Enterprise Analysis: Our Mount Everest

Thus far in this series of articles, we’ve surveyed the topographic terrain of Business Analysis from the local hills and valleys, with a tacit assumption of an analyst working at an application or project level and interfacing with things like rules, process, agile development teams, BA centers of excellence, and so on, all towards improving the BA’s role in moving projects along with higher and higher quality results.  And all those things are important to getting better quality software, or products, or processes, or widgets.

But there is a larger terrain we haven’t surveyed yet.  It’s perhaps “the big one,” the big context for all the projects, applications or products that we work on.  This is the top-level organizational picture, the enterprise. The work we do at that level we call “Enterprise Analysis.”  For some, it’s the ultimate summit of business analysis.  To quote again Bob Prentiss of Watermark Learning, “BAs grow up to be Enterprise Analysts.”  It’s indeed the area of our profession that comes with not only very high responsibility, but usually higher compensation as well.  And with that responsibility comes risk.

But what IS Enterprise Analysis (EA) really?  How is it different than other analysis we do?  I think many people have the sense (I know I did) that it must be something that only large or super large enterprises do.  This must be for the Fortune 500 firms who can afford the fancy tools and who retain phalanxes of BAs for such things.  I thought it must be related to size or org.  But that’s not true.  Organizations of any size can benefit from EA.  Let’s get the IIBA take on it.  (Note: IIBA is working on a forthcoming Handbook of Enterprise Analysis, that will supplement and expand on what’s already there.)

Please welcome, Chapter Five of BABOK® v2!

BABOK‘s own picture of Enterprise Analysis (EA)

Having never had the chance to scale this mountain fully myself, I can look at that graphic and make sense of it intellectually, and indeed have used some of those tools at lower altitudes.  I’ve certainly done many of those tasks, but they usually were around a bound project, but not something at the highest levels of organization that required use of enterprise architecture surveying tools, frameworks and methodologies (Zachman, TOGAF, etc.), whose deliverables would have strategic impact across the org, or even perhaps change the nature of the organization itself.  That’s where the air gets thinner and each step has greater impact and potentially higher consequence.

So, how do we start to climb this mountain.  Perhaps, we first understand its contours, learn its terrain, and then we begin, building steadily upwards base-camp by base-camp towards the summit.  The other thing every mountain climber needs is local knowledge from someone who has been there before – a “Sherpa” if you will. And my sherpa for this article is Peter Johnson.

Peter Johnson LLC, CBAP®

I first heard about Peter when I was visiting the New Jersey IIBA Chapter meeting earlier this year.  Peter is a founding member and current VP for Professional Development, and from one look at his bio, I knew I found my sherpa. His experience in business analysis pre-dates the term itself, having worked for Fortune 500 firms in pricing analysis, product marketing, change management, quality control and early uses of the world wide web.  And about a decade ago, Peter struck out on his own as a contractor, and hasn’t looked back. Which was another reason I wanted to meet him.  So, when Peter was teaching a CBAP prep course in Tampa, Florida recently, not far from my home in Orlando, I decided to pay a visit.  Over a wonderful night of fresh seafood, fine wine and Gulf waves, Peter and I shared stories about business analysis, IIBA, credentials, contracting, conferences, and of course, the singularity warping the cultural space-time continuum, @Lady Gaga.  (That last bit about Gaga inserted for SEO ranking only.)

Peter, what IS Enterprise Analysis?

I asked Peter how he defines this work, this climb, and he describes an interesting continuum of growth for BAs which moves along an axis of personal power that is directly related to how far “ahead” of projects that we get to position ourselves.  In other words, are we consulted for our analysis before the major decisions have been made, or are we brought in to shape what those initiatives will be.  The more ahead of that curve we are, the more personal power we claim.

Kitty Hass describes a similar thing in her book, From Analyst To Leader: Elevating The Role of Business Analysis, in the section about BA Centers of Excellence, and how they move along a similar continuum.  Her graphic from that chapter is instructive here:

So, just like a mountain climber who gets wider and wider vistas of the terrain from which she just came, as she gets higher and higher, so does the BA get a wider and hopefully more perspicacious view of the enterprise or organization she’s working in, as she moves from Phase 1, to Phase 2, to Phase 3 of the “Kitty Continuum.”

Where the rubber meets the road, as Peter wisely notes, is that BAs who position themselves as strategic assets, (moving towards the right of the Kitty Continuum) have a greater chance of staying on board during the tough times or recessions (if you’re an employee), or a higher chance of being asked to come back again (if you’re a consultant).  “Let’s face it,” Peter says, “there is a disturbing trend of shedding BAs during this recession, which says what… that they are viewed more as a ‘cost’ and not a ‘value’ to their organizations.”   He goes on, “We can be outsourced, too.”   And indeed, if you’re attending this year’s Building Business Capability conference in Fort Lauderdale, or BA World in Boston, Peter will be giving a talk about globalization and the impact it’s having on our trade.  (Peter spent time with companies and graduate schools in India, and helped those organizing an IIBA® chapter in Chennai connect with BAs taking his class.)

And what’s wonderful about this terrain, as Peter makes clear, is that it’s the nature of systems in general, that lessons learned at one level, often are useful at the next level up, at a higher altitude.  In other words, BAs knowledge of enterprise analysis ‘transfers’ no matter which level of the organization we are working in. There is a fractal like self-similarity to organizations that helps as we go.  Ah, fractals. Take a moment to breathe deep and ponder infinite depth.


So, really Mr. Johnson, how do we climb this mountain?

Here are a few of the ways Peter mentions…

  1. Always demonstrate ‘value’
    “Writing a better BRD is not necessarily increasing value” he says. “Producing an Ishikawa (fish bone) diagram getting to the root cause of an organizational problem definitely does.”
  2. Become a ‘change agent’
    Become PROactive, as Peter says, “providing value BEFORE strategic decisions are made”
  3. Develop a ‘common currency’, a shared language with decision makers
    Speak to them in business terms, about extracting more value from IT spending
  4. Focus on three ‘R’s – Risk, Reliability, Reality
    There is another article or two to be written around those three words, and it’s the linchpin of Peter’s approach to EA, but it boils down to speaking the language of business owners and executives; namely, the language of “accountability” – for estimates, assumptions and delivering results in the RACI matrix for business case input.

I asked Peter if the above imperatives are things that all BAs would be able to master easily, or do they take some special skills or training.  He says, “traditional detailed analysis, the kind of work we do in crafting a requirements document for example, is not helpful here.  There’s a pulling back and seeing the forest for the trees capability that’s needed in order to deliver value as written in the BABOK®”

For example, when diagnosing root causes of organizational challenges, the Pareto Principle (the well known 80/20 rule) is surely at play. And if you’re focusing on too many details, you’re often missing the “big effect,” the elephant in the room, that might only take up 1/5 the space (20%), but is causing 4/5 (80%) of the downstream effects.  A less experienced BA could easily wind up in “analysis paralysis” chasing down and “documenting” all the causes, when only one or two of them is important to the C-Suite, because they are the root cause.

That idea of seeing the forest for the trees reminded me of another workshop I attended at last year’s Building Business Capability event, a presentation given by a New Zealander (a kiwi) named Janine Andrews who shared a case study of doing what she called Concept Analysis but what is essentially what we’re referring to in this article as Enterprise Analysis.  She was surveying the mountain of complexity of the New Zealand national telecom network and doing a lot of “what if” analysis around a regulatory change that would affect all levels of their organization.

Janine whopped the audience with the sobering fact that the skills most BAs bring (logical, sequential, analysis, structure, detail) often fail them in enterprise level endeavors, where what is more needed is synthesizing type thinking (intuition, holistic, integrative thinking).  Similarly, mountain climbers switch to different tools the farther up the slope they go.  To make her point visually, she used the Hermann Brain Dominance Instrument.

Hermann Brain Dominance implications for BAs (click for larger version)

Every climber needs a good map

To bring big picture thinking back to the task at hand – generating insight and value to the business – creating a map of the business architecture is probably one of the most powerful tools of an enterprise analyst.  And to make a map of a terrain, as every cartographer knows, requires agreement on a coordinate system and a series of symbols.  In other words, a map begs for a conceptual framework.  One of the frameworks that Peter Johnson is jazzed about, is a relative newcomer, called the Business Motivation Model. Created by A. Niklas Malik, this approach borrows heavily from other enterprise architecture thinkers and from other groups like the Open Standards Group.  As a young little climber myself, I’m not in a position to judge the relative merits of Malik’s framework to any of the others, but I think the fundamental notion of reducing the complexity of an enterprise (a complex living dynamic organization/organizm) into some fundamental or atomic units and relations (rules, process, actors, entities, etc), is a profoundly powerful act. And a tool based on such a framework, one might even call a “Power Tool”.  And who doesn’t like playing with Power Tools?!

To sum up his approach to enterprise analysis, I’ll let Peter vamp us out to the end with some juicy quotes.

In a nutshell, I encourage BAs to get actively involved in engaging stakeholders in business case financials as business requirements mature into solution states throughout a project life cycle and beyond to the product life cycle. NPV (net present value) analysis for example, is something business owners will understand.

There’s nothing in the BABOK that really tells us how to do this work.  In fact, there’s no implied sequential order or linearity to it, except when one input clearly implies a required former output. We can be creative here.

Intangible business goals need to be made visible, tangible.  How?  By analyzing, quantifying, visualizing the implications of change.

We need more ‘fact based’ decision making, and less ‘decision based’ fact making.

In conclusion, Enterprise Business Analysis is a steep climb but can also be a breathtaking one. Is the mountain more treacherous, more unforgiving the higher we go? Indeed. And perhaps, that’s what makes us feel more alive. Perhaps it will help us appreciate what we have every day, in gratitude for a job, for a contract, for a relationship, for the opportunity to move and orchestrate change at whatever level we encounter it.

I would encourage anyone interested in Peter’s philosophy or his consulting practice to reach out to him on Twitter @PJohnsonCBAP, or on LinkedIn. If a sherpa you need, he’s a great one.

So, fellow BAs, what’s your experience with enterprise analysis?  Have any climbing stories or climbing accidents to share?

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