Archives for June 2012

We All Are in the Business of Cultivating Relationships

By M. Duvernet

The best thing about a great story is the way in which all the relationships connect to bring about a powerful ending. Likewise, the best thing about a good project is the way in which all those unwieldy relationships connect to bring about a powerful transformation to the business. There are plenty of relationships that play a part in project planning, execution, and completion. However, how does an analyst know which connections will bring about the best results?

Uncovering the connections to these relationships is the key. Most relationships are all centralized around the various stakeholders, yet there is also the system data that would determine the overarching value. Finding out what data will bring the most value and how to navigate through the onerous issues of the organization’s status quo can often be the most challenging of tasks.

Understanding these connections can lead to more questions, or it can be the answer to the problem(s). Either way, it is part of an analyst’s job is to look where others are not looking – often where others may not want to look – or more likely, where others have been discouraged from looking. Just as in every detective story the investigator is shunned, or even threatened (as in the James Bond series), the analyst is somewhat unpopular. So, in an organization where the status quo has forced some people to “look the other way” how does a business analyst uncover the hidden value so precious to the business without yielding to the status quo?

As with every story there is a beginning, a middle, and an end. In the beginning, planning a project involves researching the business itself. It makes perfect sense to first figure out the products and services that are provided by the organization and observe how the business has positioned itself within the industry. Then figure out who the players are in the project(s) and create a value statement that can be repeated, again and again, to reinforce precisely what the project(s) mean to the organization. In other words “looking where you want to go.”

Planning is so very important to overall project success, as the plan is all about setting expectations. There are three important aspects when it comes to planning; strategic resourcing, realistic estimations of the work involved, and ensuring that the plan incorporates milestones to set a path toward completion.

–       Strategic sourcing is all about determining which resources would be needed on the team and what subject matter experts would need to be engaged

–       Realistic estimates are achieved by team leads sharing enough knowledge about the business processes and the system details so that each team member can understand the work involved and be confident in their estimates

–       Inserting milestones into the plan can inspire and ensure measures are in place to show that progress is being made toward project completion

However, changes do occur and for this reason certain organizations often incorporate confidence levels and contingency percentages based on the knowledge known at the time the estimates become part of the plan. This approach to planning can lend a bit of flexibility to the team, provide management with insight to overall risks, and offer some breathing room for unknowns. Because everyone knows Murphy’s Law, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

Planning can easily become the problem if the plan continues to change. This is that part of the project, like a story, where the tension builds. Where confrontation exists and where the people involved are face to face with conflict. If dates and deadlines shift and timelines side, people will become weary and distrusting of the plan. Especially if the dates were not something that were agreed to, and the estimates provided were based on details that somehow changed as strategy and scope expanded.

Devising a cohesive plan is a collaborative effort and it requires everyone on the team to know the intricacies of everyone’s role in relation to the project. Plus, it is the responsibility of every team member to cultivate that teamwork in order to get the work done. For when it comes to a project plan the team needs to make progress, and to make that progress from one milestone to another each player needs to be ready to accept the information provided and move forward. If there is any question about moving forward, usually management takes a stand to say that the information revealed is “good enough” to illuminate the next step along the project path. There are three areas where teams sometimes need management’s leadership to achieve the best business value.

–       Determining what system is the “system of truth” for the business data being utilized

–       Use the data-modeling technique to define what will appear on the desired output, and what the output would look like

–       Clarify the overarching technology and information architecture being utilized to define the solution and what will occur to have the systems connect with each other

Knowing the business areas and what systems hold the right data, so vital to project success, can sometimes present interesting road blocks. An example might be; based on what the status quo says, there are several databases with similar customer data…if this is the case, the challenge comes with determining which database is going to be the “system of truth” for the solution the business is seeking? Often working with a database administrator, or being able to query the data, will yield significant enough details about the data so that recommendations can be made to management, at that point management can make an educated decision about what data will feed the solution.

Analysts sometimes use data-modeling to construct a logical data model in order to get a visual of the types of data attributes needed to achieve a certain set of business objectives for any given output or report. Having a visual model to show during a discussion with the architect will ensure a more cohesive solution, and it shows management that a lot of thinking took place around getting to the right data to achieve the best results.

To get to the desired output, sometimes the data output goes through a transformation before it even shows up on the report. The formulas and calculations created to derive certain business data can be as creative as they need to be. Getting access to the data that will achieve the desired results is the initial challenge. Mining that data and ensuring that it is available in a timely manner to show up on the reports is the second challenge, but when it all comes together, that is when the “truth” is revealed. From that point forward that report will provide the value the business was looking for and bring meaning to the business moving into the future.

When it comes to formatting output, being able to display complex information in a simple manner can work wonders. Whatever the output is, it is the culmination of the effort, the conclusion to the project, and the results realized. If it is a report, the status quo often has a set way in which they want to have the data displayed on their reports, or a set way in which they want to see the needed output. Yet, sometimes, given a bit of creativity and latitude by management, output can be improved to achieve even more meaning when thoughtful attention to layout becomes an essential part of the overall business need. Output is the culmination of all the data that went into the solution to reveal the business value, making it more user-friendly and attractive is evidence of the overall project effort.

Just like great stories have many characters that interact, every project has many relationship aspects that need to connect to prove an idea. There are a lot of moving pieces as all these relationships take shape and play a part in creating the business solution. The relations between the analysts, individual project stakeholders; including management, sponsors, architects, database administrators, and project managers are all important to project success. The completion and culmination of everyone’s hard work to connect, like dots, the system data toward achieving the needed results along a project path, is yet another story about how to cultivate business transformation and realize renewed value.

The greatest literature cultivates the purpose of the story toward moving a character, or a situation, from one state to another, in other words, effecting change. It is in this same way that the projects taken on by an analyst can prove to be transformational, but only as an organization is ready for it. The bottomline is change is immanent to maturity.