Managing unpredictability in the world of the BA

When I speak to inexperienced or aspiring business analysts I worry that they are hoping to find a simple process that any business analyst can follow which works in any situation.

In my experience there are many approaches that you can adopt but there is no one universal approach that works in all situations.

That’s the bad news!

So I really empathise with new BAs – if there is not one process you can follow, where do you start?

It can be very daunting!

However, there are two tools that I use that help me at the start and throughout any project which have really helped me.

When I am assigned a new project I find it confusing – you are given lots of names, many documents or no documents, lots of opinions and points of view with no idea whether they are valid.

I always start with a mind map – this is a good way of capturing all that information.

For me it serves several purposes:

  1. starts to structure information which you can analyse and ask questions
    what is missing?
    what are the relationships?
  2. allows me to decide what to do next
  3. provides a checklist for my work
  4. allows me to remember things that I will need to include in my plan

Mind mapThis is one that I used on my current project. I have hidden most of the details as this is a current project but you can see some of the common BA concepts that I have highlighted – Approach; Out of Scope; Glossary; Domain Areas.

This is one of the tools that I use but it is not the most powerful.

What really makes the difference?

Like most experienced people, my approach to my job has come out of years of experience and is mostly instinct so I don’t think too much about it.

When I was designing my programme to help aspiring BAs I had to think about what I do and why I do it so I can explain it to others. And of course, in doing this, I learnt more about myself and some of the bad habits I had picked up or the things I should have been doing that I had forgotten!

My second tool is to understand the value I can provide and ensure that I am always focussed on providing that value. In other words, don’t waste time on activities that are not valuable and be clear how your activities are providing value.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the responsibilities of the business analyst (in my opinion!).

So here is a quick reminder of that list:

  1. Understand the business need
  2. Agree how to meet the business need to achieve the best results for the business (I’ve deleted this one and replaced it with an enhanced number 5)
  3. Ensure requirements are understood by all business stakeholders to ensure they are complete and correct
  4. Ensure requirements are suitable to ensure delivery of a solution that meets the business need
  5. Identify and assess proposed solutions (with all affected stakeholders) against their ability to meet the business need and requirements considering costs, benefits and other impacts (I’ve updated this one too – thanks to HC and Shravan for your inputs)
  6. Ensure any risks and issues that arise from the solution are understood and accepted by affected stakeholders

Having had some discussion with Laura Brandenburg on the list (see comments for this post), I added one more item:

7. Ensure the solution is delivered into the business and the business need and benefits are met

So how is this list useful?

Let’s work through them one by one to understand how to use them.

Remember, the power of these is that they work in all circumstances. If you don’t agree, add a comment to this post – I really want to get this list right!

1. Understand the business need

If you don’t understand the business need this must be addressed as a priority. Without this clarity in the early stage of the project, your chances of success are massively reduced.

As Lewis Carroll said:

If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.

Read more about identifying whether your project has identified the business need here and what to do if the business need has not been identified.

 

3. Ensure requirements are understood by all business stakeholders to ensure they are complete and correct

4. Ensure requirements are suitable to ensure delivery of a solution that meets the business need

Delivering on these two responsibilities is where a lot of the BA’s work comes. You will need to plan your approach to identify requirements that are complete and correct for delivering the business need:

  • how will you engage with your stakeholders? – workshops, interviews observation etc
  • how will you communicate effectively? – what techniques will you use (e.g. use cases, context diagram)? what models will you use to communicate (e.g. rich picture, process models – to be and/or as is)?
  • how will you validate the requirements are correct and complete and gain approval?
  • how will you ensure the IT team have what they need? when and how will they get involved in the review process? what questions will they need answering in the requirements (typically they are very interested in the non functional requirements)?

Typically, you will document your approach and gain agreement or feedback from your fellow BA’s or other stakeholders.

5. Identify and assess proposed solutions (with all affected stakeholders) against their ability to meet the business need and requirements considering costs, benefits and other impacts.

This will come at the end after the requirements have been established but your approach should have considered how you will assess solutions by deciding on the criteria and also having correctly prioritised requirements will be critical. Your approach to traceability will help communicate what has been delivered, what will not be delivered so that the impacts of this can be assessed.

6. Ensure any risks and issues that arise from the solution are understood and accepted by affected stakeholders

Throughout the project you will identify risks and issues that will (or may) impact the stakeholders when the system goes live. All of these must be documented and mitigated.

7. Ensure the solution is delivered into the business and the business need and benefits are met

Finally, was it all worthwhile? Did the business meet the need that they originally requested? Until the solution hs been ‘landed’ in the organisation, there is always the risk of losing sight of the original goal and diluting the benefit. You can provide great value by safeguarding these.

 

So, there has been a lot of ground covered in this post. But I find this list of responsibilities useful to reference throughout the project.

It should be a red flag for you if you find either of the following happening:

  • you are doing work that is not relevant to delivering on these responsibilities
  • you can’t see how you will fulfil one or more of these responsibilities either now or later in the project

How do you deal with uncertainty when doing BA work? Are there any tools you use which make this easier?

Please add your suggestions below or ask any questions.

 

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