Business analysis is performed inconsistently in organizations at Level 1. The business analysis efforts are unpredictable, poorly controlled, and reactive. Some projects are successful and some are failures. The successful results are due to individuals – not the process. There may be pockets of the organization that are collaborating and using shared best practices (grass roots efforts), but organizational direction and oversight to the business analysis discipline is missing.
At this level varying analytical practices are being used on multiple projects and by many business analysis professionals. Change agents and leaders in the organization are seeing the benefits of using common approaches, best practices, and shared templates. Some people in the organization are familiar with and may be utilizing industry standards as defined by the IIBA Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® (BABOK®) and other associated references such as the PMI®Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®), the IEEE Software Engineering Body of Knowledge (SWEBOK), and the ASQ Body of Knowledge for Software Quality Engineer. This is still a grass-roots effort. As people begin capitalizing on their success, more visibility begins to occur for the discipline of business analysis. Often a Community of Practice (CoP) is established at this level to allow business analysts to collaborate on best practices and project lessons learned. The CoP may be the caretaker of the best practices, templates, and other resources.
Organizations in Level 3 have top down support and management oversight for the business analysis process improvement initiative. There is an increased focus on the framework being used to describe all areas where business analysis has an influence. At Level 3 standards and business analysis best practices are established for the organization. This is when the essential skills (competencies), responsibilities, title, and career path of the business analysis professional are clearly defined. The organization is proactive in its approach to train and maintain the desired skills. Business analysis foundational skills are mastered by BAs throughout the organization. The organization identifies a few key metrics that measure business analysis performance and business analysis process predictability. They may track cost, schedule, quality, customer satisfaction, or other project success criteria. An oversight group, such as, a Center of Excellence (CoE) or a BA Office (BAO) is established to maintain standard business analysis practice assets, tool resources, personnel listing (novice and experienced BAs), recommended training, and other resources.
In Level 4 organizational performance standards are used to plan, monitor, and report on business analysis performance supporting overall organizational goals on projects. The organization determines which metrics are significant in measuring the work and the process performed by business analysts. Once these metrics are identified, the organization begins collecting and using them to provide input for business analysis performance and process improvement, resulting in more predictable project success. The organization establishes participation from all affected groups, such as project managers, architect designers, developers, and quality assurance testers, to validate the business analysis process. Additionally, a practice is established to remove errors from business analysis deliverables as early and efficiently as possible. As a result, the business analysis professional better understands the purpose of each required deliverable, the affected stakeholder’s needs, and how errors may be prevented.
At this level, the organization continues improvement by establishing an assessment process to evaluate and control the overall business analysis performance. For example, organizations use post implementation assessments to evaluate how well the solution meets the business requirements. Any special causes of variation will be examined and corrected to continuously improve the business analysis process. Process metrics established in Level 4 are quantified to measure overall product quality and to ascertain whether the organization is achieving its quality goals. At this level the value of business analysis is recognized. The organization experiences incremental or dramatic improvements in project outcomes and shares these lessons learned with the entire organization. At Level 5 business analysis professionals continue to identify beneficial new technologies, tools, techniques, and processes which are adopted in the organization in an orderly manner.
Embarking on the Journey
Using this suggested model how can an organization reach maturity? There is no silver bullet. Every organization has different pain points and needs. Some organizations may get to Level 2 of this journey and stop; others may determine it is necessary to get to Level 5. The following actions demonstrate the typical steps involved in implementing business analysis process improvement. (Note: The steps and sequence may vary from organization to organization.)
1. Secure Sponsorship and Funding
Before beginning your business analysis process improvement effort ensure that the process improvement program has senior management sponsorship and funding. Such sponsorship and funding is critical to the program’s success. Educate senior management about the value of business analysis and developing a repeatable, measurable process. Provide an executive summary of the strengths and weaknesses of your current business analysis approach and a cost benefit analysis for this endeavor.
2. Prepare the Organization for Change
For purposes of this paper, an organization is defined as one business unit, department, or even as an entire company. If you start with a smaller group, it is easier to manage, measure progress, and adjust to feedback. Treat this process improvement initiative as a project that can be tracked. Form a team of BA managers and senior BAs to lead the effort. Establish the business reasons and the business goals for the effort. Create a compelling case for change, include the rationale for the undertaking a process improvement effort and the expected benefits and costs for the people affected. Poor business analysis affects all phases of the project lifecycle. Motivated employees and great technology are very important to project success, but even with the best people, they cannot perform at their highest potential when the business analysis role is not understood and respected or the business analysis process is not efficient. Develop a persuasive presentation of the problems and opportunities to communicate with the affected organization. Below is a list of common problems that can be addressed through business analysis maturity.
- Business and IT stakeholders have different interpretations of the requirements
- Requirements elicitation is haphazard
- Important requirements are missed
- Frequent and often unnecessary requirements changes delay the project
- Requirements are not always verified by the affected stakeholders
- Solution alternatives do not consider business impact to operations
- Requirements cannot be verified
- Customers are not satisfied with the product quality
- Milestone dates for requirements are missed
- Reporting requirements cannot be met
3. Provide Core Training
“You don’t know what you don’t know.” The goal here is to level-set the BAs in your organization on fundamental business analysis skills, techniques, and language that will be used in your business analysis approach. This training will be the foundation for your organization’s business analysis approach and toolkit.
4. Come Together: Form a Community of Practice or a Center of Excellence Group
Get your BAs talking and sharing. Develop and promote an atmosphere where the BAs in your organization collaborate together. Communities are strengthened by building relationships where people trust and help each other reach their goals. This can be accomplished by having regularly scheduled meetings where BAs get a chance to network, discuss their challenges, and find potential mentors. It is more rewarding to work at a company that feels like a community. A community of BAs has greater knowledge and experience than any individual. BAs have similar challenges and can help each other. This group or a subset of the group can coordinate process improvement activities across the enterprise and continue to exist even when a process improvement project has ended. As your organization moves up the maturity model the leadership of this group is given more responsibility and accountability for implementing and supporting the process improvement effort.
5. Know Where You Are
In order to find out where your organization is in the journey of business analysis maturity you must establish a baseline assessment by evaluating the skill level of your BA community and the standard practices followed in your organization. This evaluation looks at many factors including individual interviews or surveys as well as reviewing deliverables, standards, processes, knowledge, and organizational culture. This step can occur before training if there is already a clear understanding of business analysis competencies within your organization. Compare industry accepted business analysis practices to your organization’s processes to determine a benchmark. Conduct surveys to gather information from managers, project leads, and workers to gauge cultural opportunities and barriers to change. Begin to establish a baseline of analysis performance. Build a detailed picture of the present. This includes knowing your environment, existing project methodologies, types of projects, business analysis tools, availability of business stakeholders, etc. Some examples of survey questions that can be asked are listed below.
Sample Organizational Maturity Questions:
- Are project roles defined clearly and consistently in your organization?
- Does your organization use standard requirements templates?
- Does your organization provide standard software development lifecycles which assist you in planning business analysis work?
- In your organization, are requirements deliverables consistent in quality and content?
- In your organization, have IT and business stakeholders developed a positive, trusting relationship?
- Are business customers consistently satisfied with project results?
Sample Individual Questions (to assess knowledge, skills, and experience):
- Do you understand your role and responsibilities as a business analyst?
- Have you received training or mentoring to perform your role as a BA?
- Are your requirements deliverables consistent in quality and content?
- Do you follow a consistent change management process to introduce and evaluate requirements change requests?
- Do you know the purpose and business drivers for your projects?
6. Know Where You Are Going
Define your organization’s success criteria. Compare the picture of where you are to the one of where you want to be. The difference between the two is the focus of your process improvement program. Get a balanced view from management, project leaders, business analysts, and other staff about what they think is most important. Each will have different objectives they want to achieve. Prioritize and communicate the business analysis competency areas to address and build your improvement plan. Your organization may decide to make incremental changes or dramatic innovations to your current process.
7. Execute Your Plan
Have a team start using the new practices as determined in your plan. Make sure to have a team available for support and coaching. Keep track of strengths and weaknesses. Track your progress against the plan. As organizational goals are met, your plan needs to include a feedback loop to assess if any more process improvement iterations are required. Additionally your plan should accept and evaluate change requests from anyone impacted by the new practices.
8. Track Your Success
Communicate your program’s progress in reaching the organization’s goals. Continuous process improvement yields ROI due to better articulated requirements, clearer understanding of the business analysis role and responsibilities, improved customer and IT relationships, earlier defect detection, improved risk identification and management, better control of solution scope, more satisfied customers, etc. In order to maintain each level of maturity and achieve the next level, organizations must remain vigilant along your journey to business analysis maturity. The business analysis role and process is new to many organizations. This work has traditionally been performed by various individuals in an inconsistent manner. Creating an effective, mature business analysis discipline requires management commitment, time, and resources. It doesn’t happen by accident. Only a clear strategic plan for developing the discipline and the role will move an organization to the highest level of success.