Conferences are great places to engage in some interesting (and often unexpected!) discussions. Recently, whilst at a Project Management conference, I was asked the question:
Does my business actually need Business Analysts?
I have to admit, it threw me a bit! I’ve always taken the need for Business Analysis for granted, but perhaps we don’t need Business Analysts after all…
What Does a Business Analyst Do?
Before we decide to start handing out P45s to Business Analysts everywhere, let’s take a moment to consider what they actually do.
Role, Responsibilities and Characteristics
Okay then, what does the role of the Business Analyst involve?
The very short answer is “a lot”! They play a central role in identifying, analysing and delivering business change. They are responsible for: investigating the business need; analysing the environment which surrounds the organisation; identifying and managing stakeholders; modelling existing business processes and systems; identifying areas for improvement; modelling future business processes and systems; working with and managing requirements; measuring the benefits delivered by business change projects; and much more.
In a nutshell, a Business Analyst is responsible for ensuring that the evolving solution to a business problem meets stakeholder expectations and is what the business actually needs, at the right cost.
A World Without Business Analysis
To kick-start our exploration into their benefit to an organisation, let’s imagine a world without Business Analysts.
Mabel’s Homemade Jam
Suppose that we work for “Mabel’s Homemade Jam”; a small business with four employees which produces, packs and sells a mouthwatering range of fruit jams to local supermarkets. Initially started in a small but efficient kitchen in Mabel’s family home, the business has grown quickly. We have several ideas to improve our small business, including:
- outsourcing our payroll;
- improving our jam production process;
- moving our production facilities to a new location;
- finding new buyers for our product;
- re-targeting our products to concentrate on specialist jams.
These all seem like reasonable business strategies, but which is best for Mabel to adopt? What is the local jam market like? Is there much competition? Is there a high demand for our product? What is the predicted return on our investment for any of these options?
There are many questions to ask before we’ve even selected a strategy. For now, though, let’s assume we have chosen to improve our jam production process.
But wait! More questions! What are we trying to achieve by improving our production process? What is the expected benefit of this improvement? Who are the stakeholders involved in the production process? What activities take place when we are producing jam? What resources do we need in order to produce jam? How will our improved jam production process be better than our existing process, and how are we going to measure these improvements?
Let’s assume once again that we’ve somehow answered all of these questions without Business Analysis (perhaps we have a spare magic 8 ball!). Hurrah, we can finally look at actually improving the process… Now, how do we achieve this? How will we deliver the change? What changes do we wish to make – what requirements do we have for our new process?
Okay… Please Bring Back My Business Analysts
If you’re anything like me, you will be screaming for answers by this point. I’m analytically-minded and I don’t like to make decisions when I’m missing key information.
Trained Business Analysts have access to a range of techniques for tackling a variety of business questions. Let’s look at just one of the questions in our list: “what activities take place when we are producing jam?”. A Business Analyst might start by producing a Business Activity Model for the existing process. This would capture the main steps in transforming raw materials (fruit, sugar etc.) into our finished product (jam). It would include enabling actions required before it is possible to produce our jam (obtaining the raw materials, obtaining the cooking equipment), plans / budgets / targets (how much jam do we need and at what cost and quality?). It helps us to identify the measures by which we can judge the process (product wastage, time to produce 100 jars etc.) and where improvements can be made (more accurate measuring equipment, better quality packaging etc.).
What’s more, the Business Analyst can use their skill to present this information in a way that can be easily understood by anyone in the business.
As you can see from just one technique, they can not only gather a great deal of information, but also communicate this to others effectively and efficiently.
The Real World
Although we’ve deliberately opted for a simple example, even here we have illustrated the value of Business Analysis on any business change project. The Business Analyst:
- Helps identify and define business needs.
- Considers solutions.
- Analyses the market, environment and constraints within which business processes must operate.
- Works with project stakeholders to ensure needs / expectations are managed.
- Works with the business to define a clear business case for delivering business improvements.
- Captures and manages the requirements
- Analyses and validates the requirements, checking for feasibility, conflict and alignment with business goals
- Assesses the expected and delivered benefits from the change.
The astute amongst you may have noticed that at the head of this post I said “I’ve always taken the need for Business Analysis for granted”, and not “Business Analysts“.
In the real world it is not uncommon to find that the role of Business Analyst is not discrete and separate. It may be held, for example, by the Project Manager. In situations such as these, it is important to identify and monitor the conflicts between the roles, but it can certainly work. Watch out for my take on hybrid PM / BAs in a future blog post.
For now, though, it seems that the answer to our initial question:
“Does my business actually need Business Analysts?”
“Not necessarily, but you sure are gonna need Business Analysis!”
Convinced by the need for Business Analysis? Why not become a fully certified Business Analyst with the UK’s de facto BA scheme, the BCS Diploma in Business Analysis. Or if you’re just looking for a grounding, BCS Business Analysis Practice is a great place to start.