With the pace of digital transformation rapidly increasing available data on all aspects of life in our world, data-driven organizations are being forced to make critical adjustments in their data management strategies in order to remain competitive. Industry-leading companies are working hard to reduce manual processes and implement informatics systems that support scientists in managing data and generating actionable intelligence.
New software systems do not automatically translate into increased business value for organizations, however. Many companies make the mistake of implementing systems quickly without doing the business analysis (BA) necessary to optimize organizational workflows and harmonize user expectations, resulting in a system that does not deliver on its full transformative potential.
Business analysts (BAs) are critical to maximizing the business value of any software implementation project. These professionals work to establish a solid foundation for the project by providing several key deliverables to the project team:
- Current state process maps
- Optimized future state process maps
- System requirements
The value of these end-state deliverables will only be as good as the quality of the journey to create them, however, and good business analysts generate value that extends far beyond just the deliverables they produce.
Good business analysis is an art that requires specialized skills and an ability to drive consensus, optimize processes, and harmonize groups of people that sometimes have difficulty in communicating effectively with each other. Let’s examine some of the key factors and skills involved in the art of good business analysis that are essential to ensuring your organization captures the full potential of software implementations to transform your business.
The Art of Business Analysis
Business analysis is both an art and a science. In the context of data-driven organizations, the “science” of business analysis is the work BAs do to document, analyze and optimize workflows and their integration with technology. The art of business analysis involves the nuances of navigating the innate complexities, conflicting narratives and communications gaps between people in order to maximize organizational alignment, user adoption and ultimately the business value of solutions.
Some aspects of art can be taught, but doing world-class artistic work requires a certain level of innate skill. In the context of BA, this innate skill requirement takes the form of having a talent for working with people. While there is no exact formula for doing the art of BA, there are a few guiding principles that can be discussed.
Be a negotiator, not an order taker.
Inexperienced BAs will sometimes take the easy way out when working to develop system requirements by simply writing requirements that reflect whatever stakeholders want regardless of business risk. Another incorrect approach is to limit system requirements to only what the system can do out-of-the-box. A good business analyst will instead take on an active role in shaping system requirements that represent the best solution to the business problem. Good BAs take an appropriate level of ownership and personal pride in the solution being built and work to navigate the sometimes competing desires of all stakeholders and the capabilities of the technology to deliver a solution that works end-to-end and provides maximum business value for the customer. The job of the business analyst is to become a communication bridge and negotiator between management, users and IT, encouraging collaboration and forging consensus among the different stakeholders so that the organization is aligned on the solution being built.
Remain neutral when navigating different personalities and viewpoints.
A good business analyst will not inject their own agenda into the solution or allow themselves to be swayed by difficult or strong personalities. Instead, BAs should work to make sure all stakeholders understand the real-life implications (both pros and cons) of their expectations and stay focused on the end goal of delivering maximum value to the customer. The reality is that organizations often have people and/or departments that may not communicate well with each other or have different ideas about how to solve the problem. BAs must remain in the center of the conversation as a true collaborative facilitator. This inevitably will involve reconciling conflicting expectations so that the different stakeholders in the organization can align on a shared understanding of the business objectives.
Be a good listener.
Good business analysis requires good listening skills. BAs need to actively listen as they interview stakeholders and work to understand the underlining meaning of what is being said. Sometimes noticing body language can be helpful to identify instances where people feel uncomfortable speaking their interests in the presence of others (e.g., business stakeholders don’t feel comfortable speaking freely in presence of IT because of a history of friction). Noticing subtleties like this can help to identify areas where communication needs to be improved to facilitate effective collaboration. Good listening skills help BAs get to the root of the business problem to ensure that the right solution to the right problem is being built, which is critical for building a solution that the business will actually use.
Be willing to ask tough questions to drive the best solution.
BAs should not be afraid to have a skeptical mindset and ask tough questions that challenge the expectations and/or desires of stakeholders in order to stimulate discussion. Digging into the topic and being willing to ask “why?” is often necessary to get to the root of the problem. In order to facilitate consensus and organizational alignment, BAs will often need to guide stakeholders down a chain of reasoning to understand why a particular solution is being chosen. This can be a difficult conversation that brings up issues of ego, anxiety over job performance, negative past experiences with IT projects, etc. The art of business analysis requires BAs to be willing to go there.
Interface and collaborate with change management professionals.
Change management professionals work to ensure user buy-in of new workflows and adoption of the technology solution. While many IT projects see change management professionals and BAs working in siloes, it is important for these roles to collaborate early on in the project in order to expedite project success. The work BAs do to dig into business problems and develop optimized solutions leaves them acutely aware of the current organizational tolerance for change, and they will thus have much valuable information to convey to change management professionals as they develop their change management plan. In addition, if the business analyst does their job right, users will become aligned with the solution during the requirements development phase, making them eager participants in training programs designed by change management professionals. Because of the complimentary nature of these two roles, the ideal scenario is to have the same professionals doing both the business analysis and change management for the project.
Support the technical implementation.
In addition to developing optimized future state workflows and system requirements, there are many different ways that BAs can support the system implementation and drive the overall success of the project:
- Review solution design to ensure it meets all the requirements
- Look for opportunities for the system to meet additional business needs in ways that do not increase technical scope of the implementation
- Rework requirements documentation into a format that is more useful for the design and implementation process
- Be available to answer questions and resolve issues that arise during the design, implementation or testing phases of the project
- Lead user acceptance testing to ensure the system meets the needs of business users.
- Review validation testing plans to make sure they are a good representation of the functional requirements
- Manage any necessary requirements changes as the project progresses by interfacing with appropriate stakeholders for decisions and updating documentation.
The dynamic nature of the digital revolution requires that companies implement flexible, integrated solutions that will help meet both current and future business needs. Good business analysis is essential to ensuring successful system implementations that maximize the business value of these software solutions. Good BAs are not easy to find, however, as there are certain aspects of successfully working with people that can’t be taught. Ideally, BAs should be skilled in both the art and science of business analysis, while being able to effectively interface and collaborate with change management, documentation, training and testing professionals to expedite project completion and maximize the success of your business transformation.