“What do you do?”
I was a little hurt when a life-long friend asked me this question, after all, I remembered that she is a Director of HR.
“You know what I do. I’m a Business Analyst.” I replied.
“No, I know you’re a Business Analyst silly,” she said, “What does that mean? What … do you do?”
If you’re a BA, maybe you’ve had this conversation (or similar) with a friend, or worse still, as I often have, with a CEO or members of your board. Once, at a previous firm, my Director of HR asked me to explain what my role ‘actually’ was!!
Like most business analysts, I’ve learned to not take it personally.
I often hear “What’s the value added by a Business Analysist?” or “How would a Business Analyst add value to my projects?” or “Why would we even need a Business Analyst?” or “How does having a Business Analyst add value to our wider organisation?”. I try not to scream or bang my head against a wall.
I mean, they are fair questions. I can’t be the arbiter of business value and return on investment, and then throw a hissy fit when asked to clarify my ROI! (Actually, “arbiter of business value and return on investment” is a neat little title – I might add this to my business cards!
THE BUSINESS CASE FOR THE BUSINESS ANALYST
The thing is, as business analysts, we know the value of business analysis. It’s huge!!! Organisations with an effective BA recognise it too. A Business Analyst friend in the States consistently picks up her organisation’s MVP* award (* MVP = most valuable player, it’s a baseball term. Not to be confused with “Minimum Viable Product” – which is also MVP, an experimental, prototype version of a product created via, as the PMI puts it, “the least effort possible”, which you may be familiar with if you have a software development or agile project management background. An award for “least possible effort” would not be so cool!!)
The fact that we’re often asked questions like “what does a BA do?”, suggests that there may be scope for better articulating the value that we add. We’re really good at making the case for expenditure on other aspects of a project – why should decision makers include our services on their IT projects if we can’t make the case for our own remittance!?
So … What does a business analyst actually do?
A BA friend Steve has a poster that lists the key functions of a BA in the style of Asimov’s three laws of robotics:
Law 1 – The BA will defend the business case for the IT Project.
Law 2 – The BA will assist the project team providing timely information, removing project roadblocks, and helping with project related challenges and questions – “except where such orders would conflict with the First Law”.
Law 3 – The BA will maximise the efficiency, opportunities, and deliverables of the project.
The pejorative comparison with robots aside (I mean, how very dare you, BAs are far from automatons – quite the opposite) it is a fun illustration of the BAs role in Identifying and clarifying what the business needs from the project, the business case.
When doing their job right, I’d argue that no-one involved in an IT Project has a better understanding of its business need of the project than a BA. When you put it like that, you can see the true value of business analysis, not only to both the project team and the business, but also the integrity of a project in terms of its alignment with the commercial or functional requirements of the organisation.
BEING A BA – REAL WORLD EXAMPLES
Return on investment has never been under this much scrutiny, budgets are limited, delivery timeframes are squeezed. There has never been a greater need for someone to represent the business and the business case. Every project has numerous stakeholders with divergent views and opinions, often apparently contradictory viewpoints too – the business viewpoint must not get drowned out!
Here are some real-world examples of Business Analysts being THAT business representative:
Like on the poster, an effective business analyst understands, communicates, and defends the business case.
Have you ever been involved in a project where competing priorities lead to a lot of dissembling? Did the project lack direction?
BAs, true BAs, thoroughly understand the business case, but they also understand and can advise possible technical solutions. This saves both time and money. This insight can be especially valuable as a project’s scope is defined. During the discovery phase or before a project begins, the work of a BA can ensure your project’s impact and cost effectiveness is being honed even before its wheels hit the tarmac!
Furthermore, a good BA will not only safeguard critical features (the ones that deliver actual business need), they are skilled at filtering out any unnecessary features (ones that distract and detract from delivering business need).
Facilitating agreement and harmony
Having multiple stakeholders can lead to misunderstandings, conflict, and just plain confusion about the actual business priorities of a project. Your Business Analyst, having first sought to truly understand the priorities, is ideally placed to communicate them to all concerned and ‘police’ them.
Great BAs also facilitate discussion so that all stakeholders are heard (and feel that they have been heard) and then arbitrate and reconcile different voices and views.
Advocate for the business
All too often, an IT project fails because in and among the competing stakeholders, the loud voices, and yes, the egos and entrenched positions – no one was standing up for the business!
As the client stakeholder (the business organisation), more than likely, you have an in-tray of competing core business work that demands your attention. Realistically you cannot be expected to commit your eyes and ears fully to each IT Project to ensure that it doesn’t divert from its most impactful delivery capabilities. Even the most massive and important change project relies on delegation. This is the job of the Business Analyst – ‘surrogate’ business eyes and ears to ensure that business need is represented, even in your absence.
It’s one thing understanding business need and delivering it for an organisation … but imagine having someone in place who anticipates your business needs, delivers data-backed insights and evidence – and suggests technical solutions.
My Business Analyst friend in the States, the one who consistently picks up her organisation’s MVP award, does so for this very skill! She understands the business objectives to the point where she can now anticipate the future better than the c-suite, not least because she is constantly updating her knowledge of new solutions and interpreting their potential to deliver for the business.
The best BAs have this talent in their arsenal.
Improving through “In-Prooving”
Great BAs deliver enormous value by taking on a pivotal role with what I call ‘in-play testing’ – testing throughout to make sure that the project remains true to the business requirements. The Business Analyst’s unique and detailed knowledge of business need has been discussed already but two other skills really set a BA above the pack in this particular area – documentation and communication.
The creation and execution of test scripts and other strategic initiatives, backed up with documentation that is both timely and concise, and an ability to communicate and advise based upon their findings, can deliver otherwise untapped business value.
SO … ARE YOU LOOKING FOR A BUSINESS ANALYST NOW?
If you didn’t know what a Business Analyst did before, I hope you have more of an idea now! To be fair, we’ve only scratched the surface. Your BA could turn out to be your MVP for a host of reasons that are exclusive to your business – the true value of the Business Analyst is that they will adapt their considerable skills to perfectly fit your specific business needs.
Understandably, you may be cautious about increasing costs right now, you might not want to commit to a full-time hire. If this is you, then BAaaS is the answer.
BAaaS (Business Analysis as a Service), Stoneseed’s on demand Business Analysis resource model, allows you to dial up and down BA resources in sync with your delivery needs – giving you more control over your costs.
Stoneseed’s BA team are experienced across multiple technology solutions, sectors and industries and we work with all types of projects and programmes such as Business Change, Transformation, Infrastructure, Digital or IT Project Delivery.
It may be that you need to build business case for an IT Project, requirements gathering or data analysis to help with project implementation, whatever you BA needs we can supply BA expertise and resources. BAaaS is part of our PMaaS (Project Management as a Service) portfolio, and just like PMaaS, BAaaS can be tailored to your specific requirement.
Most Valuable Player … as a Service!! To find out more call Stoneseed on 01623 723910