The Future of Business Analysis: Innovation and Creativity

I started this series on “Building BA Maturity” back in January of this year and I’ve really enjoyed all the interviews and conversations with so much of the talent and insight in our community.  From Bob Prentiss to Ellen Gottesdiener.  From Peter Johnson to Thea Turray and James Taylor.  I’ve had a blast and learned so much. But, all good things must end.  So, for this wrap-up, I want to pull together the threads, put on my magic prognosticator’s hat, peer into my crystal ball, and share what I’m seeing in the big bold BA future.

First, a reminder where we started. What I came way with from the Building Business Capability 2010 event were these six areas of “stretch” for BAs in the coming years, and I documented them as such in the first piece in the series:

1. Shift our focus from “functionalities” to “capabilities” – This might be the core theme of the event, but it’s clear we can do a better job of moving past the project level of the enterprise, and to the realm and mindset of organizational units needing specific business capabilities. Make that our first and only home.

2. Think first, and always, “Rules” and “Process” – This is a bit of  a “no duh” idea for many BAs who do this almost as second nature, but there are now real standards for defining and communicating rules and process (this XML-like stuff), and amazing tools for managing both those areas that we need to become familiar and comfortable with.

3. Get agile – in two senses. Literally, make creating more agile organizations that can respond quickly to changing dynamics your highest priority, but too, make getting comfortable with working in an “Agile” context (as in non-waterfall like iterative style development) a priority as well.

4. Be leaders in Enterprise Architecture – There was a lot of discussion and workshops, and a forthcoming IIBA handbook on EA, and it’s clear that BAs in the coming years who design and analyze at the level of the enterprise, will be positioned for success.

5. Get trained, get certified – IIBA has two certifications available now, and there are really great training companies out there offering courses, webinars, and degrees in business analysis.

6. Collaborate and mentor – Several workshops touched on the mutual values of mentoring and being mentored, as well the advantages of creating BA Centers of Excellence (BA-COE’s) within organizations.

As I now review those six elements again, in light of the conversations I’ve had this year with so many  of our best and brightest, I actually wouldn’t change a word. But I do want to reduce those six a little bit further.  Taking inspiration once again from Steve Jobs and the ancient Greeks, I think those six leading edges of our trade and chosen profession boil down to this one Greek concept: Arete.   The Greeks idealized balance, harmony, beauty, and virtue.  And all of those concepts sort of roll up into the notion of Arete, which is usually translated “excellence” or “virtue”.  Today, in our technology context, we might be more likely to use a word like “innovate” which comes from the Latin root; in—”into” and novus—”new”.   Into the new.

As we all know, it’s cliché to say that the pace of change in our world is accelerating.  Technology has been far outstripping our humanity for quite some time, certainly since the invention of the nuclear bomb, and long before.  But the excellent use of technology, the virtuous uses of our inventions and innovations, is also what sets us apart and make us more human.  Though not alone in this idea, Steve Jobs perhaps best personified this and implemented it in the form of a company and products.  He liked to refer to the intersection of science and engineering with the liberal arts and humanities.  Isn’t that the space we BAs inhabit every day as well? The intersection of people and products.  The intersection of stakeholders and their often competing interests.  The intersection of business values, features, needs, time limits, budgets, scope.  We speak geek but we also write poetry and prose.  We document and analyze, but we also converse, question and elicit.  We really get to work all sides of our mind, which is what I probably value most about this line of work we call Business Analysis.

So what is our BA Arete, our virtue, our excellence?

I don’t think it’s business or analysis per se, though of course we aim to support the business and we do analysis.  In the end, I think it’s about our ability to model that Greek ideal of balancing competing forces, and aiming for harmony and beauty in our work; in short, it’s simply being creative.

Things like:

  • Not relying on templates from our past requirements projects to kick-off our new ones.
  • Putting business value ahead of documents and deliverables.  Enterprise analysts like Peter Johnson exemplify this beautifully.
  • Valuing visualization over documentation, trusting good maps and diagrams to do our heavy lifting.  Never forgetting the power of simplicity in design (a tip of the hat to our friends in the UX community for that one).
  • Trusting rapid prototyping and experimentation over long term and upfront planning (nods to our Agile friends for that).
  • AND, choosing the right hybrid of methodologies when one size doesn’t fit all.  And does it ever, really?
  • Being disciplined.  Saying “no”, but offering a “yes” that nobody ever considered, because their frame of reference was too narrow.
  • Leveraging the new tools for harvesting business rules and managing business process (kudos to the forward thinking vendors and the evangelists like Ron Ross, Gladys Lam, Celia Wolf, and Roger Burlton).

What can BAs be in the future?

We can be many things, and we may not necessarily be called “analysts” either.  I loved Laura Brandenburg’s interview with Shannon McKenzie who found her BA niche when she landed the job at NBC Universal as a “Senior Emerging Technology Specialist”.

Or, we might become a “Portable CEO” like my colleague Joseph Esposito.  Joe was a VP at Encyclopedia Brittanica in the 90s’ when the publisher’s ship began to run up against the realities of the internet and the new publishing world. Joe has developed a fascinating consultancy working with publishers either in trouble or transition.

Or we could move into the product development realm, and be an ideator and facilitator like my friend Christine Haskins of IdeasToGo. What an awesome job – leading client teams through brainstorming and ideating exercises so they can imagine, or re-imagine, products that align with their company vision and strategy.

Or we could always channel “Brain” from the 90’s cartoon series Pinky And The Brain who was fond to say, “We’ll do the same thing we did yesterday, try to take over the World!”

Footnote: I’m looking forward to the 2011 Building Business Capability event, happening in Fort Lauderdale, FL next week.  So, I come full circle in one year.  Will look forwarding to networking with my creative and forwarding-thinking colleagues and seeing what new inspirations comes from this year’s grand meeting of the BA minds.

What is your vision of business analysis in the future? 

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  1. I read your article while I was doing research on the internet about the future of business analysis. Your articles are always interesting and thought-provoking. I tried to do my best and summarized my findings on the future of business analysis at this post: Hope you would like to read it!

    In general, it seems that with the advent of the big data, and advancements in storage and processing capacities of computers, the jobs for business intelligence analyst (or the likes of data analysts) would grow really fast. This branch seems really rewarding with fat pays, too. I hope you would spare some time to read the rest of the article and give your insights!

  2. Curtis Michelson says

    Day 4 of the BBC 2011 conference. I’m now entering the outer stratosphere of BA consciousness. Just left Kathleen Barrett’s (President, IIBA) session called “The Future of Business Analysis: It’s Not What It Used to Be” and I feel completely validated, in everything I wrote in this article.

    She talked about the overall context (high change rate, global economy, information/automation acceleration, and other mega trends) and that the BA sits at the pivotal lever point within organizations, positioned to make some of the biggest impact, which will determine whether the org becomes adept, agile and a leader or falls behind and folds. Of the leader companies she named, Apple sits at the top, and when I asked her afterwards, “who are the business analysts at companies like Apple, does IIBA have data on it?”, she said Steve Jobs was the uber-Business Analyst. The product managers have internalized the ‘discipline’ of business analysis even if they haven’t called it as such.

    So, breaking news, Barret said, going forward the vision statement for IIBA is: “helping organizations change the way they change” Meta change for the new world. Upwards and onwards, to the BA stratosphere. Or as my 4-yr old likes to say, “To Infinity And Beyond!”

  3. Curtis Michelson says

    Thanks Michelle. I just got to the BBC event today and had my mind expanded by two sessions focused on Points 1 and 4 above. the morning session with Kevin Brennan and Julian Sammy offering a sneak peak at BABOK v3.0 and the undergirding “Change Framework” (which is very good), and also an afternoon session with the indefatigable John Zachman and his framework for enterprise architecture. It’s my third puff of the Zachman dragon, and I’m finally catching the buzz. It’s quite exhilarating! 😉 More report-outs to come. Which I’ll post here to the comments area which seems kind of appropriate I think.

  4. Michelle Swoboda says

    Curtis, once again a great article. I always enjoy reading your work.
    My vision for business analysis for the future is continued trust by businesses that we are a necessary and valuable part of the project team. I personally plan to make my business virtual – but what that looks like, is yet to be defined. 🙂
    I love being a BA – the hunt of each new project, the tackling of each task and the challenge of different team dynamics and project problems that help make each project unique and fun.



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