Strategising The Case for A Business Analysis Practice

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Kevin Brennan considers the case for a business analysis practice, strategising how to structure the team, influence the organisation and improve the results.

Is the case for formalising a business analysis practice a logical, an economic and/or an emotional one?

One kind of argument is rarely enough.

People buy into change and improving their business analysis practices for multiple reasons.

In general,

… you are looking for both an emotional argument (I have a problem that I care enough about to do something) and logical/economic support for it (if I make this kind of investment you will make my problem go away).

Really, you have to look at the problem as a business analyst. Ask yourself who the stakeholders are and what needs they have. Then

… understand how business analysis can be a solution for those needs, and what changes you need to make to your business analysis practice to do that.

Look at their context–the other issues and pressures in your company that may affect what you can do–and then demonstrate the value of investing in better business analysis.

From your experience, what options are there when establishing a business analysis practice?

There are a number of different models found across different companies.

I’ve seen:

  • Informal networks of business analysts who may get together to share notes and ideas.
  • Practices focused on education and training, which include courses and references, and try to promote best practices without enforcing rules.
  • Methodology owners, who mandate a particular approach or set of approaches but who don’t manage the team.
  • Functional groups, who manage work allocation, hiring and firing, and performance reviews for business analysis teams across part or all of the company.

I’ve also seen Business Analysis Centres of Excellence (BACOE) that were part of a PMO, divided up by different business analyst specialisms (Business Analyst vs. Business Systems Analyst vs. Agile Product Owners vs. Business Process Analysts vs. Business Architecture) as well as by region or office.

People usually ask “what’s best”? There can’t ever be an absolute right answer to that question because it depends on your company.

A projectised organisation, such as a consulting firm, should focus on tight integration across project teams, whereas another company may be looking to align strategy more effectively across units and have business analysis aligned with business and enterprise architecture.

Which strategic approaches have you found work best to successfully influence organisational change?

Change is always hard to sustain.

What works best is combining top-down and bottom-up.

If it’s driven from the top-down, and the people at the bottom see it as going against their interests, you’ll see people being slow to adopt new methods of working and try new things. They’ll just aim to wait out management enthusiasm for the latest fad and hope that it goes away.

With just bottom-up support, there’s no coverage when changes that the business analysis team wants to make affect other stakeholder groups. It’s likely to produce resistance from them and when they push back they are likely to find support from their leadership.

For effective change, you need to show how the change benefits enough key stakeholders at multiple levels to get the change started and keep it going.

So at the CIO level: What’s their interest? Are they concerned about project cost? Probably not. The CIO is more likely to be concerned about being able to demonstrate to peers that they are supporting the overall company strategy, reducing operational costs and promoting efficiency, and so forth.

During the journey, how can expectations for seeing immediate results be managed with stakeholders?

Don’t shoot for the big wins right at the start.

If you do, you may run into the problem of high expectations, but you may also find that stakeholders just don’t believe that you can deliver on your promises.

What I’ve found is that the problems faced by most business analysis teams are usually signs of deeper organisational issues. But you can’t walk up to a CIO on day one and say “your IT strategy process is broken” and expect that to result in support for the business analysis team!

Instead,

… start with the immediate problem. Talk to your peers in the groups that work with business analysts and find out what their pain points are.

Is it incomplete requirements? A lack of business value from software? Issues with acceptance testing? Whatever those problems are, work on them and get them fixed. That will almost inevitably expose a new opportunity to move forward. For instance, OK, now everyone can validate the requirements but you have no idea what the ROI is on your software development–how can you find out what that is? It will probably be terrible, so what can you do about it?

The process won’t happen overnight. It will probably take years, and you’ll run into frustration and setbacks along the way. But over time, you’ll be able to look back and see how much you accomplished.

In retrospect, what advice would you give your younger self for effecting business analysis improvement?

If you’re a business analyst trying to change your organisation, remember that your key stakeholders don’t care about doing better business analysis, and you shouldn’t expect them to.

Project managers care about delivering results on time and budget. Sponsors care about hitting their numbers and the success of their business group.

If you want them to invest time, resources, and more in improving business analysis, you need to help them see how you can get them to their goals by supporting yours.

You can help project managers do this by ensuring that requirements tie back to scope and scope ties back to a clear set of objectives. You can help end users by helping them make a solid business case for changes that really do help achieve those objectives. You can reduce error and rework. You can ensure that sponsors are able to articulate the business benefits clearly and understand how to realise these once the project is over.

Ultimately, the path to success and growth in your business analysis career is to demonstrate that there’s real business value in what you do. Learn to understand and articulate that value, and business leaders will care about what you have to say.

Kevin Brennan was talking to Joe Newbert during the making of the 2016 Inter-View Report. Join in the conversation on Twitter with @BAKevin and @Newbert.

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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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