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!

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.

Culture Shock: Reevaluating Methodologies to Realize Success

By M. Duvernet

According to common theory, methodologies are adopted by organizations to promote maturity toward business process optimization. Methodologies have been around for a long time and there are several that are very widely used across all sorts of industries. To name a couple of the most popular ones, there is Waterfall, and Agile. Once adopted these methodologies become very deeply embedded into an organization’s culture. Yet, sometimes cultures are really where things are known to get stuck.

So, how is it that some organizations know how to use their methodology and are able to optimize their business’s maturity model, while others struggle with achieving the highest level of optimal maturity? Can an organization that has been using the Waterfall Methodology for twenty years adopt a new methodology, like Agile, overnight and realize success?

Let’s begin by comparing the Waterfall methodology with the Agile Methodology. Methodologies began to gain momentum back in the 1950’s with the coming of the commercial computer age. Computers all need software which involves software development (the coding), and to lay the foundation for developing the software there needed to be a method to manage it.

The Waterfall Methodology began to gain traction in 1970 in an article by Winston W. Royce. He wanted to emphasize the importance of defining a way to critically view a common workflow for the popular practice of developing software. However, the original idea came from Herbert D. Benington, who gave a lecture at a symposium on advanced programming methods for digital computers back in 1956. This method gained popularity in the manufacturing and construction industries, industries where any last minute changes were extremely costly and often impossible to correct. At its core Waterfall is a sequential design process often used to show the steady progression of a phased process flowing downwards toward completion.

Example of the Waterfall Method:

……….>Design (Development)

The Agile Methodology became popular back in 1974 when E. A. Edmonds introduced an adaptive software development process. It is considered a lightweight method in comparison to other heavyweight methods that do not allow for rapid change. Aside from allowing for rapid change, Agile consists of a group of software development methods that promote adaptive planning, and timed-boxed iterative approaches to better manage the changes that may arise. It is based on iterative and incremental blocks of time, and user stories to define the requirements toward identifying a solution. The core strength of Agile is based on its ability to promote and encourage the quick collaboration of cross-functional teams to embrace change so as not to impact project progress or the desired solution. The Agile Manifesto was first published in 2001.

The Agile Manifesto states:
“We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions – over processes and tools
Working software – over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration – over contract negotiation
Responding to change – over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.”

Basically, these methodologies differ in the way in which they can embrace change. While methodologies are embedded in organizations culture, these cultures, on the other hand, are not so easily changed. The methodologies that are so deeply engrained into an organization can often be buried so deep, over the course of time  that many of the employees have simply forgotten why the methodology is so important to their own business model and the overall success of their organization.

It becomes even more complex when you think about the combinations of business types – Public sector (government = no shareholders), Private sector (any company with shareholders) , or Non-Profit (no shareholders) – and the various methodologies they may use to get the work done. The Private sector is way ahead when it comes to using the Agile Methodology. That is because they realize that their success depends on the products or services they produce, and that time is money.

Where would you find a methodology in an organization? Methodologies reside within an organization’s Project Management Office. Since Project Managers have been around over 30 years longer than Business Analysts the PMO will have already determined a methodology for the organization. However, organizations can sometimes do things the same way for so long they settle into a pattern of complacency and become stuck.

Plus, if an organization decides that their Waterfall Methodology does not work as effectively as they would like it to work, and they want to begin to use Agile instead – or some flavor of Agile – if the process of changing the methodology  is not managed well it can lead to just more project delays and frustration. Largely this happens because the methodology the employees have been using for so long has made such an impression on them that they resist change. Changing their understanding has to be addressed first, in order to really effectively incite change regarding the methodology being used.

It is somewhat impractical to think that “we will just learn as we go,” for then the employees believe that practices are just being made up and additional friction and stress are the result, and project progress suffers. Understanding “Why” a different methodology is used over another one can make all the difference. And ensuring that everyone knows “How” progress will be achieved toward the time-boxed iterations is another. One of the best investments, if your organization is moving away from a Waterfall Methodology to an Agile Methodology, is to engage a real master of the Agile method, like a real Certified Scrum Master who can lead the way.

Then when it comes to the overarching business model and ensuring that your organization maturity level can actually begin to mean something, the whole team will begin to think differently about the importance of the methodology. For if an organization has spent many years at level three of a five level maturity model, striving for optimal maturity, then someone at that organization might want to take a serious look at the methodology being used.

We all have seen how the manufacturing jobs no longer populate the pages of the Want Ads and how we have become a nation with plenty of service jobs. If an organization is struggling with making timely progress on projects, and suffers from delays on delivering quality products or services to the customer, maybe it is time to reevaluate the methodology. As reevaluating the methodology can greatly enhance the customer service aspects as well, as the user stories basically allow for the analyst to put themselves in the customer’s shoes and figure out the best way to provide the needed solution.

There are plenty of Fortune 500 companies out there who have made the investment in establishing a methodology that serves to optimize their ability to change in order to adapt to the market and the needs of their customers. However, there are plenty of other companies that still struggle with the day to day processes of trying to make progress – trying to overcome inefficiencies that just seem to mount at every turn.

Ultimately when an organization using Waterfall or an iterative approach needs a change – when management senses that the culture needs a shock to kick-start a new process – then the evaluation of the methodology begins. If optimization toward organizational maturity is the goal, then it is time to look at the method in use and have a new methodology adopted across self-organized teams, one team at a time, to ensure that the culture “Rocks” and that real success is achieved.

The Art of Meaningful Analysis

By M. Duvernet

Creating meaningful analysis is an art. Just like the artist that sketches an outline before painting a picture, the analyst benefits from seeing the big-picture in order to frame up all the small details that will be meaningful to the project sponsors, and ultimately the consumers. However, when it comes to analyzing all those big-picture details – a project; big or small – can sometimes lead an analyst to get buried in the details causing project delays or scope creep to effect project deadlines. Project progress can suffer when an analyst gets “lost in the weeds of analysis paralysis.”  So, what are some ways to combat “analysis paralysis” to pave a practical project path toward more meaningful analysis?

Meaning can be a very subjective thing. Just like “beauty” is in the eye of the beholder, “meaning” is in the mind of the “thinker.” The objective is to get those meaningful thoughts documented. Most projects have plenty of meaning buried deep in the details, the key is to identify those aspects early on in order to make the most meaning later.

Plenty of project ideas begin with process improvement, and these ideas can come from anywhere within an organization. Every organization is a bit different when it comes to providing specific products and services. It is the main objective of every business to sell a product, or a service. Achieving customer satisfaction is also a key ingredient to an organization’s success. However, when it comes to thoughtful analysis and providing the best end-results to “Prove the Value” there are six basic concepts to keep in mind for realizing the success of a project.

The six steps toward realizing meaningful analysis and ultimate project success are:

1.)    Vision of the big-picture

2.)    Utilizing the project life cycle

3.)    Understanding terminology

4.)    Uncovering the pain to reveal the pain

5.)    Uncovering the hidden truths to define possibilities

6.)    Decisions-making to lay the foundation for the future

When a project starts there is often a lot of ambiguity, not everything is clear right away. The Enterprise leaders and management have a strategy, and they see the potential for improving effectiveness or efficiencies, or increasing productivity to sell more products or services. Understanding how a project fits into the big-picture of the organization can help to clarify these strategic expectations. If the project deals with financial advice, it is a good idea to become familiar with all the organization’s financial offerings. The next step  is to work with the Project Manager to set project expectations – not only around time, scope, and budget – but also around the five milestones of the project life cycle; Analyze, Design/Develop, Build/Implement, Test, and Launch.

By understanding the project life cycle, along with the overarching organizational methodology, both the analyst and the Project Manager can determine a practical approach toward the creation of the key deliverables. Depending on the size of the project, the number of deliverables can vary. However, a good rule to follow is to “keep it simple,” as well as, ensure that everyone knows their role in conjunction with what is expected of them. For the merging of roles within a project team can cause endless frustration, anxiety, and waste valuable time.

Step 3 is all about getting a handle on the terminology; learn to talk the talk. This will lead toward more concise dialogues with the subject matter experts and more comprehensive documentation. For instance, if the word “interface” comes up, it is a good idea to understand if they mean a system interface; such as an ETL (Extract, Transform, and Load) event, or a GUI (Graphic User Interface) in reference to a user screen, or a workflow process that is part of an online application. Plus, the terms used can begin to form the list of data attributes that can later be mapped to cultivate more meaning.

Since having a requirements document is often one of the first things to be defined in a project life cycle, it is important to understand the business “pain” in order to realize what needs to be “gained,” this is step 4 in the list above. When the subject matter experts share their pains, they are sharing the struggles they are having with the current processes. Everybody who has a story to tell, needs a listener, who will listen well. All analysts know the importance of listening carefully to these stories. As often they reveal what systems are being used, what data they believe to be a “source of truth,” and ideally, what the business really needs in order to become more successful.

Step 5 is all about uncovering the hidden truths, truths which can come up in random conversations at any moment. These “truths” are often a key to defining what is possible. If a large financial organization has a Customer Service department with three different databases that have similar customer data, how does an analyst determine which database is going to provide the best data for the project? This is a conversation with management and the subject matter experts who have some knowledge about how to glean what’s needed from the data. Plus, if there is some sort of a calculation, or a formula, or a business rule that derives the values that appear on a report, those details need to also become part of the “What” that is captured in the requirements.

Creating meaningful analysis can be a bit like solving a big mystery. Having an idea of the big-picture vision along with the expectations from the Project Manager regarding the definition of project life cycle can ease the stress of having to know all the answers right away. Thoughtful analysis means thinking before doing; capturing the “What,“ to build the “How” in order to achieve and prove the “Value.”

Being a Business Analyst is a challenging profession, as often the job of the analyst is to look where no one else is looking.  When there is too much to look at, it is easy to lose focus and wallow in the weeds. An expert analyst will figure out a way to filter the information and get to the truths that will provide that precious “Value.” Once an analyst has seen a project through the entire project life cycle they have a whole new perspective about their role. It is so exciting when that “Ah-ha” light bulb goes on and the magic happens!

To an analyst, the various kinds of analysis techniques are like the selection of brushes and a paint palette used by the artist. If one technique does not gain the traction that you need to bring clarity to the project, perhaps it is time to try another technique. But, first it is important for management to weigh in on the approach, as management can also put pressure on the parties that are not being cooperative, or reach out to those who might be resisting change.

Like all artists, there is nothing more inspiring than to see how your hard work can positively affect others. The ability to make sense out of senselessness is what the analyst does, and it is a profession that takes practice, just like any dedicated artist practices to become more proficient at their craft. Art is all around us, in paintings, in literature, in film, and in music – it touches us every day, everywhere.  Just as the artist struggles to create something that will leave an memorable impression, the analyst works to uncover the “Value” in the quest to manifest a meaningful future for every business. The bottom-line is; it takes practice to become an expert at analysis.

The BABOK®: From Theory to Practice

By M. Duvernet

The importance of the Business Analyst role is growing in organizations all over the world. The Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® is considered to be “The standard” guide book that contains all the collected knowledge for doing business analysis. Organizations all around the world are cultivating entire teams of business analysts to improve business value by better utilizing the practice of business analysis. Like all practices Business Analysis is based on theory, and understanding the underlying theory behind the practice is both empowering and illuminating.

We can all thank the Ancient Greek philosophers for the word “Theory.”  The word itself stems from the Latin word theoria which has a definition of “a looking at, viewing, in contemplation or speculation.” There is no “doing” associated with the act of theorizing, when devising a theory the act is more about the thought processes that occur before any activity takes place; it’s all about thinking before doing. To devise a theory there is a mental scheme created which is based on observation and reasoning toward making sense of the principles or methods being applied.

While the Greeks began to apply the idea of theory to many different knowledge areas, today we still utilize these knowledge areas to support all the common best practices associated with a type of business.  Yet, every business has their own cultural makeup when it comes to the knowledge areas mentioned in the BABOK® Guide book. Where the BABOK does not elaborate on the various business types, it is because the best practices that have been captured on the BABOK pages are common enough to apply to all businesses.

So as a new analyst, coming into an organization for the first time, how does one know what will work best unless one knows something about the organization’s culture of doing business? If a business has any history their artifacts will reflect the business culture. So to gain some perspective, it is usually a good idea to ask for some examples of artifacts from the immediate past.

For even more clarity regarding theories, it may be helpful to highlight those knowledge areas that evolved from the basic theories of Ancient Greece:

–          Philosophy

–          Science

–          Medicine

–          Mathematics

–          Physics

–          The Arts; Music, Drama, Painting, Literature, Poetry

–          Politics

–          Law & Justice

For example, the basic theories of physics still pertain to business organizations which rely on physics as a byproduct to do business today. The foundational theories established in ancient Greece are continually leveraged and expanded upon; such as the discovery and proof of the “Theory of Relativity” and the “Theory of Quantum Physics,” the list of theories goes on and on. But, along with all of these different theories, and knowledge areas, there are very specific terminologies. Understanding the business terminology means not getting tripped up in the cultural nomenclature; having the ability to talk the talk. If the business culture is selling medical devices it is a good idea to become familiar with the language that the medical device company uses.

Same would be true for methodologies. Reviewing an organization’s historical artifacts reveals key aspects that are core to the organization’s methods and the way in which they are familiar with executing analysis.

To understand where the word “methodology” stems from in relation to theories and best practices we can also thank the Greeks for the Latin word methodus; meaning “a way of teaching or proceeding.” The word first appeared formally in 1586 in a medical text referencing ‘the sense of any special way of doing things.” Methodologies like Waterfall and Agile provide the structure that bridges the murky waters between theory and best practices.

However, quite often organizations struggle with their methodologies. Several events can lead to this sort of situation. For instance, the previous management has retired and the new management wants to try some new methods. Or, management has been trying for years to make progress on a project, in a culture where the Waterfall methodology is the only thing the employees know, can management instill their own flavor of Agile to ensure progress? Is it possible to change the methodology without making any changes to the project team?

To take charge of these types of situations the management leadership may choose to empower all the individuals who are working on the project. The sponsor and the stakeholders all want to know that the goals and objectives of the project are understood by everyone striving to create the needed deliverables to hit the desired deadlines. By understanding the methods and the best practices any analyst could become empowered. But, to further ensure project success the Business Analyst would collaborate with management to define the best method of approach. To think about the activity, and plan the approach, before doing it.

As analysts we have to be experts when it comes to understanding the knowledge areas and devising the best approach toward demonstrating the practice of business analysis. Like seasoned detectives, each analyst has to find the evidence to prove the method and set expectations for the results. Being able to easily adapt to that methodology and provide useful artifacts toward end-results is essential to overall success, which makes the entire experience emotionally illuminating.

The BABOK® Guide has been revised three times in the last five years. It has been reviewed by practitioners from around the world who practice business analysis. Today over 200,000 copies have been sold worldwide, the theory suggests that not everything in the guide be used on a single project, what it provides are a variety of common practices to choose from to best meet the business needs. How each analyst goes about using the BABOK® Guide is what ultimately will make the difference.

Fear in the Financial Landscape

By M. Duvernet

It is interesting to note that if you can get enough people to fear something, you pretty much have their attention. One of our greatest president’s said, “There is nothing to fear, but fear itself.”  If that is the case, then fear must be a product of our imagination!  Although, when it comes to the financial downturn and the lingering problems of our economy, these problems are very real. So, how much of a part does the imagination play in these problems related to finance? Is there a way to turn that fear into fearlessness? As analysts we know that fearlessness begins by knowing “the facts.”

Facts are defined as, “something known to exist – or – a known truth” and are often the basis of information that leads to making hard choices. However, choices can also be motivated by fear.

When it comes to the current financial landscape, there are three facts that I find particularly interesting regarding money and finance. These three facts deal with the historical truths around the creation of money and the policies of Glass-Steagall and Sarbanes-Oxley.

The idea of printed paper money came from China. The Chinese were the first civilization to deal with rates of exchange, they started with tortoise shells and jade and then began using paper money in AD 960. They saw the need to carry something light, as tortoise shells and jade, and even gold coins, were hard to carry around, especially if you had a lot of them. Part of what motivated the creation of paper money was the fear of traveling around with loads of money and the risks associated with that.

The Chinese dollar is known as the “Yuan” – pronounced “wren” – which means “round object” or “round coin.” Currency exchange experts reference the Yuan using the ISO (International Organization of Standards) code CNY, for Chinese Yuan. Alongside the Yuan there is a relational reference to the Renminbi (RMB), which is the English word that refers to the Yuan. The Renminbi is the legal tender used across mainland China issued by the People’s Bank of China, reminbi actually means “people’s currency.”

For many years the Renminbi was fixed – or pegged – at 8.28 to 1 US dollar, which made the Yuan worth about twelve cents. But, then in 2005 China changed their views, fearing that they were not leveraging the exchange rate to get the best results, and today the Yuan fluctuates based on baskets of global currency rates. By doing this the Chinese “depegged” their currency from the U.S. Dollar and are taking full advantage of the floating exchange rates, as managed by the foreign exchange market. Today, 1 Yuan is 0.1587 per US Dollar.

Ideas come from everywhere and anywhere.  The idea of the Glass-Steagall Act came about as a result of the Great Depression. In the early twentieth century, the depression was a terrible blow to the US economic infrastructure, the building blocks that were to be the foundation of our nation’s economy simply crumbled. The depression started with the Stock Market Crash of 1929. Now, after years of looking at what caused the depression, research and analysis show that it was caused by the banks “discounting” assets that were resold to other banks, which were in part subsidiaries of other banks. Not wanting to expose their mistakes the banks simply “closed” their doors and the fear set in.

To ensure that another depression never occurred again, President Franklin Roosevelt introduced banking reforms and The Banking Act of 1933, also known as the Glass-Steagall Act for the men who sponsored the legislation. This legislation was put in place to establish the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). Thoughtful reforms, as part of this Glass-Steagall Act, were designed to put constraints around the various investment areas. Today, the FDIC ensures that banks who buy the insurance are able to provide their customers with coverage on accounts of up to 250 thousand dollars. These FDIC certified banks are able to guarantee that all their customer accounts are refundable by the federal government. This sort of federal guarantee was good for the weary consumer, as it calmed their fears and made them once again trust in the banks.

However, in 1999 this all changed again when a little known Act called the Gramm-Leach-Billey Act repealed part of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act removing all the constraints that separated investment banking from the institutions that issued securities, and all the deposits made at commercial banks. So today, all money in all banks is moving all the time. For once a consumer makes a deposit, the money does not just sit there… the banks use that money to invest in other things. This includes things like hedge funds, mortgage bundles, certificates of deposit, bonds, money markets, and more. So, like many investments, there is the element of risk, and with risk comes fear.

Finding the root cause of problems like these is part of what analysts do, for when it came to the mortgage crisis there is substantial proof that the mortgage bubble and financial meltdown of 2008 wouldn’t have happened if Glass-Steagall had still been in place. So there are very valid reasons to keep processes in place when there is the knowledge that it will protect the customer, especially if that customer participates in using the infrastructure of something as important as the US economy. By the way, those people – Gramm-Leach-Billey – who brought that legislation forward in 1999 made millions when it was passed.

Now for Sarbanes-Oxley, any analyst that has worked in the financial industry after 2002 is familiar with Sarbanes-Oxley.  Back in 2002 these federal regulations were put in place to guard against tactics like “Insider Trading”, “Market Timing” and “Late Trading.” Sarbanes-Oxley ensured that publicly owned corporations did not take advantage of their situation and compromise a company’s integrity by throwing these thoughtful regulations by the wayside. And as the Clinton administration upheld these laws, the Bush administration relaxed the enforcement of these laws, calling for less regulation. This meant that under Bush, the auditing of accounts and practices toward compliance were not under the strict constraints that made it the powerhouse it had become. Now we are paying the price for not enforcing those regulations. Yet, some are still asking the poignant question, “Why were these regulations not enforced?” Well, one can presume that it was because by not adhering to the regulations, it created a bigger better financial smorgasbord for those who wanted to help themselves. This created a financial fiasco where some high-financiers are finding themselves with felonies.

There is no doubt the imagination can perpetuate some amazing ideas. And that fear can motivate choices that are not the wisest for everyone. While some of these ideas have strengthened our economy and made our world a better place, still others have caused us to fear the very idea of more reforms. All we can do as analysts is clarify the truth and document the facts. Capture all the business needs and rules in a way that will be a reference for those who come after us. And since the Business Analysts role became formally recognized in 2003, we have an important role ensuring that the facts are captured and their legacy is able to strengthen the future.

Like the ancient Chinese saying goes: “An inch of time is worth an inch of gold, but you can’t buy that inch of time with an inch of gold.” This is a known fact, for knowing the facts nurtures the neutrality needed for turning fear into fearlessness. That is the bottomline.

Copyright (C) ImageMystic LLC 2012

Managing Fear in a Landscape of Change

By M. Duvernet

Fear can motivate and it can debilitate. Turning a teammate’s fear into a constructive dialogue for change and process improvement is difficult to do. Channeling that fear into something positive is often what analysts are asked to do. The symptom of that fear is most often associated with change. So how does an analyst become a catalyst for change and dissolve the fear?

It is pretty ironic to think that while a business owner is focused on the business’s numbers, the worker sometimes has no idea of what their company does for its customers. Depending on the worker, some workers have no appreciation for what it is they are doing, they just do what they are told to do. Then when something changes, and the company decides to reorganize, or the business acquires another company, or there is a new process to implement, there are feelings of fear.

Everyone has fears. But, it can be very debilitating when fear overrides project goals, and solutions are not identified because fear got in the way. This happens sometimes when fear motivates a worker to withhold information, especially if the information could change the process that keeps them employed.  All organizations, whether it is the medical industry, insurance and reinsurance, or financial advice; they all have their own way of providing value to their customers and their own internal processes toward achieving certain goals. Many of these goals deal with making money, and in order to make money it is necessary to find ways to trim costs, or add new products and services to the business portfolio.

When organizations go through this kind of transformation, or change, undoubtedly it will affect someone who is part of some business process somewhere. When change is imminent, the protective shields go up and frustration appears.  This is usually the point where an analyst is introduced to the team. Then it becomes part of the analyst’s job to manage the fear, and help the worker get past the fear to provide some sort of solution.

The idea of decreasing costs based on process improvement started with W. Edward Deming.  In 1982 Deming came out with a book entitled “Out of the Crisis,” a philosophical approach toward optimizing business processes in order to deliver the best possible products and services to the consumer. For the last thirty years many companies, worldwide, have applied Deming’s practices under the terms Total Quality Management (TQM) and Quality Assurance. These ideas of process improvement began by understanding that, “Every activity and every job is a part of the process.”

Yet, it is also important to understand that certain processes can grow to a point where they stop benefiting the company. For instance, remember the mailroom? Back in the 1990’s mailrooms were buzzing with activity. Some companies had to add workers to the mailroom just to keep up with the constant delivery of the daily mail.  Now, twenty years later, technology has taken over, email exchange services handle the delivery automatically, and all those customer mailings that once needed to be assembled and packaged manually, are done with one click accompanied by a well written digital email blast. A mailroom that once employed five workers, now only employs one.

So, how else has business changed over the last thirty years?
–          The car industry has seen emission stations come and go, as consumers demanded federally enforced clean-air standards and more fuel efficient cars.

–          The music industry has gone from vinyl record albums, to encased CDs, to MP3 and iTune files. The demand of turntables and stereo systems dropped, as anyone could carry their music with them via the MP3 player, iPod, or a Shuffle.

–          The robotics industry infiltrated the manufacturing floors of many car manufacturing plants, using hydraulics to do the heavy lifting, and utilizing computer programs to accomplish the precision work of attaching bolts and welding parts together more efficiently and faster than ever.

–          The printing industry became transformed when manual typesetting became unnecessary due to computerized desktop publishing software applications introduced by Apple®.

–          The publishing world realized the effectiveness of a robotic roll tender; a robot that automatically fed the web presses that printed the daily newspapers each day.

–          The telecommunications industry has seen significant changes with the wireless capabilities that allow communications to occur anytime, anywhere. The streaming of all kinds of file formats has enabled the transmission of not only sound, but also images and full-length movies. This has dramatically changed the need for a LAN (Local Area Network) line, as many consumers have opted to get rid of their home phone and use only their wireless devices.

Some of these changes happened gradually, while others seemed to take some businesses by surprise. Regardless, many of these new developments changed the dynamics of the workforce forever and put many workers out of work.

This last November the unemployment rates across the nation ranged from 5.4% to 10.2%. These are rates based on the data gathered by . These statistics are defined by all the counties across each state.

The most mild approach for making change less of a threat comes from a quote by Deming, “drive out the fear, so that everyone can work effectively for the company,” make them feel important for the processes they perform and make sure they feel proud in doing their job well. Deming even created fourteen key management principals to enhance business effectiveness. The idea was that as these principals were applied to the work place, company workers could embrace the idea that change is constant and understand the practices of process improvement enough to remove the fears that had become a barrier toward realizing success.  This philosophy offered the notion that change is as good for business, as much as it is for the individual.

Deming believed that once the worker became transformed and a willing participant in the unending aspects of the changes that all businesses face, they would be so happy about the changes made that they would not want to go back to the old ways. This then became the way to a happy solution, for the solution provided the remedy that stopped the pain, and thus the fears.

The reality is that when people know that change is coming, they can become defensive, put up barriers to resist the change. But as analysts we have to be the voice that solves the problem and offers the solution. To ease these fears, often all it takes is a bit of listening, some common understanding, or detailed observation, to see what it is that needs improving. There are many thoughtful ways to get past the fear.  Just remember, helpful suggestions can go a long way.  Asking questions that will allow the worker to define the answers for themselves, can work too.  Whatever the situation, management does not go out of their way to engage an analyst unless they know there is a better way of doing something. Getting past the fear is the hardest part, but once the fear is put in its place the world of solutions takes over.  The bottom line is: listen, learn, and liberate.

Copyright (C) ImageMystic LLC 2012

The Big BA Picture: a Landscape Without Limits

By Mindy Duvernet

Over the last thirty years the role of the business analyst has become more and more important. While the Project Manager ensures progress, it is the analyst that has been hired to assist with the necessary thinking on behalf of management. Managers have plenty to think about regarding all the projects and goals that affect the business bottom line and their customers. The primary focus of the analyst is to know the business processes and identify possible improvements.

The fact is that while the PMI (Project Management Institute) was founded in 1969 and has more than half a million members worldwide, spanning 185 countries, the IIBA (International Institute of Business Analysis) was established in 2003 and has about 22,000 members worldwide, with chapters in Africa, Asia/Pacific, Canada, Europe/Middle East, Latin American, Caribbean, and the United States. The comparison is telling as the role of the analyst has evolved out of the overwhelming amount of work the Project Manager saw as critical to project success. For the role of the Project Manager is centralized around managing time, budget, and scope. The role of the Business Analyst fills the organization’s need to know and identify goals, objectives, value-adds and measurements for the success of their projects.

The Business Analyst landscape is populated with every kind of business analyst you can imagine. There are:

–         Business Systems Analysts
–         Financial Analysts
–         Enterprise Analysts
–         IT Coordinator Analysts
–         Security Analysts
–         Technical Analysts
–         Research Analysts
–         And more

Each industry has its own flavor of analyst. Plus, every company has its own culture with variations of the usual artifacts that their analysts are hired to produce. The uniqueness does not stop there, as every civilization in the world has its own language. As some of us have observed, the non-verbal communication of shaking the head to indicate “Yes” or “No” means one thing in the United States and something else in India.

The entire landscape of analysts is very board. It stretches the breadth of the list of worldwide industries. There is Accidental & Health Insurance, Advertising Agencies, Aerospace/Defense, Agricultural, Air Delivery and Freight Services, Asset Management, Auto Manufacturing and Parts, and that is just the As. Other industries include Biotechology, Broadcasting (TV and Radio), Construction, Computers, Electronics, Energy, Fashion, Finance, Government, Hotel, Internet, Investment, Law Enforcement, Legal, Marketing, Medical, Music, Natural Metals & Materials, Oil & Gas, Pharmaceuticals, Publishing, Research, Retail (Food, Clothes, Toys, Furniture, Appliances), Services, Software, Sports, Wholesale, Wireless, and more. Of all of these industries the three highest profits earners are Money Centers and Banks, Drug Manufacturers, and Oil and Gas industries.

For financial management companies, like Amerprise, there are analysts on both the business side and on the technology side. Like all analysts, these thinkers leverage the organization’s methodologies and frameworks to determine what to utilize in creating the necessary deliverables. It is through thoughtful communication with the project stakeholders that an approach is formed to set the groundwork for accomplishing the results. Alignment with business processes, policies, and procedures is the analyst’s primary concern in the beginning stages of any project.

The next step requires that the analyst talk to all the subject matter experts about goals and objectives. If there is an IT aspect, there would be an analyst from the IT side to discuss automation opportunities based on their knowledge of the software and the technical experts who maintain the systems. The functional solution requirements then begin to take shape as these conversations occur and more information is evoked from the business-side stakeholders. The BA works to identify these IT capabilities and software/web functionality aspects to ensure a common understanding and set expectations.

Independent of organization or culture there is the expectation that the analyst knows the best ways to evoke the value-adds and basic benefits a project will create. Whether that analyst is strictly on the business side and has no interaction with technology, or whether they are a hybrid and have ideas related to technology, these competency distinctions are important to recognize. As many times the problems an analyst often walks into is the result of a business owner purchasing a software package for millions of users without first of all talking to the technology leaders who know their systems.

Recognizing these competencies are key to project success and that is why every team goes through a discussion about roles. On large projects a clear division of who is a business resource analyst and who is the technology resource analyst can help to clarify who has that expert knowledge. These roles are very important to ensure project progress and management when it comes to making decisions.

In this day and age, every company is on the Internet. Internet companies are largely about supply and demand, whether it is “Business to Business”, or “Business to Consumer” these companies employ analysts. Some are Inventory Analysts, others are E-Commerce Analysts, and then there are the Web Analysts that track the Internet activity based on “hits” from endless marketing and advertising efforts. In the Sports industry there is even a new job description known as a Player Analyst; an analyst that looks at athletic statistics of many talented athletes and creates teams based on the players strengths.

Regardless of which side the Business Analyst resides on, both sides are in a continual dialogue about process improvements and new ideas for creating value for their customers. These new ideas then have to be analyzed as part of a business case and then further defined to determine the size of the investment and the risks involved.

Sometimes analysts are instrumental in creating the business case. But, sometimes the analyst is engaged midway on a project or even after the first attempt has failed. If the idea is deemed feasible and the proof-of-concept portrays how the concept will satisfy more customers, which in turn shows the value that will grow the business, then the team is half way there.

From there program initiatives are documented, scope statements are clarified, and then all that the Project Manager has to do is manage scope, time and budget. While the analyst records the business needs, watches for scope creep, and ensures that all the requirements are identified and clarified. Yet, the analyst also ensures that the stakeholders are happy with the solution, that the goals, objectives, and functionality are thoroughly documented, that opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness is apparent to all, and that the project scenarios and use cases can be traced backwards and forwards to validate the results outlined by the requirements.

Since the beginning of time the need to know is a human need that started with questions like “What makes fire?”, “What causes lightening?”, “What time is it, when the sun rises?” for the need to know is exhaustive. This need stretches even to the outer limits of our galaxy, as in every space shuttle ever launched there were analytics being captured and photos taken to learn more about our universe. The fact that the space program has ended perhaps indicates that our energies can be turned toward the planet we occupy, and the never ending search for more information in a landscape of opportunities is without limits.

Copyright (C) ImageMystic LLC 2011