As Business Analysis (BA) professionals, we appreciate initiatives that aim to produce better requirements. We collectively say “hallelujah” when we hear people preach the importance of quality requirements because it reinforces our internal belief that the work and deliverables we produce matter. Point us in the direction of a new process, technique, or tool that will enable us to provide superior requirements and we quickly become enamored.
We hit a challenge however when we attempt to promote the value of Business Analysis to IT Management or the Business. We struggle because we generally see “better requirements” as a reason in itself to engage our services. From our viewpoint, what is not to love about better requirements? When we hit resistance in the engagement of our services, our typical reaction is an attempt to convert the non-believers by rolling out the standard statistics about how requirements related problems are a primary culprit in project failures or how good requirements result in fewer defects. If we are fortunate, someone in our audience has experienced a project that has crashed and burned due to poor requirements, and he or she will be an advocate on our behalf.
The reality is that simply promoting “better requirements” does not sell our value-add in terms that management from an IT or Business perspective understands. The “better requirements” pitch is an esoteric approach. We need to move beyond better requirements and sell business analysis in business terms.
So how do we do this? Let me share five lessons learned based on my experience as a senior requirements management consultant. I have had the good fortune to work with multiple organizations across North America and observed approaches that have worked well and some that have failed to hit the mark.
1) Demystify Business Analysis
We often fail as BA practitioners to recognize that most people outside our profession have a minimal understanding of the services we support and deliverables we produce. Simply put, Business Analysis is fluffy. When asked to explain what we do, we often reply using technical terms that fail to resonate with the target audience. Like many other practitioners, I speak using words such as elicitation, modeling, and requirements management. The first task in selling Business Analysis in business terms often is educating our customers using simple, clear, and concrete terms that everyone can understand. Think of the proverbial elevator speech to be delivered in less than two minutes. Explain simply how using a Business Analyst on a project will result in a better outcome. Drop phrases that only have meaning within our BA community. As an example, I have often explained to people outside our profession that my job in part is a translator between "bizspeak" and "geekspeak". I do not talk about elicitation; I talk instead about getting people to describe their needs.
2) Speak to Business Analysis using the language of time and money
Getting people to understand Business Analysis is a starting point. Speaking the language of time and money is an extension of demystifying the goods and services we deliver. The BA organization and individual Business Analysts need to be able to articulate how the work we perform affects meeting project deadlines. When we talk about improving Business Analysis, we need to make the argument that we can accelerate the delivery of product to the marketplace. Speaking the language of money is also critical. Speaking about the prevention of defects has an impact on an audience if defects are expressed in the language of cost or expenses.
I was involved in a recent initiative dealing with training of Business Analysts across an organization. We were flattered that attention was being given to our area. The underlying reason the effort was being funded turned out to be based on a desire to reduce time to market and get products out the door quicker. We were able to efficiently work with the management team on the content of this training material when we could directly tie the connection between promoted techniques and how they affect the delivery timeline.
3) Sell Business Analysis as a solution, not a product
A common mistake BA organizations make in the sale of their value is marketing the goods and services using a product framework. On multiple occasions, I have observed presentations that come up with a list of all the different things Business Analysts do on projects besides writing requirement statements. For some reason, many see the size and variety of service offerings we provide as justification that our role has value. Instead of creating lists, we need to take a page from professional sales and learn to sell business analysis as a solution, not a product. What does this mean? It starts with identifying and understanding the pain points of our client base. (Keep in mind that at the end of the day there is a buyer for the products and services we provide. It is hugely important that we recognize who is the buyer and understand that buyer) We then engage our stakeholder community by explaining in specific and concrete terms how we can contribute to solving their problems. We are wasting our time and resources when our customers cannot see how their problems can be alleviated by what we provide. We need to speak the language of benefits.
4) Hard Metrics Matter
Metrics continue to be an Achilles heel when it comes to selling Business Analysis in business terms. Numbers matter but more often than not we rely on general industry statistics that point to a correlation between poor requirements and project failures. When we do not have industry statistics, we fall back on endorsements and accolades from our delivery partners in IT to make our case. On my most recent engagement, we reverted to pages in a slide presentation that contained quotes testifying to our value-add. While this was heartwarming to those of us who created the presentation, it failed to have the necessary impact on the audience. It is crucial that we collect hard internal metrics regarding the impact of quality business requirements to the bottom-line of project success. Metrics move us past subjective viewpoints into factual arguments.
5) Use a Professional to Promote Business Analysis
I have been surprised to observe some organizations that treat the job of selling Business Analysis as a task to be delegated to resources using a bandwidth approach. Find a person that has spare time and assign them to come up with a presentation to promote business analysis with some broad-brush direction. The outcome is quite predictable with PowerPoint presentations that can be described as a show and tell production. I have also seen presentations that consist of a mix of cute graphics and generic phrases that talk about the marvelous job Business Analysts do. They have failed to hit the mark. What is needed to sell Business Analysis are experienced individuals who are expert communicators that can speak the language of business in a clear and concise manner. To be clear this is not always about engaging external resources or a consultant. This is about using people whose skillset is optimal for this task; this is about getting people who can do the job in a professional manner. Just because Frank has spare time is not reason enough to assign him this task.
These items reflect lessons learned based on my experience. I do not claim this to be an exhaustive list. I would like to know your thoughts...
- How do you sell the value of Business Analysis?
- Whom do you engage in making the pitch for the value of Business Analysis?
- What has failed to hit the mark?
- What messages have worked best for you?
Author: Michael Roy, Business Analysis Professional / Requirements Leader
Michael is a solutions-focused Business Analysis professional with extensive experience leading change initiatives at a tactical and strategic level.