How Skilled Business Analysis Gets Projects on Track

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Rosemary Dixon-Ward talks with Gareth Jones discussing how skilled business analysis gets projects on track by helping to overcome fundamental challenges.

Rosemary is a Business Analysis Consultant at Business Analysts (PTY) Ltd, and prides herself as an honest, ethical and highly organised team player who delivers quality business analysis services to her clients.

Project delivery often suffers without skilled business analysis. In your recent project, what was the divide between the actual business problem and the interpreted project solution?

The programme consisted of the international acquisition and total system replacement to align with the new parent company. It was particularly challenging due to the constraints of the local legislation and business rules around sales, and the logistics of ordering massive machines and parts from many different locations around the world.

The business sponsor had indicated to the programme team that they needed new work instructions, as the existing ones were incorrect. The programme team understood this as a requirement to redo the architectural business process model, and a project objective was set to complete this process elicitation and modelling piece of work.

Soon after engaging with the business stakeholders, it became apparent that it wasn’t the processes that were incorrect but rather that the detailed work instructions were outdated (as had been originally requested). The work instructions could not be used for training or for identifying defects as required. There was a misunderstanding between what was actually needed, and what was understood to be needed. People from business and the programme were talking to each other, but not communicating. They were using the same technical terminology to talk about different things.

Any disconnect between business and project is a matter of concern. What were the underlying contributors to this situation?

Due to programme management not engaging the business stakeholders effectively, there was a breakdown in communication. Business analysts understand the need for early engagement with business areas and can apply their skill-set to work through terminology barriers and understand stakeholder needs. They can also validate issues by trying to see working scenarios.

Whilst there was a business analyst on the programme team, their particular role was focused on the programme activities (i.e. the architectural process, value streams, etc.). And because the business stakeholders didn’t speak in this language, when the original request for assistance was made, the need was misinterpreted.

This was the root cause of the disconnect between the business and IT areas. It became very much an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality. Business stakeholders felt that the changes being implemented as part of the programme had been done to them, not with them. And this made them resistant to the programme and to the change.

Yes, change management is crucial for every project. What were the immediate shortcomings in the business analysis approach that you were aware of?

During the delivery of the programme of work, the business stakeholders hadn’t been taken along the journey to understand the value of what was to be delivered. The organisational change assessment hadn’t been completed effectively. 

It is vital to bring people along on the change that they will soon come to own. Much more relevant insight is uncovered this way and the likelihood of delivering a successful project increases because of this buy-in from everyone. 

Given these sentiments from the business and project stakeholders, what was the approach taken to adjust the scope, priorities and delivery?

After an initial ‘clear-the-air’ meeting, a workshop was facilitated with the business Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) assigned to the initiative, and questions were asked about the state of the engagement and what they thought the engagement should be about. That is where the misalignment in understanding was unpacked.

Next was the prioritisation of items, which the business stakeholders did themselves. Probing questions helped to draw links, and by using a visual, interactive approach the stakeholders were able to decide the key areas of focus.

As the engagement progressed, the priorities changed. That was when the focus honed in on the work instructions only. This shift in priorities was recorded, and the delivery plan was revised to incorporate the changes and to see if there was capacity for new additions.

It’s important to have a delivery plan that enables flexibility. One that provides a transparent look at what is being worked on now, and what is to be worked on next. When priorities change, the plan can be referred to see where the changes can be incorporated and any impacts on future activities assessed.

Getting the focus right and giving visibility certainly helps buy-in. How important is stakeholder interaction in achieving this?

Hugely important. This showed in the delays that were experienced initially when attempting to get the business/domain SMEs to commit to elicitation sessions, and again as the engagement progressed when they found it difficult to get the time needed to review the products that had been produced.

When business stakeholders are not properly engaged, project teams may run the risk of working hard at delivering the wrong thing. When business stakeholders feel they aren’t heard, they can be quite destructive to the process, for example: not attending or contributing to meetings.

Simple moves, like spending time sitting with the SMEs at their location, can help to prevent/combat a breakdown in the relationship. When a business stakeholder comes to you for improvements you know you have established trust. 

Having been intimately involved in the process and having seen the benefits, what upliftment did the organisation experience in their own capability?

From a place where business stakeholders reluctantly engaged, to a point where they proactively talked about what they can do with the rest of their area. 

SMEs began to show real ownership and confidence in their process knowledge, and their ability to develop the work instructions they require for themselves. Their language shifted from being negative and defensive to a place with positive words (particularly when they talked about their processes and the challenges they were facing).

They began to believe in themselves more. They believed that they could do some of the delivery themselves, having been a part of the elicitation approach and the new wave of collaboration. The SMEs experienced the process of redefining work instructions, and had been armed with the tools and templates.

The programme team experienced a vast improvement in engagement with the business, and now stakeholders from the programme and the business talk together more frequently and share information more freely. The interactions and general posturing has changed considerably.

What a polar shift from the original beginnings to the end outcomes. How did this hard work ultimately manifest and which key lessons were learned?

For future projects and programmes, the key realisation was that collaboration drives much better business outcomes, sooner.  In addition, the business stakeholders know the material, knows the outcomes and can utilise them as required.

All of this led to another take-away, which is that the SMEs learned to maintain an open mindset for continuous improvement and to act upon it, either personally or by calling for a business analyst.

On reflection, how did the business stakeholders find the results of skilled business analysis? And how can business analysts gauge this?

Sometimes business stakeholders see the business analyst as an impost on their time, but usually, once they have experienced the value of skilled business analysis, they change their minds significantly. They then view the relationship positively and engage more and more. 

Feedback from business stakeholders was that they felt the way they had been engaged had provided them with the opportunity to achieve the desired outcomes that they were looking for. The approach didn’t have an operational impact or take them away from their daily activities and provided plenty of value. It’s good practice to ask your stakeholders for feedback, regularly, and after each assignment. When you ask for it early and continuously then you will have a better handle on being able to implement changes based on the feedback. All too often feedback is asked for at the end when there is less opportunity to change direction or adjust your approach.

‘How Skilled Business Analysis Gets Projects on Track’ with Rosemary Dixon-Ward was first published in the Inter-View Report 2017

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About Gareth Jones

Gareth is a Practice Manager at Business Analysts (Pty) Ltd, who strives in building trusted stakeholder relationships to deliver successful projects.

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