The Continued Plight of the Business Analyst


(or Who's Project is this Anyway)

Every year companies like Gartner, Forrester, the Standish group and other IT market research firms issue assessments and developments on industry trends. These reports cover a wide range of industries, which include the Information Technology sector, and like services. Organizations anxiously procure these reports as they provide a lens into what is working and what is not. As we approach another year, no doubt we will continue to see the same trend in one specific area; project performance.

The History Thus Far

Over the past 15+ years, projects either have had significant challenges or have failed at an average rate of over 30%, with most of the root cause analysis pointing squarely at the quality of project requirements. Let me just say up front that I am not surprised about this. However, while there is an understanding of the need for business analysis and the recognition that it accounts for about 40% of a project life cycle, it remains the most undervalued, unused, rushed or ignored phase in most projects. It is for the most part regarded as a nuisance phase. It is only needed to comply with methodology and there is no need to apply any rigor. After all, issues can be resolved with technology during or after implementation.

Added to this are the many colorful views and opinions organizations leadership still has about business analysts. These sentiments are often dispensed at will. In my career, I have almost heard them all. There is the "if they are unskilled professionals, let them get requirements". Or, "this is not rocket science, anyone can be an analyst". My personal favorite is "why is it taking so long, you are only gathering requirements".

There is also the continued paroxysm of new and resurgent project management methodologies and techniques. New and improve practices with exotic names like Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD), SCRUM and Kaizen (which is not even a new concept). Do you remember "older" methodologies like Iterative and the old standby methodology called Waterfall? Let us not even include the original Agile methodology, which has become a misnomer and a catchy buzzword for fast-tracking projects.

Root Cause Analysis

Of course, there is nothing wrong with trying new forms of organizations or tactics to manage project endeavors with more efficiency. However, if the primary content provider of the "meat and potatoes" of a project is still underutilized, disregarded and generally not viewed as a value-add resource, why blame the success or failure of the project primarily on requirements? If the business analyst is not in charge of the monitoring and controlling of the project, why pass the blame on. If a decision to apply one form of methodology over the other does not rest with the BA, is it not valid to review the stewardship and question the effectiveness of the stewardship? If the expected or promised results of these new and improved methodologies do not deliver, why continue doing the same things, albeit with a new label and persist on expecting a different result? If we truly apply root-cause analysis, would the problem be the precursor or the aftermath?

Is There room for Partnership?

All of this reminds me of a cartoon I once saw. It depicted an Architect drawing a bridge design. The Architect seemed very eager to take credit for the work while availing himself to a disclaimer – "It is my design unless it falls down…then, it's yours (to the Engineer)". This would be very amusing if it were not for the abject reality this represents to Business Analysts everywhere.  So as we wrap up projects for this year and contemplate new ones to come, what would these market research reports say?

I am not advocating that business analysts be placed in charge of projects. Although this is very tempting and certainly would be innovative, the strength of these resources remains firmly in their ability to be great problem solvers.  According to a 2008 CIO magazine article written by Thomas Wailgum, good business analysts are the ones who "blend the temperament and communications savvy of a diplomat with the analytical skills of an intelligence officer". Imagine having such valuable and collaborative assets working side-by-side during the concept, Initiation, planning and execution of a project. In the words of songwriter and lyricist Donald Fagen, "What a beautiful world this will be, what a glorious time to be free".

Happy Holidays!

Author: Robert Roldan, VP, TD Bank 

Robert Roldan is a VP and Program Director of Business Analysis Center of Excellence (BA CoE) with TD Bank.

Robert has over 20 years of IT knowledge within the Financial and Healthcare industries and has held positions that included managing business analysis competencies, business requirements management model office concepts and ALM integration.

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Ryan Milligan posted on Friday, January 2, 2015 3:00 PM
Thank you, Mr. Roldan, for shining a spotlight on this issue. It truly is a good news / bad news situation for business analysts; they will always be needed, especially as technologies become grow larger and more complex, yet more times than not they will need to somehow prove their worth before they are sought after proactively. Unfortunately, that may have to include the failure of a project and a subsequent "I told you so" moment. As someone who has been in the BA profession for about six years now, I do understand that businesses evolve - sometimes at a breakneck pace - but IT management really needs to do a better job of articulating the tangible benefits of (real) requirements and the like. In other words, show how X hours of requirements gathering sessions will result in Y fewer hours of required redevelopment and support after the initial deployment, and thus increase the net value of the project by Z dollars. (And not to get off track, but part of the problem may be that the use of the term "analyst" has become so watered-down that no one associates the role with what it's really supposed to involve.)
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