Book Review: Building Business Capability by Ron Ross and Gladys Lam


Building Business Solutions: Business Analysis with Business RulesRon Ross and Gladys Lam have written an important book for the business analyst community. It aims to get business analysts out of the technology ghetto that many of us get stuck in. Regardless of the type of analyst you are, I think it would be worth your time to get your hands on and read this book. I’ll explain why below.

The business analyst role is not about deploying features or systems. It’s about understanding business so that anticipated changes can be analysed and assessed in a way that enables organisations to transition from their current to future state in a way that is efficient, resilient and sustainable. Business analysts are there, in Ron and Gladys’ words to enable business agility. The book is broken into two sections. The first is a typical textbook style description of their framework for business analysis and the second is a quite detailed ‘annotated glossary’ which nicely illustrates one of the core elements of their model, the ‘fact model.’

The first part of the book runs through an initial section on the motivation and context for the framework, and then it runs through a series of chapters which could almost be representative of a step by step approach to analysis. However it isn’t that; and the authors explicitly state that the book is not a playbook template for business analysis.

This book gives the author a walkthrough of the model the authors have created based upon their own proprietary Business Rules driven Proteus methodology. The approach starts with the big picture; what is the scope you are dealing with? What are the core organisational policies that set the ground rules? What aspects of the business create a context for business rule discovery? And finally, how do we uncovering business requirements via business rules? Throughout the book a number of ‘pattern’ questions with examples are provided to assist in bringing the model to life.

The framework itself is coherent and actionable. The authors mean it to be an elevation of typical systems (tools) focused approach to business analysis. It presents techniques that help you as an analyst get to the roots of business requirements – motivations, polices and rules.

If you are a business analyst that consistently delivers good work, but aren’t building your methods around one of the three common approaches of data analysis, process analysis or interaction analysis you are possibly using this model (or something like it) intuitively. This book gives a language to what many good analysts do by instinct. Even better, it gives scalable tools to get to solution agnostic requirements.

A downside of the book is that it suffers from a common problem with textbooks or process guides: In order to be complete and consistent in its information architecture it can get a little repetitive and boring in parts, especially when presenting the ‘pattern questions.’ And to be honest, that may just be me and my twitter conditioned brain.

The book is peppered with anecdotes, stories and examples to illustrate the points. And the pattern questions provide a solid reference material that can help create tangible and actionable tools like checklists for your project.

It’s important to note that the authors do not claim this method is a silver bullet. The author’s anecdotes indicate a lightweight and iterative approach to developing rules based requirements, but the model looks like it was developed in a more stage gates project context. Your personal worldview and biases will affect how you perceive this model and how you deploy it.

In fact, it appears to be a workable framework for many cases and can probably be integrated into other analysis and design frameworks for mutual benefit. The rules approach to requirements looks like it would couple really nicely coupled with Behaviour Driven Development.

The obvious benefits of this book include a framework that transcends data, process and interaction design and gets to the ‘why’ of business. What’s the business model? How do I get to understand and analyse it? You can also use it as a thinking-model platform to expand your own analysis approach and techniques (blend it with BDD for example.)

More importantly, I don’t think that we, as a community of analysts, have sufficient depth of understanding of what we do and how we get good results. This book and others like it provide stepping stones to becoming a more valuable and reliable service to our colleagues, clients and employers.

Craig Brown 

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Jan posted on Tuesday, March 13, 2012 11:43 PM
Just a short question - who wrote the book review?
Adrian M. posted on Thursday, March 15, 2012 11:27 AM
Good question! It was Craig Brown...
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