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Good business solutions begin with good business analysis. But what's needed to excel as a business analyst and to get projects started on a good footing?

Much has been (and will continue to be) said about the set of skills that go to making a good business analyst. Forrester Research, for example, has published a spreadsheet (called the Business Analyst Assessment Workbook -- Note: subscription required) that lists more than 150 attributes of a good business analyst, grouped into categories such as Core Capabilities, Business Knowledge, Job-Specific Skills, Technical Knowledge etc. (I was particularly pleased to see this last category: It is important but not quite obvious that business analysts should also have a rudimentary general understanding of technology environments and architectures… mostly built up through seeing past analysis engagements fructify into delivered solutions).

Although the workbook is obviously intended as an assessment tool, I also found in it good for use as a training tool — for example, to bone up on technology approaches to business needs and to study sample projects, correlating the original business requirement with the type of solution delivered.

Here are 10 items from the Forrester list that I found particularly interesting and beyond the obvious (in no particular order)...

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It has been just over a year since I published my book, and that makes it easier for me to measure what has happened since then.

I have spent this year visiting many companies and discussing their business analysis function. In some cases, I have performed an assessment on the business analysts as well as the business analysis function within many large Corporates.

It has now got to the point where I could document the findings before I start the investigation. The reason for this is that the problems are the same. From articles and discussions from other countries it appears the problems are similar the world over. These are the problems I encounter most often:

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Why is it so challenging to get users involved in User Acceptance Testing (UAT)? Isn’t it called UAT because the users are the main participants? My experience has shown that involving users in all phases of the project, especially UAT, is the best way to ensure project success. This article will present a proven approach to increasing user involvement by addressing the problems with traditional approaches to UAT.
 
I recently worked on a project in which a major defect was found after the software application moved to production. This defect caused the users to perform three days of manual processes. Users on the IT project team worked countless overtime hours. The defect also resulted in a frustrated user group and business sponsor. The project team’s morale was low and the business users lost a great deal of confidence in the project team’s ability to deliver quality software solutions. To reduce the risk of making this crucial mistake in the future the project team improved the UAT approach by getting users more involved.
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Here we are, the end of another year, and the question I ask always is, what have we learned?

If we are not learning something, be it from a success or a failure, or something in-between, then how can we move forward?

Information security is something that needs to continuously improve and refine itself, otherwise it will fall behind the curve of those that choose a different avenue to your beloved data store.

A tool that information security practitioners often use, especially after a security incident like a virus outbreak or full out attack, is holding a “Lessons Learned” meeting.

The core concept is to be able to take something away for the incident, no matter how big or small, so that the next encounter of a similar kind does not have the same result as the first.

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Today the term Business Analyst is synonymous with a career in the IT industry but the most successful and valuable analysts are those who understand the 'business' rather than those who understand IT. So what exactly is a Business Analyst? What is the Business Analyst’s role? What is the best background for this job? What skill set is required? What type of person is the best fit? What training is required and available?

Each organisation seems to have its own ideas about the role, skills, responsibilities and expectations of the Business Analyst. Given the importance of the job, a common definition would assist both practitioners and employers. We explore some of the issues here.

Written by Derrick Brown, IRM's Director and instructional designer, it shares first hand observations and experience gained from training thousands of Business Analysts since 1980, first in the UK and since 1984 in Australia.

Author: Derrick Brown

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For most businesses and organisations, if IT stops, the business stops. Whenever a company turns on a new production line, opens a new retail store, launches a new product or provides a new service, there is invariably a new or modified IT system behind it. Going live is the culmination of time, effort, resources and finance. A problem-free IT system is the “acid test” of significant, often crucial investment.

Whilst the technical testing of IT systems is a highly professional and exhaustive process, testing of business functionality is an entirely different proposition. Does the system deliver the business functions that are required – does it follow the company’s business rules – does it support a government department’s obligations - does it cope with exceptions?

The people who have to make these decisions – to accept or reject the new system – are the business users. It is therefore critical to get the business user involved in testing and not rely only on the technicians. In this paper we explore the rationale behind User Acceptance Testing (UAT), why it is so important, and how best to go about it.

Author: Jan Kusiak

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“Where does UML fit?” is a common question among new (and not so new!) business analysts. We all know that the M stands for modelling but beyond this, perceptions start to differ. In its current form (V2.0) UML consists of 13 diagram types all of which provide a different view of a system.

In this article we’ll take a brief look at which of the 13 diagrams are of most relevance for us and how they fit together...

Author: Jan Kusiak

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Across North America, businesses in all sectors are adopting standard development methodologies to turn out a higher quality of goods and services. The tried and true approaches that have yielded such great results for competitors are heralded as best practices. But here is the sad news: no one methodology fits all. In fact, different methodologies are appropriate in fitting diverse projects. Some projects are so unique, future-thinking Business Analysts (BAs) are finding that the adoption of new hybrid concepts is the only smart way to go in problem solving tomorrow’s projects.

The word ‘fresh’ describes that feeling of turning over a new leaf when January 1 rolls around each year – and the sentiment we as individuals strive to maintain all year long when we set New Year’s resolutions. Much in the same vein as these annual goals, BAs seeking an innovative means by which they can see their requirements come to fruition are increasingly interested in the study of the existing methods that are in place within the industry, as well as fresh methods established through modeling and fusion.

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It’s Monday morning and, as you arrive at your desk, you know that it is going to be a busy day. The new portal project is going to be promoted into production in a couple of weeks and there are still a few items to clear up.

As you fire up your e-mail client and take the first sip of coffee, your shoulders start to tense up. The subject line of one of your e-mails reads “Threat Risk Assessment Finding Report” and it is marked important.

This not the way you wanted to start the week, but you remember the report was due on Friday, the day you decided to “call in sick”.

As you open the message, realizing you can no longer avoid it, you cross your fingers hoping it won’t be too bad.

Then you remember why you hate these reports so much, they are confusing and seem overly alarming in their findings.

Critical, Severe, High, Medium and Important findings all over the place, red, orange and yellow screaming in your face, reams and reams of technical output, patches missing, vulnerabilities exposed, buffer overflows, exploitations amok, privilege escalations, and on and on. Oh your head hurts now.

Where do you begin? What’s important, and how much is this going to push the timeline back? You know the launch is in two weeks and there are functional issues that need to be addressed, there is no time to deal with all this!

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Here’s a question that often gets asked: What are the benefits of Business Analysis? The depressing but true answer is that the benefits are usually invisible: good Business Analysis ensures that the project implements the right solution, and because it is the right solution no-one ever sees all the cost, time and effort that has been avoided (a project that does not do sufficient Business Analysis has to re-work all the bugs that slipped through the ‘analysis’ stage because the analysis was never done).

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The ubiquity of software project failures – with failure defined as projects that fundamentally failed to meet business-sponsor expectations, missed scheduled completion dates, or exceeded budget – is a pronounced theme in any number of independent research reports on custom software development. The Standish Group, for example, cited that only 31% of projects delivered 100 percent of the expected value, were on-time, and on-budget and a report from the Aberdeen Group found 90 percent of projects came in late, of which 30 percent were simply cancelled before delivery.

Analysts and users alike cite inaccurate, incomplete and mismanaged requirements as the number one reason for software project failure. The Standish Group’s annual CHAOS report indicates three of the top five reasons for project failure are related to requirements. Requirement miscommunications is also the primary factor behind the prevalence of rework, which according to industry statistics, can add up to 40 percent of the total development effort within a given software project. A 2005 survey conducted by iRise and Decipher found that almost three-quarters (73%) of organizations budget for rework, thus, in effect, planning for failure. Moreover, almost one-third set aside more than 25% in their budgets for these change orders, money that could be funneled directly into innovation rather than re-doing work that should have been com¬pleted the first time.

Ultimately, rework costs companies the ability to get to market quickly and saps competitive advantage; while companies are busy fixing applications, their competitors are busy capturing market share.

The solution to these costly, frustrating problems is the creation of accurate requirements before development even begins. By allowing the business analyst to col¬laborate with stakeholders, users, architects, user expe¬rience designers and developers early on in the development process, all parties are involved in the definition of the product and all parties know what will be built long before a single line of code is written.

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The real world is a complex place, resulting in complex requirements for any system that has to work there. This is true regardless of development paradigm. Although "agile in the small" methodologies such as Scrum and Extreme Programming (XP) have done much to show us how to improve our approach, too many people have thrown out the requirements management baby with the bureaucracy bathwater after putting too much faith in the overly simplistic strategies of those processes. Luckily, with a bit of discipline, it is straightforward to address the inherent challenges of complex requirements in an agile manner without resorting to the documentation-heavy practices favored by the traditional community.

The Scrum method has popularized the idea of managing requirements as a stack of small, functional chunks, captured in a prioritized stack called a "product backlog". The idea is that at the beginning of each iteration/sprint, you pull an iteration's worth of work off the top of the stack. If only it were that easy. Although Scrum has helped us to get away from the onerous change prevention strategies (oops, I mean change management strategies) of traditional methods, it has blinded a generation of developers to the inherent complexities and nuances of understanding and implementing requirements.

Author: Scott Ambler

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Study after study has shown poor requirements management is the leading cause of failure for traditional software development teams. When it comes to requirements, agile software developers typically focus on functional ones that describe something of value to end users—a screen, report, feature, or business rule. Most often these functional requirements are captured in the form of user stories, although use cases or usage scenarios are also common, and more advanced teams will iteratively capture the details as customer acceptance tests. Over the years, agilists have developed many strategies for dealing with functional requirements effectively, likely one of the factors leading to the higher success rates enjoyed by agile teams. Disciplined agile teams go even further, realizing that there is far more to requirements than just this, that we also need to consider nonfunctional requirements and constraints.

Nonfunctional requirements (NFRs), also known as "technical requirements" or "quality of service" (QoS) requirements, focus on aspects that typically cross-cut functional requirements. Common NFRs include accuracy, availability, concurrency, consumability (a superset of usability), environmental/green concerns, internationalization, operations issues, performance, regulatory concerns, reliability, security, serviceability, support, and timeliness.

A constraint defines a restriction on your solution, such as being required to store all corporate data in DB2 per your enterprise architecture, or only being allowed to use open source software (OSS), which conforms to a certain level of OSS license. Constraints can often impact your technical choices by restricting specific aspects of your architecture, defining suggested opportunities for reuse, and even architectural customization points. Although many developers will bridle at this, the reality is that constraints often make things much easier for your team because some technical decisions have already been made for you. I like to think of it like this—agilists will have the courage to make tomorrow's decisions tomorrow, disciplined agilists have the humility to respect yesterday's decisions as well.

Although agile teams have pretty much figured out how to effectively address functional requirements, most are still struggling with NFRs and constraints.

Author: Scott Ambler

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Many people on our Business Analysis workshop ask why we use dataflow diagrams (DFDs). Why not Use Case…or even BPMN? After all DFDs have been around for 20 years, surely the world has moved on?

Well, has it? The primary purpose of a business analyst is to communicate – to stakeholders and to solution providers – and when it comes to communication we all know that pictures (diagrams) are much more effective and less ambiguous than words. Remember the phrase "A picture is worth a thousand words". The question is – which type of diagram best suits our needs? In this article, written by IRM's Training Services Manager Jan Kusiak, we’ll look at using diagrams for stakeholder communications.

Author: Jan Kusiak

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Many of us are familiar with the process of business analysis – start by gathering requirements from stakeholders then turn them into a specification which developers can understand. These days however, we need to do more than just document the requirements.

We need to work with stakeholders and business users to understand their systems and analyse their problems – why do you do it this way, why not that way? This is the real value add that the analyst brings to the table. It means challenging the status quo, pushing the boundaries, looking for alternative or creative solutions.

To develop a solution - unless we’re very lucky - we first need to understand the problem that drives the need. In this paper we'll look at how to understand and define business problems – part 2 will look at how to generate solution ideas and part 3 will cover how to choose the best ones.

Author: Jan Kusiak

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