Thank you for a informative posting.
I am presently working as a 'Business Analyst' in an software company. My role involves Requirement gathering, Facilitating JAD sessions, Configuring Organizational and master data, performing UAT and insuring all functional and non- functional requirements are met.
Can you please inform from where i can get the knowledge on six sigma and how it can help in my career.
I tend not to view business analysis as a profession. In my mind a profession has a statutory basis for its existence. Some examples are; MD; CPA; PE (Professional Engineer); etc. In most states, if you hold yourself out as a MD, CPA or PE and are not, you end up in court and face a fine and/or jail time.
I’m not sure of the order of Measure vs. Analyze. Every Statistician that I’ve worked with always said design the experiment before you start collecting data. This assumes metrics are a form of data.
What may at first seem like a problem may not be the problem at all. I agree, unfortunately, after the actual problem is defined evil still lurks. It’s called the three part lag. First the problem must be discovered, then a fix must be proposed and implemented, and then did the fix work. Each step involves the passage of time. If the fix doesn’t work, what steps have to be taken? Considerable misery can be visited on a company during this time including paying a large fine or filing for bankruptcy protection. Few things help more during this time than very smart competent employees.
The time series plot and Pareto charts. I strongly suspect that the analysis of a time series plot is beyond the capabilities of most business analysts. Actually decomposing a time series requires a good understanding of statistics and mathematics. For example, time versus frequency domain analysis, linear versus nonlinear etc.
Root cause analysis, as far as I can remember there are several different analytical techniques available. Two that I remember are Bayesian inference and Kepner-tragoe. This begs the question, how does one select the proper technique from among several available alternatives?
Provide a view of all the possible solutions. Perhaps providing all possible solutions may overwhelm and/or confuse rather than enlighten management. Maybe Pareto aka the 80 – 20 rule could be of use.
Irritable old CFO.
One of the things I miss about Six Sigma since moving to other companies... the ability to be involved early in a project for Define and Measure (think Enterprise Analysis). For some of us, this was the only meaningful experience with Enterprise Analysis. 6 Sigma takes the time to not only document current state, it also finds out the important factors to the business customers so you aren't just trying to elicite future state requirements in a void - there's something there and measurable! It provides the perspective that Kimberly mentions into the range of solutions, not just the one chosen that many of us have to try to implement as we are brought in after the decision for the solution is complete (and typically no insight into the alternative ideas presented).
I also like the fact that 6 Sigma asks you to not only define the success criteria for Control, it also includes the measurement during Control as part of the overall project and doesn't let the project team just "turn it over to maintenance" after the warranty period is complete. Its a process that goes from cradle to maturity - you did the project for it to grow up, not die off .
Unless your company already embraces 6 Sigma and has training available, the best place to go (state-side) for information is probably the American Society for Quality (www.asq.org). The tools for 6 Sigma can be a lot of fun to use but unless you have the opportunity to apply them on real projects, you will lose much of the value of the training.
Have fun with it whenever you can,
A Hartford BA
Zarfman, your comments are interesting but one of the assertions made in the article is how to advance Business Analysis as a profession - including standardization and certification processes for business analysts. There was a time when there was no bar exam or medical board exam to pass those wishing to practice law, medicine, accounting, etc... As asserted, Business Analysis is a new profession, just as CTO and CIO are relatively new appendages to the executive levels of corporations.
Business Analysts serve a vital role as a layer between business and technology departments within organizations. Increasing value by learning how to interpret Pareto charts may have some validity - especially when it may be necessary to correct irritable CFO's who may not have the complete story. Of course, we will continue to correct and instruct following all appropriate protocols and professional courtesy. :-)
The one thing I noticed about this article was the almost complete lack of the concept of user or customer in the discussion. The idea that the BA "thinks" up the requirements is really quite silly.
To quote the article, " Many times we present information based on hunches or previous experience whereas with measure, you focus on the facts. This is an extremely powerful aspect of the six sigma methodology. It says, 'you think there is a problem, but let"s find out if there really is". In other words, what may at first seem like a problem may not be the problem at all but you can only determine that through gathering metrics. The six sigma methodology recommends things like the time series plot and pareto charts."
Wow ... How about you do the real work of the BA and work with the END USERS to determine their requirements. Time Series Plots ??? That is the sick sigma solution ?
Business Analysis is an art and thinking you can learn how to do it well thru some sort of cookie cutter training like 6 sigma is laughable.
CV et al:
I would be thrilled to see the business analysts acquire the same level of certification and or licensure as MD’s, etc.
I freely admit that over the years I’ve become cynical and irritable. The following are but two of the examples that have influenced my views on business analysis and IT in general.
In one situation I was a regional controller or comptroller if you prefer. The company decided to install a corporate wide accounting system. Because each region had a different system some computer based, some manual. We regional controllers specified very precisely what we required. We never got anything close to what we could use. Accordingly, project and overhead costs got out of control. The company had financial difficulties and ended up being bought out by large well run company. The shareholders were nearly wiped out and hundreds of employees lost their jobs (including yours truly).
In the year 2000 I was financially involved in a start-up. The company provided internet based spread sheet, word processing and other services. It turned out the self proclaimed genius systems architect, most of the programmers and the DBA’s were idiots. Much sound and fury, very little actual usable product. That screw up cost me $3,000,000.00. All told investors lost $225,000,000.00. The only ones making money now are the lawyers.
I hope this gives you some insight in why I tend to be cynical, irritable, highly suspicious and critical of IT. However, I still need the financial and accounting software
Anyhow, I’m done with this thread. I eagerly await next months Modern Analyst.
The old irritable CFO
Interesting article, provoking discussion.
The techniques referred to are all good stuff, and to people who have been BAs/SAs for a long tine, as I have, they have been around in various guises for a long time, not just Six sigma (which does not seem to be very widely used in IT projects here in the UK), at least not in my industry sector (Insurance)
Following on from some of the points raised above, I think the main learning is that a BA should have available to them all/any technique(s) that can help them to do the analysis tasks, but the techniques should not drive the analysis tasks, only help in achieving them.
For example I recall from many years ago, when 'methodologies' such as SSADM were popular, having a meeting with peer BAs and expert users where we walked through (walkthroughs being perhaps the best 'quality technique!') a set of DFDs (Data Flow Diagrams) and the BAs spent half the meeting arguing about whether the DFD followed the 'method' correctly etc, and thus completely alienated the users who the refused to discuss further DFDs.
One of the techniques that I often use now is the 'State Diagram'; a simplified version of the technical version (State Machine, or 'State Transition Diagram') that users can understand. When discussing requirements with users, business entities often go through several 'state' changes (e.g. a life assurance policy might go from 'proposal' to 'in force' to 'cancelled' or to 'lapsed' then maybe back to 'in force' again) so a simple diagram helps to extract from users the business states and explain what should cause a change from one state to another.
Basically, when there is a need to use a particular technique, do so, and modify the technique so that users are not alienated by it but see the benefit, but do not drive the analysis by any particular techniques.
I appreciate that this takes experience and if the site standard is to use a particular set of methods, it might be difficult for a more junior BA to resist, but in the end common sense must prevail.
Sorry to have veered away from the Six Sigma specific points
To follow up on this series of comments:
"Wow ... How about you do the real work of the BA and work with the END USERS to determine their requirements. Time Series Plots ??? That is the sick sigma solution ?
Business Analysis is an art and thinking you can learn how to do it well thru some sort of cookie cutter training like 6 sigma is laughable."
With these comments, it shows that you know nothing about the 6 Sigma process or methodology and are making assumptions based solely on the article that you doin't fully understand.
I'm sure you've found in your experience at some point that users don't always know 1.) what they want and 2.) what they even have.
6 Sigma helps them understand what they have by finding out what their key performance indicators (kpi's) are and sets out to measure them initially (as well as documenting current state in the process). From this baseline, the customer can make informed decisions on whether their original KPI's were still valid and what their requirements are going forward in a future state.
The only thing cookie-cutter about 6 Sigma (when applied correctly) is the process of evaluating the impact of a problem and potential solutions prior to investing boku money for a project. With 6 Sigma, when/if a project is cancelled, the number of people impacted is much smaller because there has been more work done by a few prior to full project launch/kick-off.
As analysts, we are supposed to understand current state as part of the process before eliciting requirements for the future. Try practicing a little of your own work instead of bashing what you don't really understand (because you were too lazy to bother).
Great article! A couple of comments of the Define portion of DMAIC.
1.) Proceeding in a purely top-down fashion on larger scale projects is often next to impossible - no one has that level of knowledge at the start. So typically the team must create some lower level data flow diagrams and then summarize them upwards into a context diagram.
2.) As I have experienced and read, the biggest boggie in the "Define" phase is identification of process INPUTS. Typically, identification of process outputs is realatively straight forward; but, most often, even the process experts can not rigorously identify process inputs.
Your comments about undervaluation of the Business Analyst's role really resonated with me. I have been contemplating creating a business case on how Business Analysts can add value to the organization. But I do feel its going to take baby steps to bring about change.
My company follows a strict waterfall method and I work as a BA on the IT side. I would love to get your opinion on at what stage can we initiate this change.
When a project is submitted by the business should we introduce Lean Six Sigma process at the Initial Gap analysis phase? Where in the process of development does it fit best?
Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and expertise!!
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