One thing that I’m confident that readers of this site will agree on is that good quality business analysis can add significant value throughout a project’s lifecycle. But let me ask you a question. Have you ever found that some stakeholders just don’t “get” business analysis? They just want to implement a tactical, messy solution without really understanding the root cause, business need or opportunity?
Have you ever heard stakeholders say things like:
“We don’t have time for up-front enterprise analysis… we just need to get going!”
“Why do I need requirements? It’s simple – I just want xyz system. That’s my requirement. Now go deliver it, by next Tuesday please.”
“Why do we need to understand the ‘as is’ system – surely we can just worry about the changes?”
“Why do you keep asking me about business goals and objectives? That’s not for you to worry about.”
If you haven’t ever heard sentiments of this type, I am extremely jealous! I know from my work with organizations and BA practitioners in the UK, that misunderstanding, and in some cases resistance against the BA role does occur. Sometimes it feels like they don’t really want a BA at all.
As a community, it’s easy to blame the stakeholders for misunderstanding the BA role. “Those annoying stakeholders… why don’t they understand the benefits that structured change and analysis can bring to them?” However, I think it’s time for us as a community to turn the conversation around.
A Challenge: The Cocktail Party Test
One of the challenges we face in articulating the value we add can be illustrated with what I call the “cocktail party test”. Imagine you’re being introduced to a new friend at a party – someone you’ve not met before. They don’t work in business change, in fact they’ve never worked in a project environment at all. Perhaps they’re a chef or a baker. Imagine you tell them that you’re a business analyst—and you’re met with a blank stare. Followed by the question: “What does that mean?”
How would you explain your role to them? Take a moment to consider this before reading further.
This is what some people describe as an “elevator pitch”, and many BAs (myself included) find it incredibly difficult to succinctly and meaningfully describe the role and the BA value proposition. What we do is so broad—we work on projects from conception to realisation—and it’s hard to cut down the essence into a single, snappy sentence. Particularly to someone whose role is outside of business change.
It’s like there’s a brick wall…
Add into the mix that if you ask 50 different BAs to describe the role, you’ll get 50 different descriptions, all of which are probably perfectly correct. There will undoubtedly be some areas of controversy; what counts as “systems analysis” or “design” varies between organizational contexts. So, if as a community of analysts we can’t agree on a succinctly and useful definition of our role, no wonder our stakeholders are confused!
You may ask “why does this matter?” History is littered with expensive project failures… and we know that good quality business analysis (along with our change colleagues – project managers, architects etc.) can avoid this. But, sometimes it feels like there’s a brick wall between us and our stakeholders. We know that we can help them so much… if only they’d engage us earlier. If only they’d let us help them before key design decisions were made. But they don’t yet know the breadth of problems we can solve for them.
The million dollar question:
So my final question: Does anyone ever really want a BA anyway? Or a project manager for that matter, or an architect? Controversially, I think the answer is no. To draw on the commonly quoted cliché… people don’t buy drills because they want a drill. They buy a drill because they want a hole in the wall. In the same way, people engage BAs and other change professionals because they want effective business change that delivers business and customer value. Sounds obvious, right?
However, this provides a useful lens to break down the brick wall of misunderstanding. When we’re faced with scepticism, we need to break it down – brick by brick – by explaining and demonstrating how we add value in the context of the change that the business needs and wants. Then, we need to faithfully deliver that change.
We can’t bulldoze down the brick wall, but through reliable and consistent delivery, mixed with superior stakeholder management and marketing, we can nibble it away—a brick at a time… leading to better quality earlier engagement and better quality project and business outcomes.