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Dean J. Chapman
Dean J. Chapman

Would Indiana Jones be a good Business Analyst?

You might think I am crazy for wondering if Indiana Jones might be a good business analyst. Even though Indiana Jones is portrayed in the movies as a treasure hunter, he was really an archaeologist first. So what skills do archaeology and business analysis have in common? I don’t think I would have been able to draw a parallel between the two professions until I had this experience during a recent project meeting at a client site.
The tone of the meeting was very tense from the start. All of the key project members and stakeholders had been gathered in a conference room to determine how we could deliver the impossible on a very tight project schedule and when it appeared that we didn’t have all of the necessary information and data. There were a lot of heated discussions about how to solve this problem including numerous very serious mentions of delaying the project and using the additional time to produce or reproduce the missing information and data.
Then, as the problem was being rehashed for what felt like the millionth time, a light went on in the head of one of the business SMEs and they blurted out “I think we have that information! I remember a few years ago when we did a system upgrade and I know we were required to create documentation for our department that contained some of that information. I think it’s in our current document library but I haven’t looked at it in years.” Then a business analyst on the team chimed in “Yes…I remember seeing similar documentation in a folder on our corporate shared drive when I was digging around for another project….but I can’t remember where I saw it. A lot of that old documentation was recently archived to another location.” Next the software development manager spoke up and said “We had a vendor help us with that upgrade, I bet some of the information we need is in the documentation provided by the vendor during that project. We just have to find out who has the documentation.”
As more people joined the conversation, it became clear to me that the information and data probably existed but over time had been forgotten, buried, hidden, or possibly even lost. We hadn’t uncovered the Holy Grail but we did discover some things that could be used to move the project forward. At that point I leaned over to colleague of mine and said without any real thought “Sounds like we needed an archaeologist on this project!”
When I returned to my desk after that meeting, the idea that the project could have benefitted from having an archaeologist stuck with me so I googled archaeology. I wanted to know why archaeology sounded like something that fit as part of the job description of a business analyst. Here is the definition of archaeology I found that resonated with me.
Archaeology is the study of human activity in the past, primarily through the recovery and analysis of the material culture and environmental data that was left behind, which includes artifacts, architecture, biofacts (bones or seeds), and cultural landscapes (the archaeological record).
When I read that definition, I couldn’t help but immediately make the connection between archeology and business analysis. As a business analyst, I usually find myself digging through every part of the organization trying to uncover information and data that was left behind that could be valuable to my current analysis. I comb through binders of documents that I find in empty cubicles or in rows of filing cabinets in dark hallways. I spend hours searching through obscurely labeled folders in corporate shared directories or on the corporate intranet. I talk with individuals in the organization who have been around for a while or who could have “tribal knowledge” about where the information and data I am seeking might exist. I search everywhere and try to leave no stone unturned. The information and data I am seeking is in the form of artifacts (strategic plans, organization charts, business processes, use cases, data models, business rules, etc.), architecture (frameworks, models, blueprints, etc.), biofacts (skeletons of successful projects or projects that were never completed), and cultural landscape (historical record of the organization and how it has changed). In many ways, I feel like an archaeologist…a business archaeologist!
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying I could do what Indiana Jones does and I am not yet convinced he could be a good business analyst. What I am saying is that there appears to be some synergy between what archaeologists and business analysts do. We both search for those hidden or buried treasures that will help us know the past, understand the present, and build for the future.
Now if you agree that part of our role as business analysts is doing some archaeology, then I want to leave you with this question. How do we emphasize that the focus of doing “business archaeology” should be to uncover the information and data necessary for a thorough and complete analysis and not to create or recreate information and data that doesn’t exist or won’t add value? I don’t recall Indiana Jones ever making up or creating a relic because he didn’t find one during his search (unless, of course, he did it to fool one of his arch nemeses so he could escape). I am not sure how to answer this question, but if you are like me then you have been involved in many projects where there was more emphasis and time put on creating “as is” documentation than actually doing analysis and providing real value to the business. Your thoughts?
 
Dean J. Chapman
Sr. Business Analyst/Business Architect
This entry was published on Jun 24, 2013 / Dean J. Chapman. Posted in Business Analysis, Roles and Responsibilities. Bookmark the Permalink or E-mail it to a friend.
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COMMENTS

JamesArthur posted on Tuesday, July 2, 2013 2:40 PM
Great article..very truthful.
qwertyjjj posted on Thursday, July 4, 2013 6:48 AM
Having the meeting and discussing with the stakeholders is often what forms the archeology!
Alternatives are to store all documentation in a system that can be indexed like SharePoint or other such software...then you can just search for words in documents.
Heather posted on Friday, July 5, 2013 1:26 PM
I really enjoyed the article. I think you identified a few struggles that we business analyst do come up against at one time or another during our career- Archeology, and the importance of it.

Archeology, in fact, has in the past helped me succeed fast (thus saving time) and gave me way beyond what anyone else could provide to me- perspective and answers. The one thing that I have come up against time and time again is understanding why past decisions were made and what is the current state; that is when archeology comes in to play. Sometimes, depending on what artifacts that you are able to find, the action of archeology will give you context as to the progress over time, understanding of what the “pain” was at that time and what decisions were made that lead the business to where they are today. Other times you will simply only gain a piece or pieces of artifacts but none the less- they give you something than rather having nothing and starting from scratch.

Great article and to answer your question in the article "How do we emphasize that the focus of doing “business archaeology” should be to uncover the information and data necessary for a thorough and complete analysis and not to create or recreate information and data that doesn’t exist or won’t add value?"..... My thoughts would be to get engaged in the project as soon as you can. If you are engaged early enough, then you may have influence to ask these types of questions that could ultimately lead the project on a completely different path than the Sponsor was expecting- and would have a better outcome.
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