Looking at the future faces of business analysis

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Kevin Brennan is looking at the future faces of business analysis with Joe Newbert, taking stock and prospecting opportunities for the business analyst.]

Kevin Brennan has been a world leader in the business analysis community for over a decade, as a member of IIBA’s board and executive team, and led the development of the BABOK Guide through three major releases.

A business transformation architect who helps clients achieve their business goals through business strategy, business process management / architecture and business analysis, Kevin was a member of the PMBOK 5th Edition content development team, has worked with the Agile Alliance to develop a framework and guidelines for agile business analysis, and served on the board of the Federation of Enterprise Architecture Professional Associations (FEAPO).

Business analysis has come a long way in people’s understanding, but how much further do we have to go?

Well, from my perspective these are interesting times for business analysis.

While I was at IIBA, I pushed hard to make business analysis a “big tent”, one which would include not only project business analysts, but also Agile product owners, business architects, business relationship managers, enterprise architects and more – really anyone who needed to do analysis and design in a context of organisational change.

Yes, that was an all-encompassing approach. How do you feel that this concept has progressed within the industry?

Over the last couple of years, it really seems to me that momentum in that direction has stalled.

Instead of building a larger community embracing all practitioners, we see groups coming in and focusing on one subset or another – PMI targeting project business analysts, the emergence of the Business Architecture Guild and BRMI at the strategic level, and so forth.

Now, there are certainly positives in this: there are more supporting materials being produced for business analysts to leverage in their jobs, and there’s more promotion of the importance of those roles.

Absolutely, the more people talking about business analysis the better. Is there a flip-side to this coin?

The loss is that I think enterprises would be better off if business analysis was seen as part of a chain that links operational-level change to business strategy.

The project management profession has that, with projects linked to programmes linked to project portfolios managed by a Project Management Office. But business analysis isn’t project management, and the purpose of business analysis isn’t to help projects succeed.

Project success is a consequence of good business analysis, but business analysts ultimately need to be accountable to the business …

and not the project manager.

How can business analysis break the project shackles and reach its full potential for business?

I believe that for business analysis to reach its full potential as a profession, and for us to really deliver value to organisations,

… we’re going to have to move away from a project focus to either a product or process / capability focus.

In many respects, this is already starting to happen, and the question is whether these groups will have enough in common to remain a single community. They may not; it may mean that we need three tents instead of one, even though a lot of the skills and expertise is shared across all of them.

What does the product-focused business analyst look like?

The dominant force driving the product perspective is, unsurprisingly, Agile.

While you can try and impose a traditional project structure on Agile methods, as a rule they take the perspective that you are funding an ongoing stream of value delivery rather than a one-off unique change.

Business analysis here focuses on managing the roadmap for a specific application or product, working with stakeholders to determine what enhancements are most important, and working with the delivery team on a just-in-time basis to flush out application requirements.

At a higher level, business analysts become product owners, product managers, or potentially business relationship managers.

And, what does process / capability-focused business analysis look like?

The process or capability perspective is driven by the growth of business architecture and some schools of business process management, and to some extent by the UX community.

Where the product perspective focuses on a particular application, we are looking here at how an enterprise delivers value to its customers and asking what to change to improve it. Whether you’re working from an end-to-end business process, or a set of enterprise capabilities, the goal is to make effective investment decisions by seeing where the business is unable to deliver value as well as it could.

The key difference for business analysts here is to be able to link process changes and software requirements back to an overall business strategy and measures of success, and work with business and enterprise architects to ensure that there’s a roadmap showing how change will be delivered.

Do you think this will mean a transition away from traditional project structures

No, I don’t think that project management and the project approach is going away any time soon.

However, the success rate of projects has stayed pretty much the same over decades, and the body of knowledge in that space is basically mature: the results we are getting now on projects are probably pretty much what we’re going to get for the foreseeable future, unless Artificial Intelligence replace PMs, or something equally transformative.

On the other hand, the other approaches are much younger, showing very promising results, and I think they’re where the future lies for business analysis, even though we may not end up using that term for it.

There are certainly a few manoeuvres that can play out. What potential does this open up for business analysts?

For business analysts, having these alternative paths upward will be a big win, I believe. It’s always been a big problem for business analysts to have project management as the only way to move along a career path.

Project management is not a natural next step for BAs … it requires a very different set of skills and underlying competencies.

The result of linking the two is that you get project managers writing requirements when they’re not very good at it, and business analysts trying to manage people when they’d rather be thinking through the problem or collaborating with stakeholders.

Product management and business architecture are both much more natural paths for growth that actually leverage business analysis skills.

‘Looking At The Future Faces Of Business Analysis with Kevin Brennan‘ was first published in the 2016 Inter-View Report. You can debate the future faces of business analysis directly with @BAKevin and @Newbert over on Twitter.

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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.

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