Craftsmanship in Business Systems Analysis

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Recently I wrote a paper on the general state of craftsmanship which was geared more for public consumption as opposed to any specific industry. To my way of thinking, craftsmanship is a universal concept that touches all industries, regardless if they are product or service related.  This resulted in a flurry of e-mails to me questioning how it pertains to specific types of work, including Business Systems Analysis (BSA) which, of course, is applicable but I question whether we have truly realized craftsmanship in this field.

From the outset, let me say unequivocally that business systems analysis is not a new concept and has been with us for a long time, actually predating the modern computer era of the 20th century.  Prior to this, companies had formal "Systems & Procedures" departments with analysts focusing on streamlining business processes and primarily using paper and manual procedures.  As tabulating and other office equipment emerged, they were responsible for their integration into the business.  But as computers were introduced, a new function was devised that greatly impacted the future of analysts, namely programmers. 

Slowly but surely analysts were replaced by programmers.  By the end of the Structured Programming/CASE mania of the 1980's and 90's, business systems analysis was phased out almost to the point of extinction.  In other words, companies were more concerned with programming as opposed to grappling with enterprise-wide systems.  Consequently, systems were attacked in piecemeal, usually one program at a time, which resulted in fragmented and disjointed systems, erroneous information, and redundancy in terms of data resources and work effort.  Slowly, companies began to realize that a higher level person was needed who understood the business and could engineer integrated systems to serve it.

Hence, the rebirth of the Business Systems Analyst as we understand it today.

Several of today's business systems analysts came up through the ranks of programming and are actually programmers in sheep's clothing, and tend to see things only from a computing point of view.  However, there are many others whose roots can be traced to today's business schools.  I view a true Business Systems Analyst as the intermediary between the end-users and the programming staff.  This means they have the ability to understand both business and technical concepts and communicate them effectively with both the end-users and the programmers.  In other words, one of the key roles the analyst plays is that of translator.

The Role of Craftsmanship

In my article, I defined craftsmanship as...

"The practice and pursuit of excellence in building/delivering superior work products by workers."

By this definition, craftsmanship and quality are not synonymous.  Whereas quality is primarily concerned with zero defects, craftsmanship implies a human trait in "pursuit of excellence."  To better describe the concept, I came up with the following formula:

"Craftsmanship = (Knowledge + Experience + Attitude) X Success"

This itemizes the variables associated with craftsmanship.  Before we discuss "Knowledge," let's consider the others first. 

"Experience" means the worker has been able to apply the knowledge he/she has learned, not just once, but repetitively. "Attitude" addresses the person's sense of professionalism and dedication to his/her craft, that they possess an intellectual curiosity and continually strives for improvement. And "Success" means the worker has demonstrated he/she can produce products to the satisfaction of both the client and the company he/she works for, not just once but routinely.  Regardless of the person's knowledge, experience and attitude, if the worker cannot successfully deliver the work product, it is for naught. 

To me, the "knowledge" variable is the Achilles' heel to craftsmanship in Business Systems Analysis.  As mentioned earlier, BSA is not a new concept, but was almost made extinct.  Fortunately, it is beginning to rebound and, as part of its resurrection, the industry is reinventing systems theory with programming muddying the waters.  For example, how BSA is taught at the college level is certainly not uniform.  Sometimes it is taught in the business schools and others in the computer science schools.  Further, how one professor may teach it will not be the same as the next.  I have seen this not just in this country but overseas as well.  In other words, business systems analysis is not yet a teachable science.  To qualify as a science, there needs to be a governing body of knowledge consisting of proven and accepted concepts and principles.  This includes a standardization of terms in order to avoid a "Tower of Babel" effect.  Unfortunately, uniform standards are few and far between in the BSA field.  To illustrate, there are numerous interpretations of what a system is, or what information is, or even data. 

There are two parts to the "knowledge" variable: initial education/training, and continuous improvement.  In terms of initial education/training, you can either learn business systems analysis through the "School of Hard Knocks" or from an accredited institution.  I will not digress into the specifics of what a BSA curriculum should include other than to highlight general areas:

*  History of BSA.
*  General business courses, including such things as general management, organizational analysis, work simplification, industrial engineering, industrial psychology, corporate law, statistics, etc.
*  Communications courses; e.g., speech, persuasion, negotiation, corporate and technical writing, interviewing, etc.
*  Basic math to calculate such things as return on investment and cost/benefit analysis.
*  Project Management.
*  Introduction to computer technology (including operations and networking).
*  Principles of software design.
*  Principles of data base deign.

Aside from the initial education/training, the "Knowledge" variable requires a program of continuous improvement.  This can be done by attending supplemental training, by reading and researching articles and books, and active participation in trade groups, such as the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA).


As an aside, the forerunner of the IIBA was the Association for Systems Management (ASM) which went defunct back in the 1990's (another indicator of how business systems analysis almost became extinct).

Certification in a chosen profession is also useful for continuous improvement, but without an industry accepted body of knowledge it is pointless.  And being certified does not automatically make you a craftsman, but rather it is indicative of your desire to seek further knowledge and improve yourself.

Implementing BSA Craftsmanship

In my earlier craftsmanship article, I described how a company should devise a suitable corporate culture to embrace craftsmanship; to summarize:

* Empowerment of the work to make certain decisions regarding development of the work product.  This involves less micromanagement and more participation by workers in the planning process.  In other words, managing from the "bottom-up" as opposed to "top-down."

* Creation of a more disciplined and organized work environment promoting a more professional attitude amongst the workers.  This includes a corporate position of zero tolerance in defects and inferior workmanship and the adoption of standard methodologies thereby defining best practices for building/delivering work products.

* Promote a program of continuous improvement to sharpen worker skills.

* Establishment of three classes of workers to denote the level of expertise, such as "Apprentices" (novices requiring training), "Intermediate" (educated and experienced, but not yet expert), and "Master" (expert craftsman).
      
* Establish a link between workers-products-customers to establish a feedback loop to judge satisfaction with a specific product and to the exact worker(s) who produced it.

This approach to implementation is just as applicable to business systems analysis as it is to any other profession.

CONCLUSION

There are undoubtedly craftsmen in the business systems analysis industry; people whose companies and clients have supreme confidence in their ability and trust their expertise unquestioningly.  These are people who should be recognized by the industry in order to become models for others to emulate.

But the biggest problem with craftsmanship in this industry is the lack of uniform standards by which we can teach others in a consistent manner.  Without such governing standards, BSA will continue to be viewed more as an art as opposed to a science, and true craftsmanship in this field will not be realized.

NOTES:

Craftsmanship: Its Cultural and Managerial Implications

About the Author

Tim Bryce is a writer and management consultant with M. Bryce & Associates of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the field. He is available for lecturing, training and consulting on an international basis. He can be reached either at timb001@phmainstreet.com
Comments and questions are welcome.

His writings can be found at:

http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

"PRIDE" is the registered trademark of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) and can be found on the Internet at:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/mba/pride/

The "Management Visions" Internet audio broadcast is available at:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/mba/mv.htm

Copyright © 2008 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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COMMENTS

Priyankadt posted on Monday, February 11, 2008 2:07 PM
Great ! It helps to understand the basics ! I agree that Its always helpful to stay connected with your roots and still be progressive !....Thanks For sharing !
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