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How to drive real value through your business analysis practice

How to Drive Real Value Through Business Analysis Practice

Times are changing.

We are feeling the impact this unsettled economy and global competition has had on our businesses, careers and job prospects. It has prompted us to re-evaluate a myriad of things.

Business owners are looking for ways to add value and reduce costs in order to stay competitive, or sometimes even afloat. Employees are increasingly skeptical of their long-held view of job security. Job seekers are, well, still seeking jobs and looking for ways to stand out amidst the hiring freeze and dwindling job posts.

If you are a business analyst or responsible for BAs in your organization, then you’re in a prime position to ride this wave towards increasing value of business analysis in your organization, or risk being washed over and eventually getting “consolidated” into oblivion.

I happen to believe that challenging times present unique opportunities, and my aim in this post is to give you a roadmap of how you can drive real business value through your business analysis practice, whether you’re a BA or in charge of such capability. Ultimately, I hope you would come to appreciate that an effective BA practice is a key competitive advantage and that investing in such capability will yield long-lasting positive ROI to your organization and career.

First though, it’s important to clarify what business value really means.

What exactly is business value?

It’s one of those terms that sounds obvious, but can be ellusive. I’ve written about recognizing your true value as a BA in a previous post, but I’ll summarize again here with few examples for your to think about.

Simply put, business value is realized when we do things that ultimately help in:

  • Sustaining/increasing revenue, or
  • Reducing/avoiding costs

Everything else a for-profit business aspires to do, including customer satisfaction, ultimately feeds into one of these two things.

There’s no easy mapping sometimes. We may need to trace an activity we do in relation to a value stream to figure out if what we’re doing ultimately adds business value or is a form of waste.

Consider this: which of these BA tasks produce business value? Let me know in the comments.

  1. Ask questions to clarify the business needs underpinning a delayed project that you were assigned to mid-way and told to “gather” the requirements as quickly as possible.
  2. Conduct interviews with actual process participants when you can instead model the as-is and to-be versions of the process in a workshop with their supervisors.
  3. Document all stated requirements as critical features of the proposed solution.
  4. Re-format a requirements document to comply with corporate style standard.

First, we need a change in mindset

For business value to be our “north star”, we need a change in perspective. BA thought leaders and practioners seem to agree that to succeed going forward, we need to:

1. Think outcomes, not outputs

In everything we do, we must always ask: is this something that will produce an outcome of value to our business and customers, or is it simply an output (a.k.a., a work product) that we just have to produce, whether or not it adds real business value?

Successful organizations and business analysts must focus on the former. They must always challenge their own dogma of what constitutes valuable work and adjust their processes accordingly.

This is the essence of doing more with less. Eliminate non-value adding activities, and BAs will have more time to do things that will give you the competitive edge.

2. Focus on products over projects

In a similar vein, our focus should be to work on products, features or capabilities that have direct positive effect on business value. Once we reliably identify those, only then do matters related to projects execution (time, resources, project plans, etc) become relevant. In other words, figure out the why and what before you wrestle with the how.

We also need to realize that BAs exist outside of projects too. Their opportunity to add value should extend to things like evaluating the performance of a deployed solution and using that to inform the direction of future initiatives.

3. Business analysts are business advisors

Contrast this with the prevailing ancient view that business analysts are “requirements gatherers”. There is a great potential lost in confining capable BAs to the role of “note takers”.

When the BA role is elevated, as it should, to be that of an advisor to business, we can:

  • Increase the likelihood of executing on things that deliver real business value since BAs now have deep understanding of where that value lies.
  • Execute faster since BAs will be better equipped to represent business interests to other stakeholders, versus them having to go back for answers to each and every single question raised by other groups within the organization.

Next, we need to adopt new practices

To put our newfound perspectives in action, we must adopt new practices that support these perspectives, including:

1. Minimize organizational “waste” with agile and lean practices

Did you know: organizations waste US$122 million for every US$1 billion invested due to poor project performance — a 12 percent increase over last year (PMI Pulse of the Profession, 2016). In increasingly more industries, predictive approaches to product development and project management like waterfall are proving at best inefficient and at worst a prime reason for projects’ failure to achieve business targets.

Agile and lean practices have come a long way and are here to solve the problem of figuring out the right product to build and an efficient way of doing so. They are both based on adaptive approach that emphasizes learning and minimization of chunk size to achieve maximum flexibility in responding to business and market changes.

Instead of wasting organizational resources in building things we “hope” will provide stated benefits or achieve desired adoption, we iterate our way through series of experiments carefully designed to help us figure out what will provide definitive business value, thereby increasing likelihood of success and maximizing ROI.

2. Increase cross-functional collaboration

Silo mentality manifests when individuals, departments or groups choose not to share information or knowledge with others in the same organization. Silos usually throw up barriers to change and cooperation.

This behaviour is obviously detrimental to organization’s productivity and ability to innovate (Abedalla, 2014). If we want to compete and thrive in today’s economy, the siloed behaviour of the past must be eliminated or minimized. Clayton Christensen, author of the only business book Steve Jobs ever read, The Innovators Dilemma, writes:

Almost always great new ideas don’t emerge from within a single person or function, but at the intersection of functions or people that have never met before.

3. Invest in continuous learning with focus on ROI

Permanent beta is a term that made an impression on me after reading Startup of You by LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman and author Ben Casnocha. In their words:

We are all works in progress. Great people, like great companies, are always evolving. Permanent beta is a lifelong commitment to continuous growth. It is the mindset of every entrepreneur of life

I would have classified this under mindset, but I wanted to emphasize the behaviour aspect of it. To get the maximum returns from your learning or training investment, you have to ensure:

  1. It is relevant to where the industry is now and where it’s going
  2. There is potential in applying your acquired skills to improve things at your organization

Learning that you do not practice in the short term will get rusty and will provide no returns for your time and money investment. I know that from experience. So choose where you invest wisely.

Conclusion

The BA discipline is continuously evolving, and that’s a good thing! We must embrace change just as much as we aspire to be agents of change ourselves. In this post, I hope I have outlined for your a roadmap of mindset shifts we must embrace and new behaviour we must adopt not just to survive, but to thrive in the turbulent times ahead.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Ken Hakuta:

People will try to tell you that all the great opportunities have been snapped up. In reality, the world changes every second, blowing new opportunities in all directions, including yours.

References and Further Reading