Business analysis in five steps

The first step is to align a strategy worth making, with tactics worth taking, and a contribution worth communicating.

The second step is to create and define a feasible change in a way that the business expectations are set and are cared about.

The third step is to tell a complete story that matches the business needs with the stakeholder requirements of that select group of people, the beneficiaries of the system.

The fourth step is the one (that almost) everyone gets excited about: the change—to the IT, to the processes, to the people, and to the organisation—is implemented.

The last step is often overlooked: check benefits—regularly, purposefully, and consistently, from ‘year one to year five’—to track and evaluate and adjust the changes that you seek to embed. To earn trust to support and earn acceptance to adjust.

As a business analyst, you get to consistently do the work to help the shift spread from person to person, realising a culture as you make change happen.

The business analyst learns to see

In 1998, I was a very young and inexperienced business analyst at Prudential Assurance, the life and pension’s company I joined shortly after University. Suddenly, I was on a million-pound programme, representing business in endless important project meetings, and responsible for an urgent need: to make sure the ‘millennium bug’ didn’t crash the IT systems.

I wasted all that opportunity. I was doing barely an inch of business analysis. I was the proverbial scribe, translator and courier running back and forth between the developers and the domain expert. Despite my greenness, the amazing team ensured everything worked post-Y2K.

Over the years since, I’ve delivered dozens and dozens of IT systems and reengineered business processes and managed strategic change for businesses large and small. I’ve worked on industry value propositions with IBM, on legacy technology replacements with Citibank, and on career competency models with IIBA. My ideas have helped shape bespoke developments, ERP implementations, organisational structures and cultural behaviour..

Mostly, the journey has involved appreciating what works and trying to make sense of what doesn’t. It’s been an ongoing experience of success and failure (lots of failure) with people, projects and organisations I care about.

And now I have a lighthouse for what business analysis is today, about the stakeholder mindset, and about enabling change. This approach is simple, but it’s not easy to embrace, because it involves perseverance, understanding, and connection.

The business analysis that has pervaded our organisations is not the sort of business analysis that you want to do. The shortcuts using time pressure to reduce the cost to produce average stuff to skim stakeholder needs are an artefact of another era, not the one we live in now.

You can learn to see how stakeholders think and decide and act. And if you enable them to become better versions of themselves, performing like they hope to, you’re a business analyst.

It’s time

Time to get off the project hamster-wheel that goes around and around but never gets anywhere

Time to stop acting like a charlatan and bridging the gap.

Time to stop clutching at wants and pretending they’re needs.

Time to stop turning out average work on average projects while hoping you’ll receive more than an average increase.

Time to stop begging people to be able to do your work, and time to stop feeling bad about getting to do your best work.

Time to stop accepting the shortcuts, time to take off the blinkers for quick-wins, and time to start influencing the holistic, feasible path instead.

You’re not a minute-taking project administrator

You don’t work for a document management company. You’re not a robotic unquestioning stenographer.

So why are you acting like one?

Your specification is nearing its due date, so, sure, you distribute it to every “reviewer” you think needs to see it, asking for feedback, but they don’t read it.

You work for a dummy project manager, who obsessively ticks-off how many percentage-points you’ve progressed, and the quality you turn out eats at you.

You make your case to business based on logical reasoning, even though you know intuitively that stakeholders make decisions based on their gut feeling.

You narrow your scope because the sponsor tells you your estimates are too high, but you know it is unrealistic.

It’s the same old thing—the hollow blinkered same-old shit, churned out for the organisation.

Your stress is not a licence to indulge in self-pity. Your troubles are not a permit to peddle the body of knowledge in my face.

There’s a more effective way, You can do it. It’s not easy, but the safest passage is well lit.

Case Study: Jaffers Motors

Textbook has left the forecourt.

Jaffers Motors is the sort of petrol station you’ll find in your neighbourhood.

You’ll have stopped at a place like this. This one’s in Grassy Park, Cape Town. Prominently positioned, with big glowing signage, and a team of friendly staff controlling the forecourt. It sells forward motion: fuel, coffee and convenience items. On a typical day it’s bustling.

Next to bustle is hustle.

Sometimes—maybe the next day or perhaps days later—a customer returns to complain that their petrol cap is missing. It was stolen, or not put back. It happened at the petrol station, it didn’t happen elsewhere. It’s not their fault, it’s the petrol attendant’s fault. And now it is the station owners fault.

This happens regularly—more often than you may think—and when it does it takes time to resolve. The customer explains what happened, when it happened, where it happened—which pump they filled up at. And then they wait, while the camera footage is combed through.

The outcome of this situation, simply, goes one of two ways: either it did happen at the petrol station or it didn’t happen at the petrol station.

And when it doesn’t happen at the petrol station (which is usually the case) the customer insists on seeing the footage for themselves. Taking more time. And even then, once they’ve seen that the petrol cap was put back in place, their complaint becomes that it must have not been put back properly and fallen out on the road, later. It is the petrol attendant’s fault. It is the station owners fault.

For the station owner, it’s a lose/lose situation. This doesn’t leave anyone with a good taste in their mouth. It’s small things like this that can cause customers go elsewhere.

A textbook business analyst would:

  1. Check for a record of past incidents, to identify event dates and times
  2. Comb the camera footage to view the incidents
  3. Query the shift roster to identify which attendants were on duty
  4. Visit the forecourt to observe the business operations
  5. Interview the petrol attendants and discuss the issues
  6. Analyse the root cause of the problem
  7. Specify the solution requirements
  8. Re-engineer the business process
  9. Document the standard operating procedures.
  10. Create a simple checklist for the attendant: welcome the customer, ask how they can help, fill up the tank, offer extras—wash the windscreen, check the water, oil, and tyres—point out the specials in the shop AND put the petrol cap back.
  11. Retrain the petrol attendants
  12. Discuss the topic at the daily forecourt stand-up.
  13. Monitor future volume of complaints, causes, and exceptions. 

Logical, right? Creative, no.

This gives an air of control to the situation, yet is unlikely to prevent future occurrences. When it does happen, it’s still going to take time to resolve. And it’s still going to leave a bad taste.

So that’s not how Jaffers Motors approached it.

Jaffer’s Motors went out and bought a stockpile of a wide variety of petrol caps—to fit many makes and models—to have available on hand. Now, whenever a customer raises this issue, the customer gets an apology for the inconvenience and a replacement petrol cap.

HT: Mo Bray