Willem Joubert is a Business Analyst and Process Engineer. He is currently with Metropolitan, a division of MMI, and has been involved in many roles from heading up business analysts to managing development and multi-disciplinary teams.
Willem Joubert talks with Agnieszka Ceitil about scaling business analysis competency inside an organisation, sharing real on-the-ground working insight.
How does MMI practically structure the business analysis capability given the broad complexity and size of the organisation?
In general, each of the divisions at MMI has its own business analysis capability. In each of these divisions, the analysts’ skills are applied slightly differently, depending on the focus of the specific divisions. Some divisions are more internally or product-focused and these analysts work with systems of record. While other divisions focus more on interactions with clients and work more with systems and processes of engagement where the analyst is more focused on how to be client-centric.
We prefer that business analysts should be able to operate in any project, but there are instances where it is expected of someone to become a domain specialist due to the complexity of the area or system involved.
What do you think the differences are in what is required from a business analyst in the corporate space versus a smaller organisation?
For the most part, the skills an analyst should possess are similar for organisations of any size. The big difference is the size and complexity of the corporate environment. The larger the organisation, the more challenging it is for analysts to keep track of a large group of stakeholders and to keep everyone aligned to the goals. Putting a further strain on analysts, key stakeholders in corporations are typically very busy which makes it challenging for them to take the time to properly relay the vision and align the project team with the vision.
The corporate environment tends to have a wide array of systems that must all work together as opposed to one or two key systems. With all of this in mind, analysts in the corporate environment often work within full development teams and they, therefore, need to have a very good understanding of system integration.
In your opinion, does the business analysis competency work better as a centralised or decentralised function in a large organisation?
In my opinion, although across a large group like MMI, it should be decentralised to divisional level, in specific divisions or lines of business, the business analysis competency works better centralised at the divisional level.
The reason for this is twofold: this makes it easier to create standards, specifications and central process repositories – which allows IP to be spread. It also gives the organisation a better opportunity to cross skill analysts and balance work-load on projects.
What are the biggest challenges business analysts typically face in a large corporate organisation?
Not getting lost – not just because the buildings are so big, but because it is easy to get lost in all the endless detail or in the depth of specific systems. The challenge is that people will perceive you as not being someone that adds real value if you are too caught up in all the detail, and you will get left behind.
My opinion is that too many BAs like to sit behind a PC and write up a long specification document that they compile with very little user input or experience. Be out there, with the users, experience their pain and go back and solve it. Figuring out the real business owners and who to listen to, otherwise, all your hard work is derailed because you haven’t gotten the buy-in of one important stakeholder.
Do you have any practical pointers for business analysts to navigate the challenges and complexity within large organisations?
Go sit with the users as often as possible. Put yourself in the client’s or user’s shoes. What do they experience? What do they need? Keep digging to find out who will actually determine if your project will be successful and make sure you check in with them on a regular basis. Make sure to understand what the actual business value is and what real problem you are trying to solve.
The stakeholders may not word the problem correctly, but you need to really understand what the problem is. And remember, the answer to the problem may not even be a technical solution. Exercise and make sure you are fit and healthy. People like working with people with energy, have a positive outlook and see opportunities rather than problems. It’s all about energy and attitude.
What skills should the business analyst’s of tomorrow be focusing on and growing in order to effectively operate in the corporate world?
Process facilitation and mapping. Be confident enough to facilitate a meeting with multiple stakeholders and direct them to solve the problem for you. And have some understanding of the core principles of agile, as these can be applied anywhere.
Lose your obsession with perfection, rather get something out there and keep improving on it once it has been implemented. As the old saying goes – rather fail fast than investing too much time perfecting something that the market doesn’t want anyway.
Given the massive influx of projects and work that urgently needs attention, how do you manage priorities and align business expectations?
Include business in the project and in the team. They also need to be measured on how quickly they can complete projects with you. At MMI, now that the business product owners sit in the delivery teams they have a much better appreciation of the effort and resources that go into each solution and are therefore more equipped to better prioritise and weigh up business value.
How innovative are business analyst’s in the corporate setting and how are they demonstrating this?
It probably depends on one’s definition of innovation. Some people think innovation is all about applying new technology etc. For me, there are very few business analysts that are really innovative. I define being innovative as someone who works differently, thinks of new ways to approach their work and problems, and doesn’t just do things because someone said so.
To what extent do a defined set of standards, processes and methodologies add value or detract from the intended business outcome of a project?
It’s definitely beneficial for analysts to be able to apply different techniques to different problems. I believe that a good business analyst does not rely on their ability to apply a recipe, but rather their ability to be creative and think out of the box. However, it is always useful to have a certain degree of standards when it comes to templates and processes in order to keep things central, properly documented and organised.
Has agile been successfully adopted in your organisation and to what extent has it practically made any difference or added any value?
Where there was originally an expectation that analysts only document requirements specifications, the focus is now on the analysts delivering real value rather than churning out documentation. This has allowed analysts to change their mind-set to now become creative problem solvers.
What are the career path options for a business analyst inside a large organisation?
From getting ‘fired’ when you don’t add value to becoming the CEO if you are really good [Smiles]. On a serious note, one of the advantages of a large organisation is that you can progress to become a domain expert or a systems analyst if you want to. Alternatively, you could make a career change and work in business, or you could become a leader of other analysts.
One of the biggest mistakes large organisations make, I believe, is that they think their best business analysts should become the leader or manager of other analysts. In fact, this role requires a combination of skills, passion for people and good leadership skills and great analysts are not necessarily good at / or want to become managers.