Building Organizational Business Analysis Excellence: A Practitioner Guide

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Aug 29, 2016
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Introduction

Business analysis is an indispensable function in all business organizations, performed at myriad forms and scales. It grows from purely a task to a management function with more defined roles, responsibilities and capability requirements. Such growth contributes to the popularity of business analysis qualifications such as Project Management Institute’s Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA) and International Institute of Business Analysis's Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP). They in turn help shape business analysis into a professional discipline similar to project management.

Maintaining high quality of business analysis consistently is a challenge to many organizations. Inconsistent business analysis output quality results in undesirable project outcomes, poor decisions, operational disjoints and missed opportunities.

This article uses the actual case of a postal-logistic company[1] to discuss how low quality business analysis impacts an organization and what improvement initiatives the organization implemented to address the problems.

Poor Business Analysis Quality: Causes and Impacts

While the adverse effects of poor business analysis output quality are easily noticed, identifying the underlying causes of poor quality is more difficult because the poor quality may be the results of bad business analysis practice, poor project management and governance, lack of support structures, or a combination of them. Identifying what cause the problems is the key to any initiatives that aim at improving organizational business analysis quality.

In this organization, identifying causes of poor quality was about answering “what characterized the poor business analysis quality?” To understand the problem comprehensively and objectively, the organization conducted a number of Voice of Customers (VOC) workshops to gather feedback from key internal customers using the business analysis services, which mainly include programme and project teams and business units.

Table 1 lists the main issues of poor business analysis quality that were identified from the VOC:

Table 1:Key business analysis quality issues in the organization

Quality Issue
Symptom of Poor Quality
1. Unclear business analysis ownership and responsibilities
  • Ownership of business analysis activities was unclear.
  • Responsibilities of business analysis activities on different project lifecycles (e.g. Waterfall, Agile) were poorly defined.
2. Lack of a holistic focus on the business analysis process
  • Business analysis outputs failed to address the dynamic interconnections at cross-functional, cross-programme and cross-project levels.
3. Poor traceability between business analysis outputs and other project deliverables
  • Traceability between business analysis outputs, project benefits and solutions was haphazard and not universally performed.
  • Lack of mandates and guidelines on conducting traceability for Business Analysts to follow.
4. Lack of defined quality standards on BA deliverables
  • Lack of endorsed standards that specified the quality required on business analysis deliverables for Business Analysts to follow.
  • Inappropriate business analysis methodologies and tools were used.
5. Inconsistent business analysis templates
  • Templates of business analysis deliverables were not standardized across the organization.
  • These templates were stored in difference locations (e.g. intranet, common drives, etc.) which prohibited easy access.

Driving Business Analysis Excellence

The previous section describes the challenges facing the organization to deliver consistent and high quality business analysis outputs. These challenges reflect the organization’s low business analysis capability. Resolving these challenges would require a coordinated approach with close engagement across business analysts, programme and project managers, project management office and business units.

Improvement Goals and Objectives

The organization endorsed a “Business Analysis Excellence” initiative to address the challenges mentioned and improve overall business analysis quality. The initiative’s goal was to “raise the organization’s business analysis capability so that it truly adds values to business decision-makings and deliveries of programme and project outcomes”.

Underlying this goal were three objectives that the initiative aimed at achieving:

  • Enhance the quality of business analysis practice across the organization
  • Improve alignment between business analysis planning and project lifecycles
  • Strengthen traceability between business analysis outputs and other project and business outcomes

Designing Improvements

A taskforce[2] was formed to be responsible for managing the “Business Analysis Excellence” initiative. A key mission to the taskforce was to identify what improvements would best address the challenges facing the organization and thus most critical to raising the business analysis standard. To begin with, the taskforce articulated a preliminary list of potential improvement options. The following criteria were also defined for assessing and shortlisting these options:

  • How effective would the improvement option be in addressing the business analysis quality issues identified above?
  • How feasible could the improvement option be implemented within the planned timeframe?
  • How sustainable (i.e. future-proof) would the improvement option be in enhancing the organization’s business analysis capability and standard?

The shortlisted improvement options endorsed for implementation are listed on Table 2.

Table 2: Shortlisted business analysis improvement options

Improvement Option
Benefit
1. Define Business Analyst’s roles and responsibilities in project lifecycle
  • Clarity on roles and responsibilities between Business Analysts, Technical Analysts and other subject-matter experts.
2. Endorse measurable (‘quality assure-able’) standards on key business analysis outputs
  • Consistent and comparable quality on business analysis outputs across project and business units.
3. Formulate business analysis best practice guidelines
  • Reference models to facilitate excellent business analysis outputs.
4. Establish a peer-review structure on key on key business analysis outputs
  • Ensure consistent process is followed to deliver business analysis outputs.
  • Ensure cross-functional insights contribute to business analysis outputs.
5. Standardize corporate business analysis output templates
  • Better consistency and traceability of business analysis outputs.
6. Endorse corporate business analysis toolboxes
  • Ensure proper tools are in place for Business Analysts.

An important insight from the taskforce’s elicitation of the improvement options was that for any business analysis quality improvement to be comprehensive, effective and sustainable, the following areas must be catered for:

  1. Ownership: Ownership focuses on defining Business Analysts’ roles and responsibilities across different phases of project lifecycles. It also clarifies how Business Analysts’ roles differ from other roles such as System Analysts, Data Analysts and Business Subject Matter Experts. 

    Clear ownership facilitates a consistent expectation within the organization on what Business Analysts should focus on in terms of service delivery. From a capability development perspective, clear ownership also enables the organization to build a clear development strategy to its group of Business Analysts focusing on core business analysis skill-sets and knowledge.
  2. Capability: Capability is mainly concerned with equipping Business Analysts in the organization with the business analysis competence most important to it. The competence included, for example, core analytical skills like requirements elicitation and essential softskills for Business Analysts like facilitation skills. 

    Such capability is essential in lifting the overall maturity of business analysis and facilitating a culture of improvement. It is also important to review and refine the organization’s business analysis capability ‘war chest’ periodically to ensure that it meets the organization’s evolving needs. For example, the business analysis capability required for an organization that is going through large-scale transformation is very different from the capability required to drive post-implementation improvement.
  3. Clarity: Clarity relates to endorsing standards on key business analysis processes, tools and practice across the organization so that they become the mandates for Business Analysts to follow. For example, a “business Analysis Toolbox” outlining all recommended tools for process modeling and requirements elicitation. It enhances consistency on how business analysis activities are carried out and deliverables are produced across different programmes and projects.
  4. Traceability: Traceability focuses on establishing robust processes to track business analysis deliverables with programme and project outcomes and, ultimately, business benefits. Traceability enables measurement on, for example, how fully business requirements are fulfilled by the solutions designed, or how the products or services rolled out generate the benefits to business as estimated. Strong end-to-end traceability is a crucial measurement of high business analysis standard in an organization.
  5. Accessibility: Accessibility is concerned with having centralized and user-friendly access to the organization’s business analysis governance materials such as standards, guidelines, tools and templates. Not only does it enable Business Analysts within the organization to access such materials easily, but it also allows project managers and business owners a clear expectation of what business analysis materials are endorsed for use.

Diagram 3 shows how the shortlisted improvement options are categorized.

Diagram 3: Categorization of business analysis quality improvement options

Implementing the Improvements

A sound implementation strategy with support from key stakeholders is essential to ensure that the improvement is rolled out with intended results and the resultant change is fully embedded within the organization.

The taskforce adopted a “wave” (i.e. phased) implementation strategy to roll out the improvement measures to the organization. The strategy was based on a “starting small, growing big” principle that initially focused on rolling out the improvement in smaller, more defined business units and projects to generate results, before expanding the roll-out to larger, more complex business units and programmes and projects.

When determining what strategy would best suit the organization, the taskforce examined a number of factors including the organization’s structure, strategic priorities and complexity of programmes and projects. The “waves” implementation strategy was selected because it had several advantages:

  1. Effective change management: The “wave” strategy allowed the taskforce’s change management, such as training and support, to be carried out more effectively. In particular, this approach enabled the team to design change management activities in a more granular way that catered for the needs of stakeholders at different scales.
  2. Success showcase at an early stage: By focusing on smaller business units and projects at early stages of the implementation, the taskforce motivated those small business units and projects to be the change advocates, thereby developing a stronger showcase on how the improvement could benefit the organisation. It in turn increased the likelihood of success.
  3. Continuous improvement: The strategy allowed the taskforce to refine improvement and governance structures to cater for stakeholders at different scale at the implementation occurred. For example, while full business analysis standards were formulated for large, complex programmes, a condensed version of the standards were refined to fit the needs of smaller-scale projects.
  4. Minimize resistance to change: The adaptive implementation cycle helped showcase results of improvement throughout the implementation period. It kept the momentum and maintained business interests and focus on the subject. It also helped reduce resistance from stakeholders caused by the lack of visible benefits.

A Culture of Business Analysis Excellence

Benefits from the implementation of the “Business Analysis Excellence” initiative were gradually observed at a local scale, for example, within individual business units and projects. The scale of benefits truly took off across the organization about six to nine months after the initiative was completely implemented.

A culture of business analysis excellence was gradually formed in the organization. The culture was characterized by better consistency, stronger traceability and increased re-usability:

  1. Better consistency: Consistency on the application of standard business analysis methods and endorsed tools was improved. For example, processes were modeled in a more consistent manner, enabling cross-functional process catalogues to be established. Use of standard business analysis templates, such as user stories, was more widespread. Better consistency facilitated an end-to-end visibility to be established across programmes and projects.
  2. Stronger traceability: It became the norm among the organization’s Business Analysts that traceability components were covered on their business analysis planning. Traceability tools were also included on key business analysis templates and standards such as requirement elicitation. The change facilitated traceability of business analysis deliverables, both upstream (for example, between business requirements and project benefits) and downstream (for example, between business requirements and product/service solutions).
  3. Increased reusability: Reusing business analysis outputs across business units and projects became more common at the later stage of implementation. It was because (i) the outputs were produced based on consistent methodologies, standard tools and templates; (ii) the formation of document repositories such as a process catalogue library made it easier to visualize what outputs were in place and access them. Also, increased reusability of business analysis outputs improved the efficiency of project activities, for example, by simplifying the needs of current state analysis in projects, thereby yielding direct benefits to programmes and projects.

The organization’s experience revealed that time was a passive but important factor in driving these improvements. Many of these improvements were possible owing to the favourable conditions nurtured by other improvements. For example, the benefits of increased reusability of business analysis outputs were possible only after programmes and projects produced consistent quality of business analysis deliverables over a period of time. They forming an organizational knowledge base that generated a favourable condition for reusing the outputs. Timing is therefore critical in building a culture of business analysis excellence.

Conclusion

Business analysis excellence is important but not many organizations are paying enough attention to it. A lot of organizations have established Project Management Offices or similar structures to improve the standards of their project management efforts. Comparatively, fewer organizations dedicate resources to drive similar improvement in the business analysis areas.

Through an actual case study of an organization, this article illustrates how an organization could raise its standard of business analysis. The challenges facing each organization in are unique; identifying issues most critical to them and designing targeted improvement strategies that address these challenges is the key to success.

Equally important is building a collaborative group culture to support such initiatives. The success of the case reveals that engaging with appropriate stakeholders was the key to having their buy-in, contributions and on-going support throughout the improvement cycle. One common cause of failure in embedding quality improvement is that stakeholders are detracted to other priorities. Designing the improvement with them, rather than for them, help engage with the stakeholders and keep it in a reasonable priority on their business agenda.

Driving business analysis excellence in any organization is a continuous effort. An improvement initiative may have a completion date, but the culture of improvement does not. Business analysis needs change as an organization’s goals, strategies, structures and markets evolve; the group of Business Analysts within the organization must be able to be adaptive and resilient to support the change, combining strong business sense and solid analytical expertise.


Author: Franco Pang, Lead Business Analyst

Franco is a business analysis and improvement professional. He is currently a Lead, Business Analysis at Unitec, a prominent tertiary institution in New Zealand. His expertise is to lead portfolios of improvement initiatives to achieve strategic goals and drive business process maturity at an organizational level.

Originally from Hong Kong, Franco has built an international career profile with working experience in China, India, the Middle East, the UK and, now, New Zealand. His expertise has a strong supply chain focus across distribution, transportation and retailing. He has also worked with some of the best performing and most innovative organisations in the sector, such as Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, and Qatar Airways, regularly awarded as the World’s Best Airline.

Franco graduated from the University of Hong Kong with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Geography (First Class Honours) and obtained a Master of Science degree in Information Systems Management from the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology.

As a business professional, Franco believes in collaboration, respect and integrity with his business partners as the key ingredients of success in driving real business improvements.


References

International Institute of Business Analysis, A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge Version 3, 2015, Toronto, International Institute of Business Analysis

Project Management Institute, Business Analysis for Practitioners: A Practice Guide, 2015, Philadelphia, Project Management Institute
References/footnotes:

  1. The company is the largest player in the industry in the country it is based on. It had a turnover of approximately US$1,124 million in FY2014/15.
  2. The taskforce consisted of representatives from the organization’s Business Analyst community, Enterprise Project Management Office (EPMO), Technical Analyst and Architect groups and key projects business units which are customers of business analysis services.
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Featured
Aug 29, 2016
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COMMENTS

treescollinge posted on Monday, September 5, 2016 11:13 PM
A very well constructed and presented article that looks at BA capability improvement. Should have more of similar articles to look at BA as an organisational capability rather than just individual (or project) competence. My question is, I'd be interested to know how is agile approach applied in your organisation's BA community, and did your 'Business Analysis Excellence' initiative address this area as well?
desakota posted on Thursday, September 8, 2016 5:16 AM
Thanks. Many of our projects were run following an agile approach with strong BA involvement. Our BA Excellence initiative covered agile BA with two focus: (I) defining BA's roles and responsibilities under an agile project cycle and (ii) looking at BA best practice (such as process modelling and requirement elicitation) and extending it to apply to an agile project setting. It helped BA understand what they should focus on when planning and conducting, say, requirement elicitation, in an agile project so that it fits its iterative approach better.
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