Business Analysis Practice Towards Perfect

Report by

Sonya Bosch tells a story of business change, practice management and competency improvement with Joe Newbert in business analysis practice towards perfect.

Sonya Bosch is the Head of Project Management Office at TFG – leaders in the fashion and lifestyle sectors of the retail industry.

With a Bachelor of Commerce (BCom) degree in Accounting and Economics from the University of Cape Town and a personal passion for business change excellence, Sonya’s has a key interest in Programme & Project Management, Business Analysis, Learning Facilitation and Change Management.

Over the last year, TFG have commissioned over 100 projects. How are TFG set-up to deliver this amount of business change?

To start with, the TFG Board Strategy is clear. In a nutshell, we have a structured Demand Management process driven by regular business forums and a structured approach to evaluating new demand into the portfolio. New project requests are scored against alignment to Strategy, plus business value, compliance, risk and size components. Projects are categorised (tier 1,2,3) to ensure right-sized governance is applied.

Do business cases play a key role in evaluating proposed new projects and aligning business expectations?

We have a rigorous process to support the above mentioned project portfolio selection and planning process. Are business cases a key component? Yes. Do we do it perfectly? Not yet. Regular portfolio review sessions align business and IT, and given that these review sessions happen quarterly we are afforded the flexibility to assess and reassess, if necessary, to ensure a balanced portfolio.

What does it take to ensure business operations and IT are in synch?

Our team of Business Relationships Managers ensure business and IT is aligned as regards business needs. There are a variety of forums that keep the dialogue between business and IT open and frequent. To further support this, we have recently introduced a more rigorous change management framework, which gives us a clear view of high change impact projects across the portfolio, meaning teams are more focussed on the change effort. All of the above really enables delivery.

It’s sounding like TFGs Business Analysis Centre Of Excellence is located within IT, is this the model?

We opted for a “Community of Practice”1 as opposed to a ‘Centre of Excellence’; our business analysis competency sits within IT and this works for us. Part of our mission statement is “to provide, innovative, strategic, secure and cost effective ICT business solutions and professional services”. This positions IT as more than a service provider, it positions IT as a partner and an enabler.

1 Coined by Dr. Etienne Wenger, a globally recognised thought leader in the field of learning theory and its application to business.

In what ways does having a defined set of standards and methods enable this partnership?

Defined standards and templates provide an effective way to support well-defined, repeatable processes for business stakeholders. I believe this by ensuring deliverables are presented in a consistent manner stakeholder expectations are managed consistently. Standards act as a best practice guide, and as Business Analysts we have a unique opportunity to apply a variety of tools and techniques in ever changing project situations, almost daily!

How does this framework benefit business analysts themselves?

We use this as a means to focus core skills: for new BAs, having a well-defined approach or method, based on the type of project, will definitely provide the guidance needed to produce the correct deliverables; more experienced BAs may refine their outputs or seek alternatives to presenting their increasingly complex information in a manner that is succinct, purpose-driven and understandable. The key is that we need to regularly test our standards and methods, and constantly seek opportunities for better practices. Having said all that, we all know that knowledge and technical skills are key, however, we should not ignore the influence of soft skills on how knowledge and technical skills are applied!

Which governance and principles are applied to ensure the quality of requirements and, ultimately, realising business benefits?

Everyone is familiar with the Standish Group’s Chaos Report and its statistics around requirements as a top project ‘failure factor’. We apply a number of principles to ensure quality delivery, including: governance approach, templates, stakeholder analysis, as well as requirements review validation and traceability processes. While each of these are not necessarily consistently applied yet, these are practices we strive towards to ensure good quality requirements that ultimately achieve expected benefits.

Clearly the COP is seen as relevant and adding value, does this provide opportunity to move up the value chain and perform strategic business analysis?

Our Community of Practice is about connecting, communicating and collaborating.

We have established ourselves as the “go-to” for business analysis requirements.

More and more, our business units are calling for business analysis or process analysis skill and support. Where capacity allows, we meet this demand. This, I believe, is a key step towards providing opportunities for our business analysts to move more and more into the strategic business analysis domain in time.

Changing lanes slightly, where do you sit in the great ‘centralised versus decentralised’ debate?

Our current model is ‘mixed’, to ensure speed to market – we have a centralised team of business analyst and project management generalists who are typically business focused: supporting broader cross-functional projects and employing a wide variety of techniques across multiple domains to clearly define the “what”. This is complimented by decentralised specialist teams that have deep domain knowledge to apply a narrower range of techniques, within their specific domains, to define “how” to do the “what”.

You seemed to emphasise “current”, are you considering a change in tack?

I say ‘current’ because we do know that there is no one right way. Organisational and portfolio needs, will often inform which model works best, and when to change. Whatever the model, it is key that value is being delivered. When this is no longer the case, both business and IT should adapt. It is not unlikely that organisations move between centralised and decentralised models over time.

In addition to business analyst and project manager, are any other disciplines distinguished?

Aside from the business analysis and project management competencies, other roles that are distinguished, include QA & Testing, UX & UI, and we are also focussing on bringing more agile practices into our development environments. While we do not yet have distinguished ‘change manager’ roles, our approach leverages existing roles in a ‘change team’ format to focus on business change efforts.

What opportunities does this hybrid framework present for career development?

The formal definition of a ‘generalist’ roles and a ‘specialist’ business analyst roles in our environment has facilitated the understanding of how roles differ and how they interact and intersect. Some people are clear generalists or clear specialists, while others are a unique ‘hybrid’, able to operate in multiple spaces. Our next step is to ‘test’ these role profiles: what are the similarities and differences, how do we stack up to industry standards? Once role profiles are clearly defined, we will move towards individual assessments to identify possible gaps, and clear action plans to fill the gaps and support career growth.

What role do learning forums help in managing this broad community?

The application of practices as well as individual competence development is not necessarily consistent and we encourage development, learning and shared practices. This is achieved through a variety of mechanisms, including a quarterly business analyst forum where we aim to provide exposure to other or better practices, shared learning opportunities and simply networking to enable business analysts to do their job more effectively. This is what we are working towards

When recruiting, how are people with the right skills and cultural fit selected?

This is a difficult one to answer simply. We are clear on the competencies we look for. I think skills are relatively easy to assess through competency-based interview techniques and there are a number of technical assessments available to test knowledge and application to a degree. Going forward, we will be introducing case study reviews more rigorously as part of the recruitment process. As regards, cultural fit, this is key. Again, there are a variety of psychometric assessments that provide a view of broad preferences – fit is a bit of ‘gut-feel’, assessed through the interaction.

Where to next in maturing the Community Of Practice?

Our Community of Practice is in its infancy; we are assessing and improving with the aim to embed and maintain!

Our key next step is to ‘test’ our role profiles and assess how our business analyst population stacks up to industry standards …

in respect of current competencies, key responsibility areas, ability to apply knowledge and so on. From there, we will move towards individual assessments to identify possible gaps, and put into place clear tactical plans to support and fill the gaps. This year, we are focussed on reflecting and learning.

‘Business Analysis Practice Towards Perfect with Sonya Bosch‘ was first published in the 2015 Inter-View Report. What’s your story of moving your business analysis practice towards perfect? Share your journey with @Newbert on Twitter.

About Joe Newbert

Joe is a consultant, a writer, a speaker and above all a teacher, who spends most of his time at the Business Change Academy helping people to grow their skills, bring meaningful change and see their career soar.

Leave a comment