Building a better business analysis practice

Author: Adriana Beal

John Davis writes:

We’ve been looking at IAG’s BA Benchmark 2009 that deals with the impact of poor requirements practices on project and organisational success. Short of hiring a company such as IAG, how can we as BAs best help our organisation – or a client organisation for those of us in IT Services – develop more maturity in requirements definition and management?

Speaking from my experience working as a consultant for large organizations which frequently lack structure and discipline in requirements definition and management, making the case for a stronger business analysis practice is not as easy as one would expect. With the number of studies demonstrating how flawed requirements development processes generates all sorts of problems in software development projects (from scope creep to defects found at later stages compromising product quality and resulting in ballooning costs), it is somewhat surprising to see so many business leaders failing to recognize the value of consistently following a mature, disciplined business analysis process in their organizations.

One of the main reasons for this lack of understanding is that it’s not a simple task to connect improved process capability with better results in IT projects. Skepticism about the value of investing in process improvement remains not only for business analysis, but for other disciplines as well (software development, user experience, testing, etc.). Such resistance is understandable in light of the fact that many problems, from requirements volatility to implementation issues, can cause project failure even in organizations with excellent processes in place.

Leave changingWhat can a BA do to help overcome the resistance to change? A conversation with senior management about current project issues is a good starting point. Is your company missing commitments? Suffering from late delivery of software products to the market? Experiencing last-minute crunches, or too much rework? By focusing on existing project shortcomings, and the range of expected results that can be achieved by following a better requirements process in terms of cost, schedule, functionality and product/service quality, it is possible to raise awareness, obtain the necessary support in the form of sponsorship, and secure the resources needed to start a process improvement effort.

Once the initial resistance is overcome, what should be done next? A good first step would be to get management and the BA group thinking of what needs to change. A reference guide such as the BABOK can be used to facilitate the process of answering the question: “What is the real situation here?”. In order to improve its requirements practices, organizations may need to work in several directions: processes, planning, training, technology, relationships and coordination with other disciplines, measurement. Disciplined change is important, as well as approaching the problem iteratively, like a series of projects that break the work down into smaller, more manageable pieces, so that inefficient or defect-prone BA activities are identified and replaced or revised in a consistent, effective manner.

There is a lot to be discussed about developing a true business analysis discipline and establishing an effective BA practice that supports the need for both stability and continued improvement. I hope to continue to develop this topic in future articles.


5 thoughts on “Building a better business analysis practice”

  1. Dunja, thank you for sharing your experience — this is what makes Bridging the Gap such a great place to visit and learn from each other.

    I think that your initiative has great potential to improve the BA work in your organization. About your question, which I’ll split into two parts:

    How to keep the momentum and interest of BAs? One approach you may try is to find a few “champions” who already have familiarity with wikis and forums, and ask them to start posting and commenting on each other’s content to “seed” the knowledge base. You might also want to create a newsletter highlighting the new content, asking for contributions, etc. The most resistant BAs will start to see “what they are missing”, both in terms of learning opportunities and exposure (a BA who is describing lessons learned in a complex project, or asking interesting questions that start a valuable exchange of ideas, will definitely develop a good reputation, and this can generate intrinsic motivation for the others to ask and answer questions so their skills can be recognized too).

    How to justify to the PMs and stakeholders the value of allowing BAs spending time contributing to the “broader community”? I have a feeling that it will be much less difficult than you think (believe me, I had to convince senior manager of the benefits of things with much less tangible value than that, and did it successfully, using the techniques I describe in this other article:

    The key is to spend some time trying to understand their framework. What’s really important for the PMs and stakeholders? How can you connect what they care about with your initiative? (In many cases I found out that I needed to focus on a benefit that wasn’t even the most important, but was the one that resonated most with a particular audience). As you move forward, you could also create a newsletter to send to them sharing not only the progress in terms of BA collaboration, but also stories that illustrate the results (e.g., how a BA got help for a problem caused by a design constraint that was preventing a requirement from being implemented. By asking for help and getting a response from another BA who had run into the same problem in a different project, he quickly found a solution. You can estimate the number of hours of work looking for a solution that were avoided, and list all the other benefits that the knowledge sharing provided).

    “I am hoping that we can get BA’s to blog their progress through a project so that not only can others see and comment on each others approach, it also helps with the communication between different projects.”

    Keep in mind that this may be easier in the beginning to ask BAs to share the lessons learned “after the action”. Many may feel self-conscious exposing the challenges they are experiencing, afraid that this will make them look bad. Once a project is successfully completed, they will feel more comfortable sharing its highs and lows, which will allow others to learn from the experience as well.

    As the BAs get used to and comfortable with the platform, and start to experience the benefits of the knowledge sharing, it should become easier and easier to convince people to blog about their progress, share advice, and increasing the collaboration between different projects. Good luck!

  2. I must say that everything in this article rings true…

    I am currently working on a initiative to improve the BA practices. It took 6 months of suggestions to get management on board and then another 6 to get enough time away from projects to actually put together the “starting point”. One of the first things that we had to do was to consolidate the information in the organisation, because we realised that 5 different departments had different templates and expectations that they expected a group of BA’s to conform to. We defined a recommended approach, some principals and refered to the BABOK knowledge areas, but we are trying to encourage “critical thinking” rather than sticking to a prescriptive process.

    A few weeks ago we were ready to get everyone involved, so we asked BA’s from all streams of the business to nominate themselves as the “go to people” so that we could provide face to face time to other BA’s who are unsure of where they fit and to help them with the issues they are facing. We have also deployed a portal so that people could go to the one place to find templates, post questions and find information (the portal has wiki, forum and repository capabilities) and I am hoping that we can get BA’s to blog their progress through a project so that not only can others see and comment on each others approach, it also helps with the communication between different projects.

    Now the biggest hurdle is trying to keep the momentum and interest of the BA’s whilst trying to justify to the PM’s and stakeholders the value of allowing the BA’s to participate in the broader “community”.

    Any comments would be welcome 🙂

  3. Thank you too, John–it was an excellent question you asked. It seems that recently more and more companies are showing interest in improving their BA practices and even creating a center of excellence in business analysis, which is certainly good news. I can’t think of a more important theme to discuss right now, so stay tuned for more on this topic, hopefully with the contribution of many others in the form of comments or guest posts.



  4. Thank you Adriana. One very important point you make is the need for us to align our practice with an industry standard such as the BABOK. This gives us internal credibility and also becomes a marketing tool for gaining new business. I look forward to your future articles on this theme.

  5. Pingback: 2wtx Mastering Business Analysis » Blog Archive » Links of interest – building a better BA practice and the value of checklists and RACI matrices

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