Gearing up with Good Business Analysis Practice

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Elyse Yates talks with Bryce Undy about how gearing up with good business analysis practice makes a remarkable difference to successful business change.

Elyse works as a Business Analyst Team Lead at Business Analysts (PTY) Ltd in Brisbane. Her experience of delivering large complex projects gives her a broad understanding of the challenges of implementing new technology. 

Business analysis is often overlooked in favour of project delivery. But how is business analysis the true enabler of major enterprise-wide transformation?

Good business analysis is about improving business outcomes. 

Through a full suite of tools and techniques, business analysts can assess value, determine needs and manage requirements. We can ensure that strategic plans can be translated into measurable operational actions performed by line of business functions by tying the strategic objectives of the enterprise-wide transformation with actions that are performed on the ground. Through the use of enterprise and business architecture, business analysis can ensure that decisions made at the executive level are executed at the coal face.

Business analysis assists the enterprise by making sure we are all following the right direction.

To help frame this value proposition, can you give an example where good business analysis has been the foundation of success?

On a recent project in the electricity sector, I assessed the issues impacting the control room and prioritised their requirements. This allowed them to quickly find a Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) product. There were a load of issues and pain points, so we organised the issues into requirements, prioritised the requirements and aligned them with the organisational strategy. This led to a much faster path to procurement.

Business analysis is often seen as a necessary evil by Project Managers, in that the analysis process can be seen to be improving quality at the expense of extending the project timeframe, but this is far from being the case. When done properly, business analysis decreases the time to complete a project. By analysing the pain points upfront and turning them into requirements, business analysis sped up the process to procure a suitable solution.

This is certainly something the profession needs to demonstrate. What are the typical challenges faced in doing so by business analysts on large programmes and projects?

Knowing where to start. On a large programme with vast scope, it’s often difficult to know where to start. That’s where it helps to work out the strategic direction first. 

When you understand the strategic direction, you can focus your business analysis activities on the right things. By aligning your work with the strategic direction, this really helps you prioritise which aspects of the scope to look at first.

Given that good business analysis is about improving the business outcomes, what’s your take on the state of business change projects in Australia and worldwide? 

I have been reading the Inter-View Report series, which has been published since 2014. The report looks at the global state of business analysis, project delivery and change management, and it highlights what kind of challenges projects face. Not many projects succeed. According to the 2016 Inter-View Report, only 63% achieved business objectives. 56% realised business benefits and 41% succeeded with change management.

This reflects similar information I remember seeing in the late ‘90s, so not much has changed. The key challenge is defining the scope and getting it right. Projects often take on too much at once. Studies have shown that smaller project are more likely to succeed.

Making scope and size manageable makes sense. How will working on improving these two things increase the success rate of projects and, ultimately, deliver better business results?

Smaller projects have a better chance of success. Chunking up a larger project into sub-projects will assist the projects to be more successful. As a business analyst, when you are first given a project, you will often find the scope is not well defined. Business analysts can help define the scope of the project. 

In that context, the business analysts can identify items within the scope which can be grouped together into sub-projects. By creating sub-projects, you can have multiple teams working in parallel and achieve the same, if not better, results as running a single large project.

Certainly Agile appears to be in favour. However, is Agile the silver bullet to project success?

It is not the silver bullet. But it does chunk up work into smaller pieces and gives us the framework to prioritise the effort required. Agile gives us the ability to break the work up and deliver iteratively.

What I like about Agile is the concept of ‘usable pieces of functionality’. That way you don’t get to the end of the project before you discover it’s not usable. 

The profession has come a long way over the last few decades. What do you think will be the future of business analysis?

That’s an interesting question. When I started out, IT was new and we gathered requirements for bespoke development. The sky was the limit in terms of requirements and the developers would build a product that met those requirements.

Now organisations are more focused on purchasing COTS products, rather than developing from scratch. Business analysis has moved more towards comparing business requirements to functional features of existing products. Requirements are now for procurement, using them to assess what is in the box of what’s being offered.

It’s no longer what the system can do for you, but rather what you can do with the system.

Business analysis in the IT sector has moved away from the technical side and towards the business side. There is much more of a focus on business benefits and change management.

With new types of software – AI for example – there may be a return to the previous technical focus for business analysis, but currently, it is geared towards procurement of off-the-shelf solutions.

It can be difficult to start a career in business analysis. What’s been your career journey as a business analyst, and what advice do you have for people looking to make the move?

When I started out, I studied IT at University. Back then, IT degrees encompassed Business Analysis and Development. As I started my career, I found that I was more interested in the way people interact with technology rather than development, so becoming a business analyst was a more natural career path for me. 

Now IT (particularly business analysis) has more specialisation, for example in BPM. Roles these days are much better defined.

If you are starting out fresh, I would recommend studying Business Technology and Business Analysis at university. However, some of the best business analysts I know didn’t start out that way. If you want to move into business analysis you should look at your existing skills, are you a good listener, are you empathic, do you have a creative streak? Use those skills to get into business analysis.

If you’re a domain Subject Matter Expert (SME) or from elsewhere in the business, and you are interested in becoming a business analyst, you should leverage your involvement on an IT project. Offer to get involved in testing – something that SMEs often assist with – and accept more responsibility for testing new functionality. If you get a chance to draw up test scripts, you can transfer that skill into capturing functional requirements.

Bringing your expertise and experience together, what underlying competencies make for a good business analyst?

Three key skills or traits are required:

  1. Collaboration: talk to other business analysts, share knowledge, join a professional membership organisation like IIBA and attend local events; be aware of the developments in the industry.
  2. Curiosity: be interested, ask questions, and listen to the answers from SMEs.
  3. Creativity: in terms of business analysis, you often hear complaints about the current systems and processes which can be quite negative. You can turn this negative information into a positive solution.

As a business analyst, you have the opportunity to define how a problem can be solved. There is always more than one way a problem can be solved. Coming up with a creative solution is what makes business analysis so exciting.

‘Gearing up with Good Business Analysis Practice’ with Elyse Yates was first published in the Inter-View Report 2017.

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About Bryce Undy

Bryce is MD of Technovate Strategic Solutions, and contributes to the professional community as a Director on the Board of the IIBA Australia Chapter.

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