Problem Solving the BA Way

 By M. Duvernet

One of the best qualities of every business analyst is the eagerness and determination to want to solve a problem; for in many industries the business analyst is known as the “senior problem-solver.” In order to solve these problems the seasoned BA will have various ways in determining what recommendations would qualify as possible solutions, they will most likely know what key questions to ask and who would have the answers. While the less experienced business analyst will do their best to collaborate in order to determine a solution. Yet, in both instances the likelihood of success depends on the competency levels of the analyst.

One of the most beneficial ways to determine the cause of any problem is to listen to the customer, listen to the way in which the customer describes their problem. The most fun any analyst can have is by pretending to be the customer. For one of the most well-known techniques of an analyst is putting themselves in their customer’s shoes, trying to see the problem from their perspective and then analyzing a way to overcome the problems. So, as a business analyst, how can you discover new ways to solve all types of problems? First, let’s take a look at some very interesting problem-solvers.

Perhaps one of the most interesting problem-solvers of all time is Benjamin Franklin. Aside from being one of the founding fathers of the United States of America, he was a wonderful inventor and business man. One of the ways in which he made a lucrative livelihood was by publishing “Poor Richard’s Almanac,” an annual pamphlet that compiled historical weather data across the American colonies to distinguish possible patterns of planting and harvesting opportunities for the farmers. All of this data was tied to the yearly calendar and there were also poems, and astrological information around the actual time of sunrise and sunset based on the previous year, etc. The print runs for the publication were upwards of 10,000 copies annually and every farmer wanted one.

Another example of a good problem-solver is the inventor of the cash register. His name was Ritty, and although he is not as well-known as Benjamin Franklin, his invention made a big impact on the retail industry. Ritty was a clever saloon-owner from Dayton, Ohio who realized one day that his sales clerks were pilfering profits from the store cash drawer. With an idea in mind, Ritty set to work just after the civil war, and in 1879 he revealed his invention to the world.

Ritty’s model consisted of a machine with a cash drawer that would “ding” every time there was a sale, so that he would be notified of the sale as he worked the store and helped his customers. Presumably, it is also to Ritty’s credit that we owe the idea of odd pricing, as all items with a .49 cent or .99 cent price tag would cause the clerks to open the cash register to make change, thus declaring the sale with a loud “ding” or “ka -ching.” Honestly, you can bet that every item in that store had such a price tag. Today we use “ka-ching” in every day conversation to signify getting rich.

Remember that old saying: “Necessity is the mother of invention” and likewise, necessity is also the reasoning behind all kinds of problem solving. You may ask yourself, “Just how necessary is it that we solve this problem?” If it means more profits for your business it might be wise to get serious, and start finding innovative ways to overcome the problem. The trick is to understand the problem, as some problems are symptoms of other problems. 

Some of the most complex problems in our world today involve cash handling and banking services. Banks today are scrambling to get as many customers as possible to use as many of their services as possible. As banks grow larger, their assets increase in value, and when those assets increase they discover they need to change the service fees associated to those services to keep their shareholders happy. What a great line of work to be in! But, banks have had their own history of problems. There was always the risk of being robbed, fearful of another depression, and not so long ago bank employees used to fear being fired if their daily receipts did not balance out correctly. As anyone who has ever had to close out a till will tell you, the till does not always balance out correctly with the daily receipts. As a bank clerk it is your responsibility to balance out your till. At certain banks, if you reported a till that was under or over the amount you started with based on the daily transactions, you could be fired. To avoid being fired, workers created something known as “petty cash” – found money that could be tapped into and applied to anything – and in tight situations “petty cash” would always be handy to balance the till. But as time went on these “petty cash” pots grew, who knew that banks would get so greedy. Being greedy is a problem, and that is why there are compliance regulations and auditors.

Unfortunately, there is never a big red arrow pointing at the problem, it is the business analyst’s job to peel back all those layers of information and uncover the real problem. Whatever the skill level is of the business analyst who is engaged, it is the analyst’s responsibility to help the customer and learn from the experience, acquiring the knowledge and the skills to become highly effective in their role as the years mount up. Becoming more and more proficient and professional as their wealth of knowledge grows more and more mature.

For when it comes to maturing one’s BA abilities there are plenty of resources to turn to, one is the Business Analyst Manifesto:

Out of chaos, we create order.
Out of disagreement, we create alignment.
Out of ambiguity, we create clarity.
But most of all, we create positive change for the organizations we serve.

This manifesto is all about manifesting the needs of an organization so that it can gracefully be transformed into the organization it wants to be. The business analyst is the catalyst for positive change, they help teams – big and small – evolve to become more efficient and effective from the inside out. The problem-solving doesn’t stop there. For every expert problem-solver is always on the look-out for the next problem. Even if it comes to learning some new techniques, or skills, to improve the likelihood of your own success.

So ask yourself, “How competent am I?” To find some answers a good resource is the IIBA® Competency Model. It can help to define some characteristics or abilities that could make you more effective. It will show you “the BA way” by focusing on aspects like:

–       Ways to determine the best possible solution to prove the desired value

–       Ways to align the needed values with qualified results

–       Ways to determine the necessary needs to achieve the goals

–       Ways to make the business believe in their solution


The focus on the abilities of a BA comes with experience, and organizations recognize this. However it does not mean that your own individual development is based on the number of years you have been a BA. It is based on the overall understanding and skill levels demonstrated to produce the artifacts that will help in the cause at hand. The end result is always bigger than expected, just like “Poor Richard’s Almanac” is still published today, with more statistics and data as every year goes by, new data is revealed to aide in agricultural planning. Just as Benjamin Franklin understood the importance of being able to focus on the work in the course of solving a problem, but back then he never knew he was doing it the “BA Way.”




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