Archives for July 2012

Analyzing Analysis – The Accidental BA!?

By M. Duvernet

In a world so cluttered with ambiguity and confusion, a little clarity can go a long way. As business analysts continue to propagate, there is a common understanding that with our specific skills we are the experts who are able to bridge the gap between all those vague abstract ideas and produce clear, concise documentation for any business need. The analyst is perceived as an expert who can get to the root of any issue and resolve it, or find value where there was none. So, then how is it that there are those analysts who would call themselves “an accidental business analyst?”

It is a well-known fact that we all approach things differently. Not everyone thinks the same way about things. That is why we have dialogue and language to share our thoughts. All of us have opinions about the things we care about. The trick is being able to translate those ideas so that others can come to an understanding about what really matters for any given situation. We all are familiar with the idea of having clear intentions, and the importance of having a reason.

Did everyone who is a business analyst today proclaim when they were little that they wanted to be a business analyst when they grew up? It is absurd to assume that everyone who is a business analyst today set out to be one after graduating high school. The role had not even been formalized yet. The basic truth is a bit murkier than that, it is just like the general uncertainty expressed in that Talking Heads song that asks,“How did I get here? Some analysts may find themselves asking that very question.

The role of the business analyst is relatively new as the IIBA® formalized the role in 2003. Yet for those of us who have been working since the 1980’s we may recall that there were workers called lead programmer analysts, database analysts, security analysts, and systems administrators or systems analysts. The difference today is that we have a dedicated organization called the IIBA® that is available to “develop and maintain standards for the practice of business analysts and for the certification of its practitioners.” The IIBA® is providing services and support for the role of the BA, just as the PMI® began to provide services and support for the role of the Project Manager over thirty years ago.

Today there is a growing need for even more business analysts as the profession has become more critical to every business interested in ecommerce and creating automated online services. Money Magazine recently rated the IT business analyst as one of the top 12 jobs to pursue in the country. More and more companies are viewing the role of the business analyst to be essential to organizational success.

Even the educational institutions, and the consulting and recruiting agencies find themselves on the lookout for anyone with a business analyst background. The perception of what type of background an analyst might have is very broad, as anyone who exhibits skills in accounting, financial management, psychology, teaching, facilitating, public speaking, grant writing, database management, law, administration, programming, or training could very well become a very qualified business analyst with support and guidance. These institutions and agencies work with the unemployed, the veterans, and the housewives and moms who want to find a job. These entities see potential in the blossoming analyst and they are ready to provide whatever support that individual needs in order to cultivate the skills necessary to promote the services of their company. But at the end of the day, it is up to each individual to set up their own goals for a pathway toward a full blown career as a qualified and certified business analysis.

For those of us who have been business analysts for many years the challenges just keep coming. Perceptions are broad here too, as not every analyst is engaged in a process improvement project, a web facelift and rebranding, or an enterprise software implementation. Some are presented with an opportunity to do a feasibility study to save money or discover hidden value. Other analysts, especially those dedicated to the business side, are often in the trenches looking at the data and defining formulas for better business practices and benefits. These analysts keep busy by gleaning the right data, at the right time, to find the desired output on the right report to better satisfy the customers. The common thread between all these analysts is the willingness to solve a problem. Even Gartner has proclaimed that the business analyst has “been transformed into a senior problem-solver.”

However, there are those analysts who feel ambivalent about their role. They may feel like they have backed into their role because it was the only job their boss offered them. Some may have had to choose to become an analyst because of a company reorg, or a downsizing effort. Or maybe after seven years of being a mainframe administrator they were told that they were now a business analyst and they needed to start documenting their processes and procedures.

It used to be that the analyst was more of a scribe for the project manager. Taking notes at meetings is critical to making steady progress when collaborating with other stakeholders. However, today, as technology advances, so must the skill set of the business analyst. One thing is certain and that is that with new technologies come new challenges. When it comes to new challenges the competency levels of every business analyst will be different, as the hard skills and soft skills strengthen as the analyst gains more experience and tries new ways to accomplish the necessary tasks. Plus, the techniques used to solve the problems can vary with the approach based on cultural expectations along with the analyst’s skill set and background.

Bridging the gap between the business needs toward a solid solution that everyone can understand is a noble undertaking. Often times getting to that common terminology is a struggle. Part of closing that gap between the business stakeholder and the desired results is the task of making sure that the developer(s) know what to develop. Ensuring that the requirements provide enough detail for a developer to know what to code.

Here is an example of the dialog that often occurs when there is no analyst and the stakeholder has to convey his needs to the developer:

Stakeholder: I want the transaction to tell me if it is a debit or a credit, and I want the daily report to show me the dollar value associated with each transaction.

Developer: I don’t know what a debit or a credit is, and I don’t really care. I want someone else to tell me what that means, does it involve any adding or subtracting?

This dialog is one of the many reasons why organizations have turned to COTS (Consumer off the shelf) software packages and SaaS (Software as a Service) solutions. They want to eliminate having abstract conversations which lead to heavily customizing a solution with new code.

Remember the “Telephone game,” how a group of people would sit in a circle and one person would whisper in ear of the person who sat beside them, and then that person would relay what they heard to the person sitting next to them, repeating the message all the way around the circle until it got back to the person with whom it originated? The original phrase always manages to get mangled in some way. The ears hear the message and the brain translates the message into a sentence – the act of careful listening is the main skill of an expert analyst, one who is able to hear the business needs and promptly document the problem(s) and devise a solution(s).

So, how can there be such a thing as an accidental business analyst? Such a person may well find themselves in an analyst role when in fact they had signed up years ago to do a specific systems related job. It just so happens, that while they were so busy working at their job it turned into a role, a role where they now need to deal with business workflows and building mutual understandings of possible solutions, while at the same time having to nurture relationships with all the stakeholders. Talk about challenges!

From one perspective an analyst may well believe that they backed into the role and never had any intention of being a business analyst. However, if a person has the desire to be a “problem-solver” perhaps they fit right in to the BA role as their subconscious intended, they just don’t make the connection.

More research around the action of an individual’s intention has shown that we are often blind to outcomes of our decisions. As the outcomes go by unanticipated, and are therefore known as “unintended consequences.” The interesting thing is that when an individual asks the pointed question, “How did I get here?” the pointed answer might be that “the reason is not yet apparent.” For according to G.E.M. Anscombe, a British analytic philosopher, it is possible to act intentionally for no reason at all. So likewise, it must also be possible to act unintentionally for a reason. Just be sure that the reasoning involves having some fun!