It’s Time for Business Analysis to Come of Age

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In an ever increasingly complex marketplace, Joe Newbert reveals to Mohamed Bray that it’s time for business analysis to come of age & realise its potential.

Joe Newbert, MD of Business Change Management Group, advises organisations on how to implement modern business analysis and change practices, accompanied by internationally accredited contemporary training and coaching.

During his career Joe has worked and managed teams on over 100 business improvement and information systems projects, spanning four continents, whilst gaining a solid reputation for benefits delivery. He has successfully delivered as part of the IIBA™ Professional Development Committee (Global Task Team), which was responsible for the development of the IIBA™ Competency Model.

Let’s start with the big-picture, how are projects performing?

Industry success statistics are not great, they’ve never been great – ever since ‘records began’ – but most worrying is that it doesn’t really seem to be moving towards any significant improvement. Still, in 2015, we are in a position where half of all projects are over budget, half are over schedule, half meet business objectives and half realise business benefits. To synthesise: delivery is not only taking longer than planned and costing more than planned, but it’s compounded by the fact that delivery is not enabling business operations and consequently not delivering the benefit promised, despite the extra time and money invested. Project failure is the industry standard.

That’s not a pretty picture, why do organisations find themselves in this predicament?

There’s a whole bunch of mitigating circumstances I suppose; with dysfunctional business/IT relationships, scope changes and a lack of business involvement cited as the top 3 reasons for project failure. These are just surface symptoms though, indicative of a deeper root cause which is that business analysis is not positioned strategically within organisations and thus not leveraged for full advantage. I’m not suggesting business analysis can solve everything, it will take the buy-in, commitment and collaboration of many, but business analysis has a star role to play making business change successful. The potential of business analysis is untapped.

So, what is the lost opportunity of business analysis?

Let’s start by looking at the end in mind, the whole purpose of a project is to realise some sort of business benefit – yet benefits management is only performed by 15% of business analysts; projects are rarely followed up on to measure, compare and adjust against the forecasted objectives. That’s if there were any forecasts, as 72% of organisations do not leverage business analysis to perform strategic business analysis. To determine the feasibility of a project, and reduce the risk of failure, business analysis must precede project approval, yet the majority of projects are commissioned without a solid business case. Skimping business analysis causes problems.

What’s is the range of business analysis work?

There are three broad areas: strategy analysis, business analysis and IT systems analysis – each performed by a “business analyst”. The former identifies and analyses the business opportunities; the transformation actions. The latter is about analysing and specifying the IT system requirements in terms of process, function and data. Business analysis in its purest form tactically enables the holistic operations, it investigates situations to improve the ‘business system’ by asking the probing questions around the business processes, people, resources and the organisational model that supports it all. Pure business analysis connects all the dots.

How is this broad and deep set of responsibilities managed?

Organisations are broad and deep, which is why the many generalist, specialist and hybrid roles exist to support business transformation. Think of business analysis as a golden thread, performed at separate stages, by different people, in complementary roles – including many assumed ‘non-business analyst’ roles also: management consultants, business relationship managers, business architects and product managers, for example. The secret is to ensure that those who perform business analysis tasks are appropriately trained in business analysis – often this is overlooked. Business analysis is not exclusive to business analysts.

You’ve not mentioned testing, where does testing fit into business analysis?

Organisations often assume integration and system testing to be a function of the business analyst, and this is manifested by the fact that business analysts have a broad array of knowledge and skills, that are incredibly transferable. I’m not suggesting that business analysts should not be involved, but it’s important to be conscious that they are different hats and treat them as such, when resourcing demands. User acceptance testing is best assisted by business analysts, but in my experience dedicated career testers provide a far, far more competent system testing capability. Business analysis and test analysis are distinct professions.

Why is the popular perception of business analysis off-key?

There’s plenty of narrative about how the business analyst role exists to deliver IT solutions – and in many ways business analysts perpetuate this misconception The epitome of this is a stereotypical example of a dinner party conversation: “What do you do?”; “I’m a Business Analyst”, followed by the inevitable “What’s that?”; “I bridge the gap between business and IT”. These are words out of our own mouths; we could say “I analyse business and create solutions to help organisations realise their strategies”. Change starts from within and we need to reframe our ‘elevator pitch’. We need to put the business back in business analysis.

What steps can influence a better understanding of business analysis?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately; reflecting upon why it’s a struggle despite all the great efforts. Business analysis is complicated by it’s breath and depth, it’s complicated by its many specialisations; it’s complicated by organisations interpretations; it’s complicated in that the business analyst role does not fit the title. Consider for a moment that every Inter-View respondent had a unique perspective; let’s embrace this collective diversity of business analysis practitioners. A manifestos guiding principles declare business analysis for the internal consultancy it is. Define business analysis, don’t define the business analyst.

What’s the biggest threat to business analysis?

A lack of focus, especially as business analysis has some challenges to conquer – challenges that are holding business change back – and how can business analysis redress if it’s distracted? Of the top six most performed responsibilities, five are not business analysis functions. That’s huge. testing (56%), project management (53%), training (52%), change management (44%) and operational support (49%) all rank ahead of operational model development (12%), solution assessment (36%), systems analysis (43%) and user acceptance testing (37%). Organisations are shooting business analysis in the foot.

Which key challenges face the community?

There are some disconnects. Getting a clear understanding of customer requirements (55%), prioritising requirements (45%), and communicating requirements (33%) pose the largest challenge for business analysts. These are fundamental to specifying requirements and, ultimately, the success of a project. The choices and application of techniques is fuelling this situation, for example only one in two respondents use interviews as means to understand requirements, only one in five respondents use the prioritisation technique MoSCoW and even less conceptually model data to convey information. Business analysis needs to get its house in order.

How can organisations provide greater support?

By giving themselves the chance to flourish. Pressure comes as standard with projects; the pressure of time; the pressure to “start building now”. The average allocation afforded to business analysis activities is 12% of a projects total duration – it’s inadequate and has a detrimental effect on achieving critical success factors. Organisations who speculate in planning, accumulate greater benefit in the long term. Invest in the business analysis competency, understand the value it brings, monitor the impact it has and then, only then, get clever by adjusting the balance between thinking and doing. Smart business analysis is a differentiator.

What must business analysts do to get smarter?

First and foremost is to cover the now: to possess the necessary expertise, not forgetting illusory superiority – that you’re not as good as you think you are. Get the professional training to perform and the organisational environment to practice. Be involved with the business analysis community at large, through projects; forums; chapters; conferences – and not just in business analysis but other areas too. The internet and social media open doors well beyond traditional reach. Listening is vital, and in these instances contributing to the conversation is equally vital. Business analysts must connect to develop.

Is the progress of business analysis understandable given it’s a young profession?

In my opinion that’s a bit of a myth, the “we’re a young profession” card has been played a few times and I’m not certain we can call that card any longer. In 1998 I first earned the business analyst job title, and was by no means at the forefront. Roger Pressman, in his book Software Engineering defined the analyst role inclusive of business – that was published in 1978. Whether business analysis is young or not is a moot point, the point is we’re knowledgeable enough, skilled enough and experienced enough to do better. The business analysis profession simply has to mature, and mature quickly. It’s time for business analysis to come of age.

‘It’s Time For Business Analysis To Come Of Age with Joe Newbert‘ was first published in the 2015 Inter-View Report. Do you feel it’s time for business analysis to come of age? Share your perspectives with @Newbert and @Mo_Bray on Twitter.

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About Mohamed Bray

Mohamed Bray is an entrepreneur, a corporate survivor and an international speaker who advises and champions for a world-class business analysis profession.

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