BA Success Story! Becoming an Enterprise Analyst – Dr. Laura Kesner, CBAP

Are you wondering what it takes to make the move from business analyst to enterprise analyst? Dr. Laura Kesner and her colleague BA</span><span style=”line-height: 1.5em;”> have expanded the business analyst role in their organization and leveraged the opportunity to build their skills and make a more significant impact on their organization.

You can connect with Laura Kesner here on LinkedIn.

In this article, we’ll take a deeper look at how they made this opportunity a reality.

The Problem

The IT department was shifting to SCRUM and five teams were formed. There were only two business analysts. Requests to hire additional analysts to fully support the product owner and analysis roles for each team were not feasible due to budget concerns.

The Enterprise Analysis Solution

Douglas County IT refocused their business analysis efforts so that the department was more aligned with the business.  Laura and her colleague were now focused at a more enterprise level, with the responsibility of  understanding each business unit and identifying those projects with the highest business value to the County.

Primary product ownership responsibilities were shifted to stakeholders within the business group. These Product Owners are trained and coached by Laura and her colleague.

Understanding the Business Domain

We think we have it tough, understanding an industry or a business domain. Laura and her colleague have 17 departments to work with, which are composed of dozens of business units (upwards of 87). Over time, they have developed stakeholder relationships with key members of each of these business unit, begun to model each part of the organization, and developed an understanding of the key processes in place.

Laura works within a County Government organization, so business processes include everything from law enforcement processes such as booking, to finance and budgeting, to event management, to building inspections, to death investigation.

The Enterprise Business Analyst Role

One analyst meets with each department on a regular basis, as frequently as twice per month, but at least once per quarter. Frequency is determined by the number and potential value of projects initiated from the department. In each meeting, the analyst discusses the department’s strategy, how it relates to the organizational strategy (documented via a Balanced Scorecard) and develops an understanding of the department’s key initiatives. Laura has also actively observed staff members in many departments.

Sometimes department stakeholders will identify projects that require IT involvement. Other times, the BA will help identify those projects. Process improvement projects within departments can also be supported by the BAs.

Supporting Project Prioritization

Because of their close relationship with each business department, the business analysts are in a unique position to funnel projects into the organization-wide portfolio management process. As new projects are identified, the BAs help the stakeholders quantify the value, they assign 4 metrics to each project, and work with the IT team to complete a preliminary estimate. If the ROI doesn’t stack up, the BA might go back to the business and help them redefine the project for a more compelling business case. Many projects never make it past the BA and into the Steering Committee because they either lack significant value, they can be handled by using existing software or equipment, or because business process re-engineering efforts address the issue.

The Steering Committee is a cross-departmental group of individuals whose responsibility it is to recommend project priorities based on the initial analysis and any subsequent questions.

What Laura Loves About Being an Enterprise Analyst

Laura’sis overwhelmingly enthusiastic about her role.

“I have the opportunity to understand dozens of business domains. I’m never bored and I’m always learning.”

In other contexts I’ve heard Laura say

“I really am lucky to have the job that I have , where I can use my BA skills to help ensure we are working on those projects that have the highest business value to the County.”

Enterprise analysis is the holy grail for many BAs. It’s a collection of responsibilities that leverage some of our unique strengths at a higher level than any specific project assignment. It’s an opportunity to be recognized as a senior professional while also doing interesting and meaningful work.

Some Challenges in Being an Enterprise Analyst

Of course, accomplishing this isn’t easy and Laura did mention some challenges. The primary challenge is keeping track of all the incoming information. Laura picks up tidbits of information relevant to understanding the business domain or identifying projects in multiple contexts: reviewing documents, observing staff at work, formal meetings, hallway conversations, newspaper articles, etc. Keeping all of this information organized while the initial models are being developed is a challenge.

The second challenge is simply the sheer amount of work involved. Each meeting requires an agenda and has several outputs for the business analyst. Keeping up with the meetings as well as being sure she’s got time to do something productive with everything she learns is a new time management challenge. I can also imagine that without the imposed deadlines of project deliverables and timelines, keeping up is more of a matter of personal motivation.

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Comments

  1. Laura – thanks for sharing this story. Echoing what others have said above, it’s great to hear about people being able to use their business analysis skills at the enterprise level.

    What is also important to stress is how Dr. Kesner and the other BA’s at Douglas County are supporting Product Owners as business analysts. The way the Product Owner role is defined (at least how I define it) is that it is the ultimate decision maker for a given project/product, so it idealy would be someone from the business area that is sponsoring the project. They have to live with the end results, so should be the ones making decisions about requirements, rules, etc. In this model the perfect application of the BA role is to coach those folks on business analysis techniques, especially when there are not enough BA’s to be on every project for every business unit.

  2. Laura Kesner says

    Karie, fortunately we were lucky that our management team recognized the value business analysis skills could have at a higher, more strategic level. While I was not the one that pitched an enterprise analysis program, our small team (my other BA colleague and my manager) have been heavily involved in creating and promoting the standards and processes we now use. Most of the literature available in this area seems to focus more on theory and less on actual application, so in addition to us learning as we go, I’ve also been reaching out to other EAs and bringing lessons learned back to our organization.

    By the way, Dave, I like the concept of a Customer Relationship Manager. Focusing on building relationships with our clients has been very beneficial. Our clients are starting to view IT more as a partner who will help them meet their strategic goals. The two-way communication also helps them become more aware of what efforts IT is working on, our processes, and even our challenges. The clients gain an understanding and appreciation of IT.

    I would highly recommend that other organizations establish an Enterprise Analysis program. The perspective at this higher level is incredible. Being able to facilitate interdepartmental communication, identify opportunities for projects, and help ensure we are working on the right projects adds so much value to an organization. It’s one of those things where you don’t know what you don’t know. I really never understood the value we could bring until we started doing it here at the County. It is a great feeling when things start clicking…you start seeing those patterns, you start identifying opportunities, and you start understanding how the entire organization works together to achieve its goals.

    I really credit our management team for having the vision to create an enterprise analysis program. But there is no reason why, as BAs, we can’t promote it within other organizations.

  3. Hi Angela, Thanks for sharing your story. I wonder if sometimes this happens because of costing or budget concerns. When a BA is assigned to a specific project or a specific functional area, it’s a simple matter to allocate that cost. When you assign a BA at an enterprise level, it’s a lot like adding another layer of management to the mix — it’s a sunk cost that the organization has to absorb. The value for the organization is clearly there, given the quality metrics you mention, but who, ultimately, is accountable for the extra cost arising from the quality issues? Who would be in charge of solving that problem? It seems to me that’s where a lot of these initiatives get a bit hung up.

    This is really another post entirely, but I know I have experienced the tension in my own work that when I get busy (or just go on vacation) and become a “limited resource” that the business begins to fill in and do more BA work. It’s a natural tendency to do what needs to be done to move your project along. In these situations I’m often handed a project much like Karie writes about, where there is some scope, but with analysis I start finding holes and rebuilding the scope. So, not having the staffing resources (which has a direct relationship to budget) is closely tied to this problem of expanding the role to include pre-project enterprise analysis work.

  4. I was excited to see this post as well. I tried unsuccessfully to get buy-in to this idea at my last organization. A BA should be assigned at the program or overarching project level. We had many systems and BA’s lived at the system/application level. There were often misinterpretations from one spec to the next at the integration points which led to data and workflow gaps and as someone else mentioned inaccurate PMO estimates because typically functional resources aren’t assigned until a project is approved. From a quality perspective it seems like a no-brainer. At the very least, since it would be hard for a BA to be an expert in all systems and applications immediately, there could be a lead BA that oversees the specs being done at the functional level to make sure that the components make sense within the context of the whole design. The person would be familiar enough with the enterprise flow and system interactions that they would be able to speak to scope and give input earlier on in the project and then keep it on track against the original goals as the project progresses through the detailed analysis. Anxious for this idea to catch on.

  5. Karie, That is great news! I see this as evidence that you have been clearly demonstrating your value along the way and it was finally noticed and acted on. Although of course it’s difficult to see completely into your situation, my assumption would be that those stakeholder relationships also played a big role.

    Dave, the role you mention sounds a lot like the role Mark Jenkins created in his group. It also goes to show that enterprise analysis can take a couple of different forms. First, the BAs had a role in governance. Now the role is in supporting governance by fleshing out ideas. I’m sure there is a lot of overlapping responsibility in these variations on the role, but also some differences. My current role is much more in supporting the governance process by fleshing out ideas and bringing them forth for consideration.

    Thanks everyone for your input. Great as always.

  6. Dave Schrenk says

    This is definitely a needed role in any organization. This role does have value and does exist in our organization.

    Without getting into too much detail, our BAs are currently involved in scoping and estimating any “idea” for improvement from the business prior to submission to the governing body which then decides which “idea” will become an IT “project”. So, even though all of our BAs report into IT, any “idea” from the business that might require IT support is analyzed by our BAs.

    In the past, we had resources with the job title of “Customer Relationship Manager” and they were enterprise analysts that worked directly with the business units to identify and prioritize “ideas”. That role no longer exists as it has been replaced by a more rigorous governance process. But, while it did exist, I believe that it added a lot of value.

  7. Andriana, thank you so much for your thoughts! I should have clarified a couple things…

    BAs in our organization are in IT; so the goal I have is to get us out front of projects working with our business stakeholders before a project is even formalized. Currently – the PMO/governance organization and maybe a PM are the only ones involved as the business is trying to pull together their business case; and they (governance/PM) are not currently conducting the high level needs assessments. One example of the concern around this that I heard today is how to get the budget to cover this work outside of approved project budgets.

    As soon as a project is slated to get started, a BA is assigned and is part of the initiation and planning. I would just like to see us continue to move the BA role out in front – to not just be a resource on an approved project, but to be a part of helping to assess and recommend which projects should be tackled next.

    You are so right – none of this will happen by lecturing. I’ve been with this company 3 years and have been making slow and steady process in elevating the business analyst role; and have gotten a lot of support to do that “in my free time”. So I keep trying and looking for opportunities to educate on the value, to prove it first hand when I can, and to know that as our IT organization continues to mature, we will have these opportunities.

  8. Oh, your last message only appeared to me after I posted mine — sounds like you are making good progress already toward the best solution (which is to make it a part of the process to involve BAs in an earlier stage.

  9. Karie,

    You wrote, “But from within IT, the BA is often not consulted until after a project has been approved by governance to proceed and often times I am helping to clarify business needs as the project kicks off which often causes us to modify scope out of the gate. I would love to be able to help position our BA’s into that consultative role early on, and would love to hear more stories about how to help this transition.”

    It’s interesting that you say that IT is defining the scope of projects without a BA assigned to them, even if stakeholders come to you to discuss their needs first. Ideally, you would change the process so that BAs are formally involved earlier on, even before projects are “approved by governance to proceed”.

    If for some reason it’s not possible to change the process, an alternative is to start showing to IT how it makes sense to involve the BAs as soon as they are assigned a new projects. Needless to say, this doesn’t happen by “lecturing” people, but rather, by demonstrating to IT how it makes sense for them to reach out.

    For example, when your business stakeholders come to you for advice and guidance, whenever possible you could try to involve the IT team by sending a message to them explaining the desired capability and asking for their opinion about the complexity of the project, their ideas about how to implement the capability (e.g., include a feature in an existing system vs. create a separate application that would interface with the existing system), etc. Let them feel included in the process (not making decisions at that point, but showing that their opinion matters). During this type of interaction, it’s likely that they will start seeing the value of including the BA in their initial discussions when they are about to start a project. If they can see how the BA can add value (by asking relevant questions that help translate a business need into a technical solution, explaining the business rules to the technical team, etc.) they won’t need any extra convincing to invite BAs to their initial discussions.

    Perhaps there is more to the situation you are experiencing, and in this case, feel free to share here so we can give you more specific guidance.

  10. The stars aligned today… and I coincidentally had an opportunity to participate on a task force to discuss our process, methodologies, and templates. There was a perfect opening for me to suggest that we look at pre-project/enterprise analysis and how to get BA’s involved in helping the business to understand their business drivers and needs. It actually came out of a discussion where PMs were concerned that they were not being given enough information to develop high level estimates and charters for projects – and by suggesting that we could get more involved prior to a project being submitted to governance, we would be adding value to the business and helping the project initiation phase. We’ll see how far this goes – but at least it’s a step in the right direction!

  11. Hi Karie, I agree, it’s great to hear these stories as they inspire all of us. I don’t have much more information on exactly how Laura and her team helped the organization realize the value of bringing BAs in upfront, but I’ll be sure to ask her to contribute to this if she can. I think you are definitely on the right track, focusing in on stakeholder relationships. You also might consider beginning to elevate the changes made to scope to help show how you are adding value at the project initiation stage, as that could begin to form a solid case for involvement earlier on.

  12. I am so encouraged by this post that there are BA’s moving into this vitally important role! I would love to know how the organization came to realize the value the BA’s could provide at an enterprise level, and/or the difficulty in convincing them to give it a try.

    As one of the most senior business analysts in my organization, I am thankful to have built very strong relationships with my business stakholders; so much so that they often come to me for advice and guidance. But from within IT, the BA is often not consulted until after a project has been approved by governance to proceed and often times I am helping to clarify business needs as the project kicks off which often causes us to modify scope out of the gate.

    I would love to be able to help position our BA’s into that consultative role early on, and would love to hear more stories about how to help this transition.

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