lines of communication, the Business Analyst can ensure that stakeholder needs are considered throughout the project lifecycle. Effective stakeholder management involves involving the right people, keeping them informed, addressing their feedback, and managing conflicts when they arise. Successful stakeholder management contributes to project success by aligning goals, managing expectations, and fostering collaboration

 

Within stakeholder management, a crucial element to consider is Communication strategy. This has a number of components of its own including  identifying the audience for each message,  understanding the environment or business situation  under which the given project has been initiated, getting a clear understanding of the sponsor vision or objectives , being able to define  what needs to be said to whom and when,  and knowing what are the various ways in which the message can be delivered and feedback received.

 

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  1. Facilitation

Facilitation is an important technique in business analysis that involves guiding discussions and workshops to achieve productive outcomes. By facilitating meetings, workshops, and brainstorming sessions as per the needs of the project, business analysts can encourage participation, manage conflicts, and ensure viewpoints from all the stakeholders or impacted parties are heard. Facilitation helps in eliciting requirements, prioritizing features and functionality, and fostering collaboration among stakeholders. It also aids in reaching a collective understanding and agreement of the objectives and making informed decisions, leading to more successful project outcomes

 

  1. Business Writing

Strong writing skills are crucial for business analysts as they are responsible for documenting and communicating various aspects of their work. Clear and concise writing is essential for creating requirements documents, project plans, reports, and other forms of documentation. Effective writing ensures that complex deliverables or impacts are accurately and clearly represented to stakeholders, team members, and decision-makers. It also helps in avoiding misunderstandings and serves as a reference for project progress and decisions. Well-written documentation contributes to effective communication, reduces ambiguity, and supports the overall success of business analysis efforts.

 

  1. Presentation Skills

Visual and presentation skills are essential for effective communication in business analysis. They help convey complex ideas, data, and information to stakeholders in a clear and understandable manner. Business analysts often use visual aids like diagrams, charts, and models to represent processes, workflows, and requirements visually. Strong presentation skills enable them to deliver findings, recommendations, and project updates to diverse audiences, ensuring engagement and comprehension. These skills enhance collaboration, facilitate decision-making, and contribute to the overall success of projects.

 

  1. Nonverbal communication

It is often mentioned that over 70 percent of face-to-face communication is Non-Verbal. Nonverbal behavior, such as body language, facial expressions, and gestures, plays a significant role in business analysis. It helps convey emotions, attitudes, and intentions that words alone might not capture. Observing nonverbal cues during meetings and interactions with stakeholders can provide valuable insights into their reactions, level of engagement, and concerns. Being attuned to nonverbal behavior allows business analysts to adapt their communication style, build rapport, and ensure effective collaboration. It also helps in detecting potential misunderstandings and addressing them promptly.

By considering and effectively executing all the above techniques, the Business Analyst is certain to have a much higher success rate in delivering and meeting the needs of the stakeholders

 

  1. Communication Strategy

This can be considered as the overarching technique or approach that is used and includes elements or all the above techniques.